Americans spend more than 60 billion dollars a year trying to lose weight. We spend more than $35 billion buying organic foods, and another 2 billion trying to improve our digestion of those foods. We drive ourselves to the brink of exhaustion and bankruptcy trying to control our waistline, curb our appetites, and generally just feel better. But what if we told you that there is one simple act which can help you do all of these things? What if we also told you that this act is free, extremely easy, and you can start today?
The act we speak of is chewing. It’s one of the most important things that you can do for your health, and, yet, it’s also one of the most overlooked. At SmartyPants, we’re chewing enthusiasts (we make gummy products after all). We believe that health starts with the first bite, and here’s why.
A favorite expression of nutritionists is: “Digestion begins in the mouth,” most obviously because chewing literally breaks down the food you eat into smaller pieces – but there’s so much more to the process. The mechanical act of opening and closing your jaw triggers your mouth to begin producing saliva. Saliva contains the digestive enzyme amylase, which starts breaking down carbohydrates into simpler sugars.
Meanwhile, all this mouth action sends signals to the brain to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which relaxes the lower stomach – your lower stomach must be relaxed in order for food to pass into the intestines. At the same time, the brain sends a message to the gastrointestinal system that food is on its way. The stomach begins to produce hydrochloric acid, which helps break down protein, while the gall bladder prepares to release bile, which helps break down fats, and the pancreas makes more digestive enzymes. This process is called the “digestive cascade,” and if you don’t chew, it can’t get started.
As we said, Americans spend billions of dollars every year buying healthy food. But all those grass-fed, organic, free-range, superfoods won’t do much good if you’re not absorbing their nutrients. “Whether they’re from food or supplements, nutrients aren’t technically in your body until they’ve been absorbed,” says Stella Volpe, Ph.D., R.D., Chair of Nutrition Sciences at Drexel University. “Until absorption, things are just passing through.”
Virtually all of the nutrients we get from food are absorbed into the blood through the lining of the small intestine. Think of the walls of the small intestine like a cheesecloth: only very small molecules can make it through. If we’re not breaking down our food properly, by chewing and initiating the digestive cascade, the particles may be too large to cross the mucosal barrier. Any un-chewed, undigested food is moved through the body to the large intestine, where it eventually comes out the other end unused, or, quite literally, as “waste.”
CURBS THE URGE
You may have heard the popular factoid: it takes 20 minutes for your brain to signal to your stomach that you’re full. A big part of this signaling process comes from chewing. If you chew your food longer, you give your brain more time to register what’s going on and when you’re actually full – as opposed to when you’ve simply eaten ALL OF THE FOODS. Thus, chewing your food and eating slower may help you to eat less, and, ultimately, avoid weight gain or even lose weight.
We eat because we’re hungry. We eat because our bodies need fuel. But, while food is essential to survival, it’s the pleasure involved in eating that makes it fun!
So, why rush?
If you hoover down your meal with hardly any chewing, it’s almost impossible to really taste the food. Chewing your food fully releases the flavors from food and extends the time that all those delicious morsels hang out in your mouth. Because the food is in contact with your taste buds longer, it can boost your feelings of satisfaction. This is the principle behind “mindful eating,” which promotes focusing on eating with all of your senses: seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching. Proponents of mindful eating believe that eating slowly and chewing thoroughly – fully taking in food’s aroma and savoring every bite – is the way to extract maximum pleasure from the eating experience.
HOW MANY CHEWS DOES IT TAKE?
Gandhi once said, “Chew your drink and drink your food.” Wise man. When it comes to eating, it’s all about the jaw signaling to the brain that nourishment is coming. Whenever you consume nutrients, you must start the digestive cascade by moving your mouth. The number of times you chew depends on the type of food.
According to the experts at Ohio State University, you should chew softer foods 5-10 times. For more dense foods, aim for about 25-30 chews.
If this sounds like a lot, don’t stress about liquefaction. The first step is to simply be aware, or, “mindful,” of what you’re doing. Start by mentally taking note of how many times you’re used to chewing, then aim to increase that number by a few bites every time. You can also try our SmartyPants gummies – they mind-blowingly delicious, packed with nutrients, and will give you GREAT practice chewing
Posted on August 23, 2017