Chewing for health
Chewing more may be one of the most cost effective ways to optimise your health.
If you are someone who is frequently replacing meals with juices and smoothies, you may be shocked to learn that the absence of chewing could be compromising your nutrient absorption.
Really? That can’t be true, I hear you saying.
Let’s face it, the juice and smoothie industry has done a great job of convincing us that cramming all those fruits and veges into our blenders and drinking them down is the best thing we could do for our health. But if we look a little closer at the physiology of digestion, it’s easy to see that the absence of chewing can actually compromise nutrient absorption. In fact you may get better nutrient uptake and metabolic activation, by chewing those smoothie ingredients instead.
Digestion actually begins with the act of chewing your food. In fact, the process of tasting and chewing sets off a chain of responses throughout the entire digestive system, helping to prepare it so that your body can absorb essential nutrients. When food is processed in such a way that chewing is bypassed, an important step is missed, meaning the digestive system is not primed for optimal nutrient absorption.
As you chew, food is broken down into smaller particles. The saliva that is secreted during this process, coats these food particles with enzymes that start to digest fats and starches inside your mouth. When you chew your food well, you create a bigger surface area for the enzymes to work on, which helps them to be broken down even more thoroughly. The more exposed the food particles are to saliva, the more they are coated with the enzymes.
Once this food is swallowed, the digestive enzymes from the mouth, together with stomach acid, continue to work on the surface of the food fragments. When food is well chewed, the stomach is able to work efficiently before it then moves the food into your small intestine. Once in the small intestine the food particles are mixed with even more enzymes that continue to break it down. It is in the small intestine where maximum absorption of nutrients and energy needs to occur.
Insufficient chewing may compromise your body’s ability to absorb nutrients. Bypassing this important digestive step may mean your body is not able to produce enough enzymes to fully break down the food you eat. Signs of this include digestive problems such as bloating, heartburn, acid reflux, indigestion, gas and low energy amongst many others. Some people find the simple act of chewing well and for a longer period of time, eases many of these symptoms.
Another benefit for some people, is that chewing your food for longer and at a slower pace may also reduce your overall food intake. In fact, the simple act of chewing more, could be a new habit worth cultivating for a huge positive impact on your health.
Teff, K., Nutritional implications of the cephalic-phase reflexes: endocrine responses. Appetite, 2000. 34(2): p. 206-213.
Zafra, M.A., F. Molina, and A. Puerto, The neural/cephalic phase reflexes in the physiology of nutrition. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 2006. 30(7): p. 1032-1044.