Chewing is something you probably don’t think about. Most people aren’t conscious of how long they chew their food – and does it really matter? Actually, it does. There’s evidence that people who chew their food longer consume fewer calories than those that “wolf” down a meal in a hurry. Plus, there are other benefits from a nutritional standpoint when you take the time to thoroughly chew your food.
Digestion Begins in Your Mouth
Chewing is also known as mastication, the process of breaking your food into smaller pieces. Digestion begins in your mouth. Your saliva contains an enzyme called salivary lipase that begins the breakdown of fats. Most fat digestion takes place in the small intestine with the help of bile and enzymes produced by your pancreas, but enzymes in your saliva produced when you chew your food get the “ball rolling,” so to speak.
Carbohydrate digestion also starts in your mouth. Your saliva contains an enzyme called salivary amylase that breaks starches down into simple sugars that can later be absorbed by your small intestines.
There’s another reason to be aware of how you chew. Chewing is a stimulus for your stomach to start pumping out stomach acid to begin the process of breaking down proteins once they reach your stomach. Stomach acid also activates other enzymes involved in protein digestion. So, taking more time to chew your food helps with digestion as well. That’s one reason people who eat too fast suffer from indigestion.
How Chewing Affects Absorption of Nutrients
How important is chewing for nutrition? In a study carried out at Purdue University, researchers had a group of volunteers munch on almonds. Afterward, they monitored how much of the fat from the almonds passed through their body versus how much was absorbed. They discovered those that chewed the almonds longer (40 chews versus 10 chews), had faster absorption of the macronutrients in almonds.
On the other hand, volunteers that chewed the almonds quickly had larger almond chunks entering their digestive tract and these were more likely to be eliminated without being absorbed. So chewing your food too quickly you may miss out on some of the nutritional value of some foods. Of course, the trade-off is you’ll also absorb more calories, but as you’ll see, chewing your food more still works in your favor when it comes to weight and appetite control.
Chew Your Food More, Lose Weight?
Taking the time to chew your food longer could offer an advantage when it comes to controlling your weight. Not only does the extra effort you take to chew burn a few more calories, but you’ll also have eaten less by the time your appetite hormones kick in. It usually takes about twenty minutes for these hormones to begin turning off your appetite. By chewing more, you’ll start to feel full before you’ve taken in as many calories as usual.
What does research say about chewing, appetite control and weight loss? A small study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed participants that chewed their food 40 times as opposed to 10 consumed 12% fewer calories during a meal. If you did this every meal, it could have a significant impact on your weight. Making small changes like this are the easiest ones to stick with and make a difference if you do them consistently.
Enjoy Your Food More!
You’ll get more enjoyment out of the food you eat if you slow down the pace of your meal and chew more. Plus, you’ll have less indigestion afterward. Don’t get into the habit of eating on the go or eating lunch in front of your computer screen. How many times have you been so focused on doing something else that you finish a meal and realize you don’t even know what it tasted like?
Research shows a link between this kind of “mindless” eating and obesity. You’ll get more satisfaction from a meal or snack if you focus in on the flavors, texture, and aroma of what you’re eating. Greater satisfaction means you’ll be less tempted to go back for more or have a snack an hour later.
Next time you sit down to a meal track how many times you’re chewing each bite. Then make a conscious effort to chew each one longer. Aim for 40 chews per bite. You won’t need to count every time, it’ll become a habit. It also helps to take “pause breaks” every few bites where you put your fork down and rest for a minute or two.
By eating more slowly and chewing more, you may discover your digestive problems magically disappear. When you eat quickly, you swallow more air. This air passes into your digestive tract and leads to belching and bloating. If you have a problem with burping after meals, you’re probably an “air swallower” and need to eat more slowly and talk less while eating.
The Bottom Line?
You probably aren’t conscious of how much you chew your food or how fast you eat – but you should be. Chewing each bite more, taking more time to finish a meal and eating mindfully will help you feel more satisfied with a meal and you’ll likely consume fewer calories. Something to think about the next time you’re tempted to grab something and run.
“Effect of Bite Size and Chewing Time on Satiation” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
“Particle Size and Nutrient Bioavailability” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry
Am J Clin Nutr August 2011 ajcn.015164
Medical News Today. “The Benefit of Chewing Your Food More”
Science Daily. “Chew More to Retain More Energy”
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