Gut Health FAQ: Why Is Chewing Important?
Have you ever paid attention to the amount of chewing you do when you’re eating? Did you realize you were chewing a lot, or maybe very little?
How thoroughly you chew your food, has a major impact on your body’s ability to digest it and absorb nutrients from food and also on digestive issues like bloating. So, why exactly is chewing important?
It Starts With Saliva
All the digestion in the body starts in the mouth. As soon as we put food in our mouth, our saliva comes in touch with the food. Saliva has multiple properties that help break food down.
Saliva consists of water, electrolytes (salts), mucus and enzymes. The enzymes are proteins that are helping to break down your food! The enzyme that is present in the saliva is Alpha-amylase which breaks down carbohydrates.
Other than that, the saliva is mostly helping to moisten the food and keep your mouth and teeth healthy.
As soon as the food reaches the stomach, the enzyme Alpha-amylase will stop working. Stomach acid breaks down the functional parts of the enzyme.
So the longer you chew, the longer the enzymes will break down the carbohydrates for you. Making digestion easier.
You can experience (and taste) the breakdown of the carbohydrates at home. Take a piece of wholegrain bread, put it in your mouth and start chewing. Keep chewing, don’t swallow. Chewing until the bread starts to taste sweet. The carbohydrates in bread have now been broken down to sugar. Fun right?
Do you want more tips and tricks on proper digestion? Schedule an online consultation at my online dietitian practice Darm diëtist, and I will help you with all your questions!
Broken Down by Teeth
Another factor is the actual breakdown of the food by your teeth. As you probably know, chewing makes food smaller. And that is exactly what you need for proper digestion! With chewing you grind, break and cut the food into smaller pieces. The smaller the pieces are, the easier they are to digest.
Your body’s way to digest food is with digestive juices. Once the food enters the small intestine from the stomach, the bile acids are added for digestion. The bile acids will start to break down the food from the surfaces it can reach. So the smaller the food is, the easier the breakdown will be. This will put less strain on your digestive system and will maximize the amount of nutrients you will get from the food. This will also reduce the amount of bloating you’ll experience after eating. The more complete the digestion is, the less food there is for the bacteria to break down and produce gas.
Faster and Longer Satiety
Chewing your food takes time. Studies have shown that your feeling of satiety generally starts to become noticeable about 20 minutes after we start eating. The faster we eat, the more food we will have wolfed down by that time! Properly chewing your food, will decrease the amount you eat before you reach satiety.
And not only will it decrease the amount you eat, but it will also keep you full for longer. The more attention we have for the food we eat, the longer our satiety will last. Your body will register your food intake best when the full attention is at the food. Usually, when we chew thoroughly, this means we have attention for the food we eat.
When we don’t have attention for the food we eat, chewing is often forgotten or cut short. This will also result in a faster return of a hungry feeling.
How Long Should You Chew?
That’s all pretty interesting right? But how long should you actually chew then? In general, it is advised to chew 20-25x per bite. That really is a lot! Try to count the amount you chew your food at the next meal you have, and then slowly work your way upwards. Just add 5 more chews to every bite the next couple of meals, and build it up to around 20-25x per bite.
Make sure not to take too big of a bite, this will make it harder to chew it all properly. And put your cutlery down in between bites.
Here’s another fun experiment you can try: take a bite and start chewing. Just keep chewing. After a while, you’ll start to notice your mouth becoming emptier. Your mouth has natural mechanisms to move the food that is chewed enough to your throat for you to swallow. Basically, your body is telling you when food has been chewed small enough to be swallowed. You just have to listen to it, amazing right?
Now you know the ins and outs of chewing. So how often do you chew? And do you notice a reduction of symptoms when you chew more? Let me know!
Hi there, I’m Manon.
In my daily life I work as a registered dietitian in the Netherlands with a special interest in gut health.
During my workday I get loads of questions about healthy food, recipes and lifestyle to make it a little easier to get healthy. On Positive Gut I collect my best recommendations, tips and recipes to make your healthy lifestyle a little easier!