Digestion begins in the mouth, not in the stomach. It begins with chewing, especially in the case of plant foods like vegetables, fruits, grains and beans. Chewing helps to break the plant's tough cellulose wall and release the nutrients.
The Rise of "Fast Food" and Its Effects on Chewing Habits
In today's hurried world, "fast food" has become the norm and it is not uncommon for people to gulp down a meal in less than five minutes. In most cases, this is due more to habit than to valid reasons such as not having adequate time for meals. One reason for this habit is because most people eat refined foods that are soft and do not require chewing, as they contain little fibre. If you eat a high-fibre meal of whole grains, vegetables and beans, you will find yourself automatically chew your food more.
The Role of Meat in Altering Chewing Patterns
Another reason is that people eat too much meat. In nature, meat-eating animals swallow their prey - because the digestion of meat depends on stomach acids rather than on enzymes released by chewing. Plant-eating animals chew their food all day long. So when humans eat meat, they automatically swallow rather than chew.
Exploring the Benefits of Thorough Chewing
- There are many reasons for you to chew your food well:
Chewing mashes your food into small pieces and partially liquefies it, making it easier to digest. But this is not the most important reason. Otherwise, you could use a chopper or electric blender to break up your food.
- The more important reason is that chewing stimulates the production of saliva, which contains digestive enzymes. Chewing is part of the digestive process. The longer you chew, the more you ease the workload of your stomach and intestines.
- Chewing sends signals to the pancreas and other digestive organs to get ready for their jobs of secreting various digestive juices.
The Macrobiotic Approach: Emphasizing Chewing and Its Recommendations
Macrobiotics is one health philosophy that places great emphasis on chewing and the recommendation is at least 50 times per mouthful. Another common advice is to "drink your solids and eat your liquids". It means we should chew solid foods thoroughly until they turn liquid before swallowing - and "chew" liquid foods a few times to stimulate saliva production and send signals to tell the body that food is being taken.
Tips for Increasing Chewing Habits and Discovering Food's True Taste
Many people will find this hard to do, because they do not chew each mouthful of food more than four or five times. I suggest you make a conscious effort to slowly increase the number of times you chew each mouthful of food, until you reach 10, 20, 30... and more. you chew your food thoroughly, you will discover another important benefit of chewing - your food tastes better. At least, natural and healthy foods will taste better. If you chew brown rice or whole wheat bread, you will find that it gets more delicious and sweet with chewing. The same happens when you chew carrot, broccoli or some salad leaves. But if you chew refined white bread, it starts to taste and feel awful after a while. Chewing, then, is a good way to discover which foods are truly good for your health.
The Role of Chewing in Child Development and Early Eating Habits
Young children hardly chew their food because their molar teeth are not fully developed until two years old. In the past, mothers would chew food before feeding it to their babies. Nowadays, this is considered "unhygienic" but it actually helps the baby's digestion. If the mother is in good health, there is nothing unhygienic about her saliva. In fact, she strengthens her baby's intestinal health by passing on her friendly bacteria.
The Calming Practice: Prayer and Mindful Eating
Many religions have a practice of saying a thanksgiving prayer before meals. Whether or not you are religious, that short prayer or even a pause of silence will certainly put you in a calmer state of mind to prepare your body for eating.
And while you are eating, don't do other things like read or, worse still, work, walk or run. Focus on your food. Sit down and eat in a relaxed manner. Light conversation with friends is okay because friendly social contact is also relaxing. Avoid heated discussions about politics, religion or other contentious issues.
The Consequences of Unnecessary Chewing, Such as Chewing Gum
But while chewing is important, it is equally important not to chew when you are not eating! Why would anybody do this? Many people do - when they take chewing gum. This is a sign of the world turned upside down! People are not chewing when they need to and chewing when they don't need to.
Unnecessary chewing sends false signals to your brain to prepare your body for digestion. This creates a lot of stress, especially for your pancreas, which will grow exhausted from the repeated over-production of insulin and digestive enzymes. Eventually, it will not be able to produce enough digestive enzymes when you need them.
This content is adapted, with permission, from Book 1 of 2 : The Wonders of Nutrition by Dr Ang Poon Liat. MBBS, M.MED (PAED), MRCP (UK PAED), FAMS, MD.