5th March 2018 by Jess
Did you know the simple act of chewing had such an impact on our gut health? Our nutritionist Jess lays out the science and her simple tip for chewing more.
The simple act of chewing is one of the first steps to a healthy digestive system; that and eating in a more relaxed environment which signals to your body that you are safe, your life is not in danger and it’s okay to divert its energies onto digestive processes (and not being on the lookout for predators).
Here are three reasons why we must chew our food.
When something goes into your mouth, receptors register responses from the taste and texture of food and liquids and send a signal to your brain.
The chewing motion (also known as ‘mastication’) releases enzymes into our saliva, so the longer you chew, the more time these enzymes have to start breaking down your food, making digestion easier on your stomach and small intestine. It's like turning the oven on before you put something in - you're preheating it.
Digestion is actually a very demanding task for your body, requiring a great deal of energy, especially if forced to digest improperly chewed food. Chewing properly allows your stomach to work more efficiently and break down your food faster.
Skip this important chewing part and you can cause the rest of your gut to be underprepared for the arrival of what’s to come. If you’re currently a ‘food inhaler’, and tend to swallow your feed without chewing, this can stress the stomach; you might experience this stress in the form of indigestion, bloating or a general feeling of digestive discomfort.
If you don't chew properly, large particles of improperly chewed food can enter your stomach, and later, the intestines. When larger food particles arrive at your intestines, bacteria are required to be on hand to break them down.
Bacteria are essential to an effective digestive process, but when bacteria are found in excess in the gut it can lead to unwanted symptoms such as gas, bloating, abdominal pain, cramping and other digestive problems. We know that our body is at its best when everything is in balance; chewing efficiently and consistently enables levels of bacteria to be in check, and not in excess.
Thoroughly chewing your food will naturally slow down the speed at which you eat your meals, and research shows that eating slowly can help you to eat less and, ultimately, to avoid weight gain. For example, chewing your food twice as long as you normally would will instantly help you control your portion sizes, which naturally decreases calorie consumption.
Generally speaking, most people in the Western world eat far too quickly. Slowing down the eating of your food will allow for a more efficient and timely communication between the stomach and brain, which in turn, creates better digestion and reduces the chance of over-eating.
It takes time (generally about 20 minutes) for your brain to signal to your stomach that you’re full, and this may explain why one study found people reported feeling fuller when they ate slowly. They also ended up consuming about 10% fewer calories when they ate at a slow pace, and presumably chewed slower, as opposed to when they were rushing.
At your next meal, count how many times you currently chew before you swallow your mouthful of food. Once you have that number, I want you to double it, so for example, if you chew five times, increase this to 10. If you chew 10 times, then increase this number to 20.
Once you have set the new habit of chewing double for a week, double it again up to a total of 30 chews. The target is to build up to 30 chews before swallowing. Some people will say different numbers when it comes to the amount of times, but 30 is a good rule of thumb and if you now chew 2 to 5 times, then you can see the benefits of increasing this to 30 already.
Notice what a difference this makes to the time you take to enjoy your food, how full you feel, whether you finish everything on your plate or feel sufficiently full with less!
By Jess, graze nutritionist.
Our nutritionist extraordinaire, Jess trained at the Institute for Optimum Nutrition and is a registered practitioner with the British Association for Applied Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She's the creator of our health badges, to help you choose the snacks and boxes that are right for you. Check out everything from Jess on our blog, with recipes and tricks to help you keep making better choices, or go to Jess's blog at jessipes.co.uk for even more.
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