Cows ruminate, but what do humans do? Either swallow or bite their food until it’s good enough to push it down their food pipe. We are more concerned about what we eat and mostly ignore what happens once the food enters our mouth. Digestion begins in the mouth and the process of chewing is the first step before the food enters the stomach for complete digestion. Our priority and obsession with what to eat overrules this important phase of how to eat.
Ayurveda, a system of traditional medicine rooted in India, speaks extensively about the benefits of chewing. It even talks about biting every mouthful of food for 32 times for proper digestion. Why 32? That’s the number of teeth every individual has! This school of thought created frenzy even in the USA during the early 1900s when individuals such as Horace Fletcher recommended wild suggestions for complete digestion of food. Nicknamed as the ‘Great Masticator’, this health food enthusiast argued that every bite of food must be chewed 100 times per minute before being swallowed to decrease the quantity of food consumed and increase the energy levels of a person. He even popularized this among famous personalities such as Henry James and John D. Rockefeller who gave a try to his propaganda.
Science is enthralling and evokes our curiosity constantly. Human body is a great artwork that performs various functions that seem unimaginable. Our digestive system is a brilliant example of this! Humans might design machines or technology to process information and bring out the desired output, but human body processes a plethora of information and nutrients naturally to produce the desired effect on our life. Our digestive system processes the food that we eat into nutrients and energy needed for growth and repair. Mouth, the part of the body that is present at the beginning of the digestive tract, starts the process as soon as food enters it. Chewing breaks down food into a more digestible form. Saliva mixes with these particles bringing it into a form that can be absorbed by the body. Saliva contains lingual lipase (fat metabolizing enzyme) which helps to break down fat before it passes down the body. More the time food stays in contact with saliva, better it is for digestion and even carbohydrate digestion starts. This food form travels through the throat and esophagus reaching the stomach finally.
Stomach acts as the mixer grinder converting food into a paste or liquid sending it across to the small intestine. The small intestine releases enzymes to aid in the breakdown of food. The required nutrients from the food you eat are absorbed here and the remaining waste passes out of the body.
Chew Your Way to Digestion
How healthy we stay depends not only on ‘what’ goes into our mouth but also on ‘how’ well our body absorbs it. Improper chewing can ruin the entire digestion process leaving the body open to health problems such as flatulence, irritable bowel syndrome and similar other ones.
Ghrelin and leptin, hunger and satiety hormones don’t show indications until at least 20 minutes after we start eating. Learn how the hunger and satiety hormones play a vital role in affecting weight gain/loss in the human body from the website www.firsteatright.com. Eating fast can fuse these hormones and the person consumes more than what could satisfy his/her hunger even before any signs of fullness are sent from the brain. Improperly digested food leads to inadequate absorption of nutrients and even our stomach tries to stay away from such improperly chewed food particles. Such particles pave way for intestinal bacteria that can cause bloating, constipation, cramps, stomach pain or diarrhea.
There are even research evidences that support that chewing food properly can boost our mouth’s immune system and protect us against illness. Yet another study highlighted the benefits of chewing in terms of retained energy levels for performing activities.
Chewing food can even promote weight loss! Obese individuals tend to chew less compared to their leaner counterparts. Improving chewing and gut hormones linked to hunger and satiety hormones could prove to be useful against weight gain. That’s because, when some individual chews more, he/she slows the pace of eating. This in turn, decreases the quantity of food that goes into the body. This is even supported by a research that found that slow eaters gained less weight compared to fast eaters. Still, we cannot conclude that our pace of eating and number of times we chew our food act as sole weight-loss promoting factors.
Scientists still have inconclusive figures on the ideal number of chews per bite. Until then, it is advisable to eat your food slowly, chew them well wisely and enjoy eating your meal nicely! Please don’t rush your kids to eat their meal faster when they try to chew their food well before swallowing. You might feel strained initially but thinking about all the goodness of properly chewing your food ensures that you stay cool with your kids. During breakfast, lunch or dinner, remind yourself about the benefits of chewing before starting to eat. This will help you stick to your goal and even allocate a couple of more minutes for your mealtime.
Some Tips to Chew Your Food Thoroughly
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Dietitian & Nutritionist Dr. Nafeesa Imteyaz.