Hands up who inhales their food? Is your dinner down before the ad break ends?
Chewing, or mastication is the numero uno step in digestion. Often we fail to give it the attention it deserves. A substandard chewing game puts pressure on the rest of the digestive tract and can contribute to digestive issues such as bloating, heartburn, IBS, SIBO.
Here are seven reasons why chewing deserves your time and (complete) attention.
Chewing gets the digestive ball (bolus) rolling
Grinding food into smaller pieces enables it to be swallowed. The chewing action also increases the release of saliva helping ease the passage of food into the oesophagus. The more you masticate, the smaller the food particles will be, and that’s going to make the job of your stomach a whole lot easier.
Saliva contains digestive enzymes such as amylase** (starches), lingual lipase (fatty acids) and kallikrein (proteins). Lysozymes in saliva (also found in tears, breast milk and nasal mucus) are a part of your immune system destroying bacteria.
**You can check out the action of amylase by chewing a cracker very thoroughly. The longer you chew, the sweeter it will taste.
Primes the stomach
The action of moving your jaw stimulates the Vagus nerve and signals the stomach to release gastric acid. Appropriate amounts of stomach acid are necessary for digesting proteins.
Relaxes lower stomach muscles
Nerve signals from chewing also relax muscles in the lower stomach helping the chyme (partially digested and churned food) pass into the small intestine and not sit overly long in the stomach and contribute to bloating.
Helps extract nutrients and improves absorption
Chewing increases the surface area of food and enables more enzymes and good bacteria to access it. This results in increased and faster nutrient absorption from the digestive tract. Better absorption =more nourishment = healthier you!
Although chewing well won’t in itself help with weight loss it can help regulate your intake of food. The more thoroughly you chew, the slower you’ll eat and have more time to tune into the satiety (“no thanks, I’m full”) signals from your brain.
Keeps your brain in good shape
Chewing stimulates nerves in the hippocampus that are important for memory and learning. Research has found a causal relationship between a decline in masticatory function and dementia1. Chewing also helps stimulate blood flow to the brain increasing oxygen levels.
Helps manage stress
The action of chewing has been found to have a dampening effect on stress signals in the body (modulating the hypothalamic-pituitary axis). It might explain why you chew your nails, pen or emotional eating when you are feeling stressed 2.
How to become a master masticator
The number of chews will depend on the type of food – softer foods could be around 5-10 chews per mouthful, and harder foods like meat proteins could be up to 30 chews. Don’t worry about numbers and aim for getting the food so you can’t feel the texture of it anymore.
Other tips for taking your chewing game to the next level
- Take smaller bites
- Chew slowly
- Don’t take another mouthful until you’ve swallowed the previous
- Don’t multitask while you are eating. Watching TV or reading will take your focus away from the job at hand.
- Ensure your diet is predominantly (unless there is a medical reason not to) made up of dense unprocessed foods to give your mastication muscles a good workout.
Taking care of your chewing equipment
Your teeth are crucial to chewing success. I’m no fan of going to the dentist however you need to make sure your teeth are healthy, and your bite is optimal. If you have dentures, it is essential that these are well fitted.
If you’ve got digestive issues before taking enzymes, super-foods and supplements go back to basics and get chewing!
Norelle Hentschel is a degree qualified Naturopath and operates a clinic in Crows Nest, North Sydney. She enjoys helping people feel better and can assist with a broad range of health conditions or general health maintenance.
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- Chen H, Iinuma M, Onozuka M, Kubo K. Chewing Maintains Hippocampus-Dependent Cognitive Function. Int J Med Sci. 2015;12(6):502-509. doi:10.7150/ijms.11911.
- Azuma K, Zhou Q, Niwa M, Kubo K. Association between Mastication, the Hippocampus, and the HPA Axis : A Comprehensive Review. Int J Mol Sci. 2017;18(1687):1-14. doi:10.3390/ijms18081687.