That question probably brings up different meanings for different people. But the chewing I’m talking about is what we need to do best each and every meal. We all heard various stories about how many times you should chew each mouthful of food. You actually need to chew each bite a MINIMUM of 15 times before swallowing. Are you one of the people who rush through meals that there is little thought to chewing? The food in your mouth needs to be macerated until it is in the form of a bolus – an almost liquid form when combined with saliva – to easily move through the esophagus and into the stomach for further digestion. The amount of chewing is dependent on the type of food that you are eating – a hard vegetable will take longer than a piece of soft fruit.
Why chewing your food properly is important for your overall health and well-being
There are 4 key benefits to chewing your food properly that increases overall health and well-being.
- Chewing enables the right amount of food to be eaten
Research has shown that chewing food slowly and thoroughly can help you feel fuller faster. In a recent study,  women who ate fast consumed more calories and felt less full than those who are slower and chewed their food correctly. Similarly, in a study by Iowa State University,  researchers found that subjects that chewed their food more reported lowered appetite. When your food is turned into that bolus before entering the stomach, your body is able to digest your food faster and more efficiently, allowing faster nutrient absorption and a sense of satiation – that wonderful feeling that your body is satisfied.
- Throat care
When you chew your food to an appropriate particle size and is mixed with saliva and then rolled into a smooth shape by the tongue to make that bolus easier to swallow. If you don’t chew your food properly, it can leave sharp or hard edges (imagine a quickly chomped potato chip!) and the bolus may then harm the throat when swallowing or the bolus might come apart. Sometimes we think we have food stuck in our throats – it may be that bolus broke apart and irritated the esophagus.
As chewing, swallowing and breathing in humans are intricately linked – eating fast may lead to choking or damage to the throat trying to move it from the mouth to the stomach. There is a potential danger of causing infection in the throat when this occurs.
- Promotes optimum digestion
Digestion begins in the mind – when we look, smell, or think about food and we begin salivating. Then when food is placed in the mouth, digestion continues as saliva breaks down starches and fats. By chewing your food properly, you allow the digestive process to continue smoothly and give the stomach a “helping hand” by making it easier to do the major digestive processes more efficiently. The stomach then uses acidic gastric juices to further break down the food particles. Chemistry tells us that the larger the surface area to volume ratio a particle is, the quicker it is eroded and in this case, digested. Conversely, large particles may be difficult to break down, which slows down your digestion and can slow your metabolism over time. A study was conducted  on how the particle size of chewed almonds affected the bioavailability of the nutrients in it. Not surprisingly, the more an almond was chewed, the smaller the particles, the more nutrients were extracted from it. By not chewing enough, larger particles pass through the digestive system undigested causing problems such as bloating, gas, cramps, and diarrhea.
- Mindfulness/Conscious Eating
Mindful eating relates to savoring one’s food through appreciating the way it looks, the aroma, texture, and taste. By chewing slowly in appreciation of these aspects of your food, you cultivate a mindfulness of what is being eaten, rather than eating mindlessly, which often leads to overeating, especially when done in front of a TV! By consciously eating more slowly and thoroughly you begin to not only slow down your eating but begin to consume less. It can potentially decrease stress levels and bring about a sense of calm. It also ensures that your body can better digest the food eaten. Science shows that when the body is under stress, digestion is impacted as the body may regard it as secondary to preparing for the fight or flight reflexes.  Mindful eating focuses attention on the meal. When combined with gratitude, it promotes relaxation of the mind and improves the digestive process.
Out of all the health benefits of eating slowing and chewing your food properly, the important of all is the ability to connect with our loved ones or those with whom we share our meals. It promotes a positive space for our interactions. Taking a mindful approach to eating and making conscious eating decisions will allow for better quality of life.
Try to make each meal a potential social event. Make breakfast time with your family a sharing time and give everyone a chance to express their feelings before starting their day. Teach your children the importance of slowing down to eat and explore how that makes them feel. At work, have lunch away from your desk and have some real face-time with coworkers. Make plans to reconnect with old friend over dinner. Be the person to influence others – start to eat slowly and see how it impacts those around you.
Creating a mindful approach to eating is the key to a healthy relationship with food! You can learn to put mindfulness into action. Click here to receive your free Mindful Eating series to begin your journey to conscious eating.