“Chew your food!” We’re sure that you’ve heard this more than one or two times growing up from your parents or other adults. Here’s the thing— it wasn’t bossy adults being adults. It really is true. Chewing your food, also known as mastication, is the first step of the digestive process.
While you may have rolled your eyes at that request before, we’re going to dig into why chewing your food is so important and what chewing actually does to food.
Ready to sink your teeth in? Let’s go.
What Happens When You Chew Food?
Your body has to break down food into smaller and smaller pieces. Chewing is the first step in getting our food into smaller pieces. While your teeth start breaking down the food into small pieces, the rest of the mouth gets involved as well. Your taste buds actually detect the chemicals that make up the food we are eating— such as carbs, protein, and fats. Pretty smart of our little buds!
You know how you salivate just before you are about to eat something delicious? This usually happens to me when I’m about to eat chocolate, see chocolate, or even am just hearing about chocolate! The sight and smell of food trigger the salivary glands to produce saliva. Your eyes and your nose sense something delicious and send a message to the brain that you’re about to eat something. Therefore, your mouth gets ready by producing saliva. Saliva contains digestive enzymes that start breaking down food molecules as soon as you put food in your mouth. That’s right! Salvia plays a role in digestion too.
For example, salivary amylase is the enzyme that begins breaking down starches and carbohydrates. In saliva, there is also a potent lipase called salivary lipase. It is secreted continuously and accumulates in the stomach between meals. Between 10 percent and 30 percent of dietary fat is hydrolyzed in the stomach by this enzyme. Again, by not chewing properly, you’re not activating this process in order for it to do its job correctly.
Once you have chewed, your taste buds have sent the information about what you are eating, and the enzyme in your saliva starts breaking apart starches, you’re probably ready to swallow. Your tongue pushes the chewed food or bolus (technical term) to the back of your throat, you swallow the food down your esophagus, and the food has dropped into your belly. Saliva makes this process much easier by lubricating the food and esophagus.
Properly chewing your food can also affect your appetite, decreasing the amount of food you eat per meal. As shown in a scientific study, “Evidence currently suggests that chewing may decrease self-reported hunger and food intake, possibly through alterations in gut hormone responses related to satiety.” This means that your body has time to process how much food it needs to eat to really be satiated, which is certainly a healthy eating habit!
What Happens if You Don’t Chew Your Food Properly?
If you’re not chewing long enough, you’re not breaking down your food which causes maldigested foods to enter your blood. Maldigested foods are full of microorganisms and undigested fats, which can possibly lead to digestive issues like bloating, gas, diarrhea, cramping, or constipation. It has also been known to cause food reactions, headaches, and even lowered energy levels.
When you chew your food, more digestive enzymes are produced that assist in digestion. Chewing also triggers hydrochloric acid to be produced in the stomach, which helps to regulate the pH to further assist with the digestion of food.
Moreover, breaking down food into smaller and smaller pieces also helps our body to get the most out of our food— to absorb all the vitamins and minerals possible. The smaller the pieces, the larger the surface area (that sounds backward, we know, but trust us, it’s true!), and the more surface area available, the easier it is for our body to break down the nutrients and absorb them.
Chewing also reduces the risk of bacterial overgrowth. While that sounds like a stretch, it certainly isn’t. When there are large lumps of food that haven’t been broken down properly, this can lead to bacterial overgrowth in the colon. Yuck.
What Are the Benefits of Chewing a Lot?
- Absorb more nutrients from your food
- Prevent bacterial overgrowth
- Prevent stress to the esophagus
- Break down your food even further with salvia
- Easier digestive process
- Consume the right amount of food
- Lowering the risk of bloating, gas, diarrhea, cramping, or constipation
- Enjoy your food more!
How Many Times to Chew Your Food?
Studies have revealed that food should be chewed about 32 times. That’s 32 chews per bite of food. While that may sound like an exhausting amount of time— it really is for your own benefit. The extra chewing helps your body digest the food properly so you can absorb all the nutrients and prevent all the nasty consequences and side effects of improper chewing! We’d also like to note that certain foods that are more difficult to chew, like nuts, may need up to 40 chew per bite, whereas for foods that are much softer, like mashed potatoes, you only will need to chew five to ten times.
Chewing is Good for Your Brain and Your Body
While we’ve covered how chewing your food is important to the health of your digestive system, here’s a little-known fact— chewing is good for your brain. According to a scientific study published in the National Library of Medicine, “recent studies have shown that mastication helps to maintain cognitive functions in the hippocampus, a central nervous system region vital for spatial memory and learning.”
Chew on This!
Next time you’re eating, remember to take a breath, relax, give thanks and thoroughly chew your food. Now, we sound like your mother! But, seriously, chew, chew, chew. This way, your body can digest and get all the nutrients from your food! Proper digestion starts in your mouth.