The act of chewing doesn’t seem very complicated. Open your jaw, close your jaw, open your jaw, close your jaw. Do that until the chunks of food in your mouth are small enough to swallow and make it to your stomach, and you’re golden. Next task, please.
Not so fast! It turns out there’s more to chewing than meets the eye—or your teeth. Har har.
Seriously, if you’re not choking or forgetting to swallow, what more do you need to know about chewing? I mean, you’ve been doing it ever since your first few teeth popped out, and now here I am telling you there’s a way to “chew like a pro”? That takes a lot of nerve, you say.
Hear me out. I thought my chewing method was fine too, but it turns out I was mistaken. And the consequences of poor chewing can be serious.
You see, chewing plays a huge role in how effectively and efficiently our body digests the food we provide it. In 1938 the famed British nutrition researcher Sir Robert McCarrison spoke about this with a group of schoolchildren in a lecture he gave them about nutrition and health. Improper chewing can disturb nutrition just as much as wrong foods do, he explained.
“The proper chewing of food is important because it exercises the jaws and helps keep the gums, the teeth, and the mouth healthy, and because it starts off the processes of digestion, by which food is split up into its component parts and made ready for use by the body. Failure to chew the food properly disturbs digestion at its very outset.”
While that discussion took place eighty years ago, it still applies today. I mean, we are still a chewing people, right? 😉 In all seriousness I believe many of us have lost touch with this simple first step of the digestive process. And I’ll prove it.
The next time you sit down for a meal, I double-dog dare you to pay close attention to your chewing. Without passing judgment on yourself, eat as you normally would, and count how many times you chew a typical mouthful before swallowing. I’m embarrassed to say how few times I chewed the first time I paid attention. Let’s just say it was woefully insufficient. (Sorry, digestive system!)
James Forleo, DC, adds to the conversation in his book, Health is Simple, Disease is Complicated. While your teeth are breaking things down into smaller particles, he says, your saliva is mixing with the food and getting things started chemically. It works by breaking down any starches you ate and can send them down your gullet up to 70 percent predigested!
There’s no doubt about it. Chewing is key to proper digestion. So how do you start chewing like a pro? Here are some tips:
Slow down! I would venture to say there are very few times when your meal needs to be completed at record speed. Try taking at least 20 minutes when you dine, even if you’re eating alone.
Put your fork down! Once you’ve taken a bite, set your fork down. This can serve as a reminder that you don’t need your next bite to be at the ready as soon as (or before) you swallow the current one.
Pay attention! Count how many times you chew each bite of food. Your goal is to chew thirty times before swallowing. This may seem ridiculous at first and like a waste of time. It’s not. It will, if nothing else, give you an idea of the consistency your food should have as you ease it toward the next step of digestion. Once you know this, you can stop counting and just chew until your food is good and ready.
I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how these simple steps will improve your body’s entire digestive process. Plus you’ll have bragging rights with all your friends about being a better chewer than they are. Of course you could also share this how-to with them. The world can’t have too many professional chewers. 😉