No one really ever taught you to chew, it’s a pretty natural instinct. However, it’s a very important step in the digestive process and most of us are doing it all wrong.
The mouth, not the stomach, is actually where the digestive process begins. As you chew your food, digestive enzymes (namely amylase) begin to break the food down for the body to absorb and assimilate nutrients. In fact, about 30% of starch digestion takes place within our mouths. Then as we swallow our stomach has its turn to continue to break down the food, where the chief digestive enzyme pepsin digests protein and lipase works on the fat. After the stomach has had its turn in digesting you meal, it’s off to the small intestine for even more break down and nutrient absorption.
All of this breakdown of food into useable nutrients happens without any work from us. You don’t have to think about it. Your job is to put food in (hopefully lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains), and your body does the rest. Pretty cool, right?
Herein lies the problem. Because this process is so automatic and we are a society on-the-go, we have become lazy chewers. We inhale our food on the way to the office, kids at school get 15-20 minutes to eat an entire meal, and we suck down dinner between stop lights while driving home. None of this leads to optimal digestion. We suffer from heart burn, bloating, and constipation on a regular basis and pass it off as normal while popping another over the counter medication to “fix it.”
While many of these ailments can be cured by a whole food, plant based diet, there is something you can do with the next bite of food you take (even if you aren’t ready for a diet overhaul).
Chew your food!
When you take your next bite of food, take the time to really chew it. Chew and chew and chew until that bite of food becomes a liquidy-paste. Allow the digestive enzymes in your saliva to really get in there and do their job to break down your food, and then swallow. By inhaling our food with very little chewing, we are overburdening the rest of our digestive system by making it work harder to break down food than it was meant to do. This leads to digestive issues such as bloating, cramping, and constipation.
What I love about the technique of thoroughly chewing, is that you can start now! It’s free, it’s easy, and it will make a positive impact on your digestion, no matter what you choose to eat. I’ve even been talking to my children about proper chewing and reminding them to eat more mindfully. It’s been a very fun little experiment for the whole family.
Challenge yourself to focus on chewing each bite of food well before swallowing for the next 3 days and see how your digestion feels. Do you feel less tired after meals (because your body isn’t working so hard to break down food)? Do you feel less bloated and/or crampy after eating? Is your, um, elimination pattern more smooth?
You have nothing to lose and a happy tummy to gain!