Mastication: Why you need to do more of it (and no, it’s not…dirty)

Nom nom nom. Sound familiar? It should! For a long time you’ve likely been hearing that chewing your food is important, and that you should slow down when eating. These bits of advice are not unwarranted, but they are usually touted as good reasons so you can eat less, and recognize the “full” feeling earlier to prevent overeating. That’s awesome – AND there’s another reason that doesn’t usually get talked about. Maybe because it’s not as obvious, or people don’t think about it.

What if I told you that not enough chewing could hinder the entire digestion process, and that all that healthy eating you were doing was potentially going to waste because of it??? Ack! My entire life I’ve been known as an insanely fast eater. I don’t often even think about it, or remember the process of eating a meal. It just disappears. Recently as I’ve become more conscious of this, and after learning more about the importance of a healthy digestive system, I realized I was glazing over a critical step in the process. I wasn’t chewing my food enough! I was practically swallowing it whole! What a waste of time and energy to buy, prepare and cook super healthy!!!

What if I told you that not enough chewing could hinder the entire digestion process

Mastication is the scientific term for grinding, chewing, crushing,…etc. It is the first step in a series of important steps in your digestive process. It’s also the only one you can actually control. If you are controlling what is going into your mouth, then you ABSOLUTELY need to control that first vital step in extracting all the goodness of the food you’re eating.

Let me explain: when we chew our food, there are a few things happening:

Leigh Chmilar Chewing Apple

  • The food is broken down physically by our teeth into small mushy bits and forms a glob called the “Bolus”. Yeah that’s right – they have a term for that wad of mush in your mouth.
  • Enzymes present  in your saliva are released when chewing. These enzymes are called “Amylase” – and they are the first step in the breakdown of carbohydrates.
  • Saliva helps coat the bolus for easy swallowing. Ever noticed difficulty or pain down your throat and chest if you’ve swallowed too much, or not chewed enough before swallowing? Likely this is due to not chewing enough, which would have made the food softer and more coated for easy transport down the esophagus.
  • Chewing also separates the fats from the rest of the food. It’s critically important that we chew our food enough to make sure the fats can be digested later!

So what!? Let’s get to the point. Well, look at this photo. The mouth is part of the system! 

Digestive System

Photo courtesy of WebMD.com

If you fail to chew your food enough, it may become less digestible by the stomach and small intestine because the particles are too large or onerous for the enzymes to break down for absorption of the nutrients. Think about it – digestion is all about chemical reactions. The smaller the particles of food, the faster and more effectively the enzymes can get to work on breaking them down into their primary components for absorption.

Once the food is swallowed, your amazing machine of a body begins the rest of the digestion process without any of your control. The food passes down into the stomach, where a mixture of hydrochloric acid and Protein-digesting enzymes are secreted to begin to break down the food further.

The stomach is where proteins are broken down into smaller chains of amino acids (peptides), and the food is churned to reduce it’s volume. The stomach also acts as a holding tank to slowly allow the Chyme to enter the small intestine at a rate at which it can digest the food.

The stomach does very little to digest fats, it is still mainly working on separating the fats from food, and since they are lighter, they “float” on the rest of the chyme, and are generally digested last (which is why heavy, fat-laden meals keep us feeling full for longer!).

There is a case to be made for drinking too much fluid while eating because it dilutes the gastric juices in your stomach, which can hinder the first step of protein digestion. Not enough stomach acid can compromise protein digestion by failing to open the protein structure at this point in the process. In the United States, the lack of stomach acid secretion (hypochlorhydria) is a common issue linked to the overuse of antacids.

If the protein cannot be broken down in the stomach, then the amino acids will not be absorbed by the small intestine, resulting in potential protein deficiency (read my protein blog here for why this is important!).

The small intestine is where the magic happens. It is the primary location where the nutrients of the food are absorbed.Various enzymes from the pancreas are also secreted in the small intestine to assist in further digestion (breaking down) of lipids, proteins and carbohydrates. They need to be broken down into their smallest components (usually) for absorption by the intestine into the bloodstream.

The lining of the small intestine is where nutrients become absorbed. If the digestive system is healthy, then about 95% of fats are absorbed into the body. What I’m getting at is that the food needs to be digested properly before anything is absorbed. If it doesn’t happen, the benefits of the food are not enjoyed. Eek!

Leigh Chmilar Chewing

So, you see where I’m going with this? If you don’t CHEW your food, you might be leading yourself down a path that leads to many health problems. Many doctors and nutritionists know already that a healthy digestive system is vital to prevention of disease. Why? Because it is where our body actually gets all the nutrients it needs to function at optimal levels. So let’s be smart. Let’s take care and give it a good shot at absorbing all the healthy nutrients in the good, wholesome food that I know you’ve been eating!

I hope you enjoyed this odd post – I enjoyed writing it 😉

With lots of love,

Leigh

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