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Monday, March 07, 2011

Mastering Mastication

I can't believe I've not done a proper blog post about chewing.  It's long overdue, so here it is.  

First of all, some reasons why chewing properly is a good idea:

  • The action of chewing mixes the food with important enzymes in the saliva and is the first step of chemical digestion.  This step is shortened or missed out when you don’t chew properly.
  • Sensors in your mouth tell the brain that food is on the way, the brain then sends messages to the stomach to produce enzymes and acid.  Chewing food switches the stomach on so that it’s ready to receive food.
  • Making the food into smaller pieces by chewing makes it much easier to digest than sending large pieces of food to your stomach.  The teeth are an important part of the digestive system.  The stomach is a muscular bag which can’t break food down into small pieces like the teeth can; chewing makes the work of the stomach much easier.
  • It can help with many digestive problems, especially bloating and indigestion.
  • Chewing helps you taste your food properly, so that you can have a more enjoyable experience.  
  • Research has shown that chewing your food allows you to feel full more quickly than usual, therefore helping to curb overeating.  I wrote about one such study here.
  • And best of all, it’s completely free and you can start right now.

But it’s probably not really news to you, as most of us know that we should chew our food properly.  It’s just that it can be difficult to remember, and from what I see in my clinic, it does seem to be a really hard habit to change.  I think our modern diets are partly to blame actually; it now seems that most meals can be eaten with just a fork, and food comes in portion sized packets, ready to eat and go.  Think of, for example, a bowl of pasta with pesto - very soft and easy to eat, and could almost be eaten without chewing at all!  In times gone by, our food would have been a lot tougher and chewing would have been needed much more than it is now.

To get used to chewing properly, I think it helps to be aware of what your digestive system is doing for you, and the task that your stomach has to achieve.  Because we can’t see our digestive system, it can be easy to overlook the task it performs for us.  It’s quite amazing really – it can turn a roast dinner into energy that allows us to run around in our daily lives, all without any input from us.  I think that’s quite a feat.  

And I speak from experience because I used to eat my meals very quickly, and was almost proud of the speed with which I could finish.  But I am now used to chewing and taking time over eating.  It certainly didn’t come quickly though; I've been practising this for a number of years.  And now, the idea of bolting food and finishing before everyone else seems like such a waste of food!  I’d much rather take the time to eat thoroughly so that I can properly enjoy what I’m eating, and there’s the added benefit of knowing that I’m doing my digestive system a favour too.

So if your stomach could speak, I reckon it would say ‘Please chew your food so that I don’t have to work so hard.  I’ve got a lot to do to keep you going, and it would be really nice if you could do your bit for me.  Thanks.’


Anonymous said...

Is there a number of times that food should be chewed. For example, should you chew 20 times or some other number?

It would just help to concentrate on something to break the old (fast) habit

Melanie Flower said...

There is no recommended number of times that you should chew your food, because different food needs different amounts of chewing. For example, compare chewing a piece of steak with a mouthful of chunky vegetable soup.

Rather than concentrate on counting when you chew, focus on making sure you've got rid of all the lumps in your mouthful and that you've tasted all the flavours properly. Think about your stomach, and make sure that your teeth and mouth are doing their job properly before you swallow.

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