Having Digestion Issues? Consider How You Chew Your Food

You are what you eat
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Mar. 26 2024, Published 8:00 a.m. ET

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You know the phrase, “Mom is always right?” Well, it’s true, and there’s no better example of that than when she told you to slow down and chew your food. While she may have just been concerned about you not choking, she was onto something because there are many surprising benefits to chewing your food slowly — one being digestion.

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Everyone is different, but chewing is the first stage of the digestion process for all of us. “It’s an important action because the smaller the food particle, the more surface area our digestive enzymes have to attach and break down the molecule,” said Dana Ariele, a holistic health coach. “Chewing activates our salivary glands to secrete digestive enzymes and begin breaking down our food. So, if you’re not chewing your food, you’re not allowing it to break down before it gets into your stomach, which may actually be contributing to some of your health problems. 

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Acidity and bloating are two conditions that can develop because if you’re swallowing large pieces, your body must release more acid to digest them properly. This increased acid in your stomach can also lead to severe heartburn. “However, if we are careful to chew, then we tend not to overeat because we can recognize our fullness cues sooner.” This, in turn, leads to less or no heartburn. 

This increase in acid, called hydrochloric acid, can also lead to possible weight gain. Increasing hydrochloric acid in your stomach can make you feel hungry and overeat. It takes 20 minutes for your brain to get the signal that you’ve had enough food, so by devouring your food, your brain isn’t getting the signal fast enough to tell you to stop eating, so you just continue to eat more.

“Increasing the number of chews and duration of chewing times for carbohydrates, which are staple foods, possibly contributed to weight loss and improvement of glucose metabolism,” according to a study. This is because the enzymes in our mouth help break down carbs as we chew. The study also found that people who chewed more had decreased body weight, BMI, fat mass, visceral fat, and HbA1c levels, as well as liver enzymes. 

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Part of chewing well and enough also requires a level of attention. “When’s the last time you ate a meal without any distractions?” Ariele asked. “Too often, we eat while working in front of the computer, watching TV, or even on the go. When we don’t eat presently with our food and our minds are elsewhere, our bodies aren’t given all the same digestive cues (i.e., smelling our food, thinking about our food),” she shared. “On top of that, if we’re on the run or in the middle of working while we eat, our sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system is activated, which makes it more challenging to digest because our body prioritizes survival and all the blood flow is pushed out of our abdomen (and digestive tract) and into our limbs to run from danger.”

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She explained further, “When we eat while our parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) is activated, our bodies can digest better, absorb more, and assimilate. By being present with our food, focusing on the flavors and textures, we are more likely to eat slower and chew our food better.”

Are you wondering how many times you should chew your food? Ariele recommends that her clients to chew their food until they can’t anymore. “If you think about it, our stomachs need to break down our food into liquid to send them on their way, and if we swallow when our food is already liquid, we save our bodies a lot of work.”

“Chewing properly for optimal digestion is important because while you can eat ‘healthy foods’ if your body isn’t properly breaking your food down and absorbingthe nutrients, the job of digestion is missed,” she added. “Our bodies view food as information, and digestion is really about breaking down food small enough so that our bodies can use the nutrients within them.”

So, if you’re looking for an easy way to avoid overeating, bloating, and heartburn and improve overall health, follow Ariele’s advice: Slow down and chew.

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Nikki Chwatt Photo
By: Nikki Chwatt

Nikki Chwatt is a New York-based freelance fashion and beauty writer who covers stories on the latest makeup, skin-care, clothing, accessories, and shoe buys for women and men. Her writing has also appeared in publications such as WWD, Footwear News, and Editorialist. When Nikki's not writing, you can find her practicing pilates, scouring the internet for unique fashion finds, and reading powerful romance novels.

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