Do you ever find yourself eating a meal without giving it any thought? Do you sometimes find that you swallow large mouthfuls of food without even a couple of chews? Chewing is such a basic action, and yet so many people barely think about it, let alone focus on doing it well.
Why do we need to chew?
You might think that it’s not all that important, assuming that the stomach will take up any large particles and digest them for you, but you’d be wrong. As well as taking time to smell and visually enjoy your meals, chewing sends the brain a powerful message. It announces that food is on the way and secretions of HCl and digestive enzymes need to be triggered asap. Not to mention that gulping down food also involves gulping down air, which can lead to pain and bloating after a meal.
These digestive enzymes start in the mouth with saliva. This initiates the breakdown of carbohydrates in the mouth and triggers the breakdown of fats once the food has reached the stomach. Only by chewing thoroughly and really mixing your mouthfuls with saliva can it work its magic.
Chewing your food properly – ideally to the consistency of baby food – also increases the surface area of the foods. It breaks down the cell walls and allows the nutrients contained within to be exposed to the enzymes and made available for absorption. Not chewing well = not absorbing well. It’s as simple as that.
That action of chewing can also be helpful for weight loss. It is thought that this comes from an increased mindfulness about the food being consumed. Taking time over a meal allows increased awareness of the food eaten. This gives time for the hormone responsible for satiety to kick in and let you know when you’ve eaten enough.
So, how many chews is the right number?
It’s hard to say, and depends on the food you’re eating. Aiming for 10-15 chews per mouthful could be a good place to start – with a few more if you think it needs it!