The Art of Chewing: Unlock The Benefits of Functional Nutrition
Posted by Andrea Nakayama
Functional Nutrition Introduction: Understanding the importance of chewing
In the realm of Functional Nutrition, the art of chewing holds surprising significance. While it may seem like a simple act, mindful chewing plays a crucial role in how our bodies process and utilize the nutrients we consume. Let’s explore the importance of chewing as a key mechanical step in digestion and its powerful impacts on health.
The connection between chewing and digestion
I often say “we’re not just what we eat, but what our body can do with what we eat”. In this way, we are what we can digest, absorb, and utilize. These biochemical digestive processes are what allow us to make use of the nutrients we consume.
Therefore, we are, in part, the health of our organs and body systems and their abilities to function. It’s curious to me how we can overlook the importance of many of the body’s chemical reactions, particularly those that happen within our digestive systems. Some of the chemical processes involved in digestion are initiated by the particular foods we eat while others are affected by the strength and efficiency of our internal organs.
I call this “symbiosis”: where food meets physiology.
The practice of mindful chewing
When my husband, Isamu, was diagnosed with a brain tumor back in April of 2000, we tried everything we could to promote his health and allow his body to focus attention where it was most necessary. The most rewarding of our new routines were the areas where we could make immediate change and feel the difference. I created organic, healthy and delicious meals. He adopted the conscientious practice of chewing. Not just chewing, but chewing a lot.
Isamu chewed and chewed.
With his quiet etiquette and concrete determination, he chomped every bite thoroughly. Every meal became a feast. It was an opportunity to savor and delight in the taste and aroma of his food. I don’t know if he was counting to 50 or 100 during his ruminations, or if the practice just became ingrained once he set his mind to it.
Why chewing matters for digestion
Digestion is one of the essential jobs of the human body. In fact, digestion is a cascade of actions where the success of each event is dependent on the completion of the prior action. While some of the initial steps involved in digestion are chemical, one of the first is mechanical – chewing.
When you chew, your food breaks down and signals hormones, enzymes, and gastric juices to initiate the chemical processes of digestion. The longer your food stays in this stage of dissolve, in this mechanical and chemical decomposition that occurs within your mouth, the easier the rest of the digestive actions are on the rest of your body.
Not only is your food dissected into smaller and smaller bits by your teeth, but your saliva produces enzymes (such as amylase and lipase) that further disassemble your food’s molecules. Saliva also contains softening agents to allow the food to be molded into a ball (called a bolus) for swallowing. In addition, as you chew, you also create more time to chemically alert the rest of your digestive system to start its engines!
Well-chewed food glides easily through the esophagus and into the stomach.
Dried and unchewed food has a more stilted journey through the entire digestive and metabolic chain reaction.
The benefits of chewing thoroughly
Enhanced Digestion: Thoroughly chewing food allows for better breakdown and nutrient absorption. The longer food remains in the mouth during the mechanical and chemical decomposition process, the easier it is for the rest of the digestive system to function effectively.
Improved Gut Health: Because well-chewed food glides smoothly through the esophagus and into the stomach, it promotes optimal digestion and reduces the risk of bloating, gas, and abdominal pain. Chewing alone can significantly benefit the digestive system and overall health.
Energy Conservation: By freeing up the energy of the digestive system through efficient chewing, we create space for other activities and accomplishments. Improved digestion leads to increased energy levels, allowing us to pursue our goals and aspirations with vitality.
The art of chewing
- Slow down and savor your food
- Count 40-50 chews per bite (if this task feels daunting at first, start with one meal per day to explore the habit)
- Notice the texture of your food in your mouth
- Chew on both sides of your mouth
- Pay attention to your body’s cues and signals while you chew – notice the sensations of hunger, fullness, and satisfaction.
The Journey to Habitual Chewing
Over several weeks of consistent practice, mindful chewing can become second nature. Tune in to the sensation of fully chewed food in your mouth and observe how you feel after those meals. By incorporating mindful chewing into your personal routine or clinical recommendations, you can unlock the benefits of improved digestion and overall well-being through the comprehensive practices of Functional Nutrition.
Chewing is not only a fundamental part of eating but a key to unlocking the powers of digestion and Functional Nutrition. By recognizing its significance and embracing the art of mindful chewing, we can help clients enhance digestion, improve gut health, tap into hunger and satiety, and more.
Hamada Y, Hayashi N. Chewing increases postprandial diet-induced thermogenesis [published correction appears in Sci Rep. 2021 Dec 23;11(1):24483]. Sci Rep. 2021;11(1):23714. Published 2021 Dec 9. doi:10.1038/s41598-021-03109-x
Kumar A, Almotairy N, Merzo JJ, et al. Chewing and its influence on swallowing, gastrointestinal and nutrition-related factors: a systematic review [published online ahead of print, 2022 Jul 14]. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2022;1-31. doi:10.1080/10408398.2022.2098245
Yaoita F, Watanabe K, Kimura I, et al. Impact of habitual chewing on gut motility via microbiota transition. Sci Rep. 2022;12(1):13819. Published 2022 Aug 15. doi:10.1038/s41598-022-18095-x
van Casteren A, Codd JR, Kupczik K, Plasqui G, Sellers WI, Henry AG. The cost of chewing: The energetics and evolutionary significance of mastication in humans. Sci Adv. 2022;8(33):eabn8351. doi:10.1126/sciadv.abn8351
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