Chewing Your Way to Better Health

July 1st, 2009

ChewingHeartburn, abdominal pain, bloating, and diarrhea are just a few of the immediate problems that can result from poor digestion. Long term, this can lead to intestinal damage, nutrient deficiencies, and food sensitivities that may cause much more significant problems. Fortunately, there’s a simple but often overlooked measure that everyone can take to improve their digestion and prevent these conditions.

With the fast pace of modern life, many of us rush through our meals and practically swallow our food whole. Although most of us know that we should chew our food thoroughly, few of us actually do it.

Why Thorough Chewing is So Important

You’ve likely heard the phrase “you are what you eat.” As great of a phrase as it is, and it’s one of my favorites, it’s technically incorrect. You’re not what you eat, but rather what you absorb, and if you don’t chew your food thoroughly, chances are that you’re not absorbing much.

Although we rarely give much thought to the significance of chewing, it’s a very important part of the digestion process. When food is not chewed thoroughly, the proceeding phases of digestion will likely be compromised as a result, and this could lead to a wide variety of unpleasant symptoms and conditions. The following are some of the reasons why thorough chewing is so important.

The Mechanical Break Down of Food

Some of the foods that we eat, particularly meat, are very dense and difficult to break down. The act of chewing reduces these foods into smaller and softer pieces that will facilitate further breakdown by the body’s digestive fluids. These smaller pieces will result in the total amount of food having a larger surface area for digestive fluids to work on, and in turn, lead to more complete digestion.

The Role of Saliva in Digestion

Saliva contains the digestive enzymes ptyalin and lingual lipase which respectively initiate the digestion of carbohydrates and fats. Because thorough chewing promotes additional production of saliva, it also means that more of these enzymes will be present to aid digestion. As a result, thoroughly chewed food will have gone through a considerable amount of digestion before it even reaches the stomach. Thorough chewing also provides time for the saliva to generously lubricate the food so that it will pass smoothly through the esophagus when swallowed.

Immunity Against Contaminated Food

The food we eat is a common source of germs and other antigens that can cause illness and compromise our health. Chewing alleviates this risk by stimulating the parotid salivary glands, and in turn, provoking the thymus gland to release immune boosting T-cells. These cells are a type of lymphocyte that destroy the germs and other antigens that our food may be contaminated with. By chewing thoroughly, more T-cells will be released, and the chance of being negatively affected by contaminated food will be decreased.

Increased Production of Digestive Enzymes

The digestive enzymes produced by the pancreas are critical to proper digestion, especially for foods that contain protein. Through the stimulation of the vagus nerve, chewing can provoke the pancreas to release it’s digestive enzymes. As such, thorough chewing will likely lead to an increase in digestive enzyme production and result in more complete digestion.

Unfortunately, chewing on gum can also stimulate the pancreas, but because there’s no food to digest, this results in a release of digestive enzymes that aren’t needed. If this happens on a regular basis, it could wear down the pancreas, result in a decline of digestive enzymes, and lead to chronically compromised digestion and health.

Proper Nutrient Absorption

If food is not thoroughly digested by the time it reaches the intestines, it’s unlikely that it’s nutrients will be absorbed. Furthermore, undigested food particles can provoke immune activity and bacterial growth that can damage the intestinal lining and impair nutrient absorption even further. As you’d expect, the nutrient deficiencies that this can cause will likely lead to more severe health problems and possibly even disease. Chewing thoroughly increases the likeliness of food being completely digested and absorbed, and in turn, reduces the potential for these problems to occur.

How to Chew Thoroughly for Better Health

Excellent health starts with good digestion. To reduce the amount of strain on your digestive system and maximize your nutrient absorption, thoroughly chew your food until it’s liquefied. Although there are varying recommendations for how many times you should chew each mouthful of food, relying on a specific number is unreliable because different types and quantities of food can require dramatically different amounts of chewing.

If you have any doubts, simply chew a few more times. By doing so, you’ll promote better digestion, and in turn, better health. You may even get more flavor and enjoyment out of your food as well!

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