Have you ever noticed how many times you chew your food? I’ve got four reasons why you should probably be chewing more than you currently are to support IBS symptoms.
The importance of chewing your food
The aim of chewing is to liquidise food in your mouth before it goes down into your stomach. The optimal times to chew our food is thought to be about 30, but that will probably feel like a lot when you first try this.
To begin just notice how many times you chew your food before you swallow. Then see if you can increase the amount of time chewing (or masticating to give it the proper term) to make sure your food is well mashed up before you swallow.
Here’s why we should all be more mindful of chewing:
1. Saliva starts the digestion process
When we chew up our food properly it allows more time for our saliva to get to work. Saliva helps us keep food moving around in the mouth, and it eases the passage of food down your oesophagus into your stomach, making swallowing easier.
There is another reason saliva is important. It also contains enzymes which help you break down carbohydrates, called salivary amylase. This starts the digestion of carbohydrates in your mouth, breaking it down on a chemical level.
So the more you chew your food, the better because of the time spent in the mouth.
2. Stomach acid and digestive enzymes break down our food
I often say to children, ‘there’s no teeth in your tummy’. Chewing our food properly helps to mechanically break food down into smaller chunks before it gets to the chemical digestion process in the stomach. Your stomach is a bit like a blender mixing everything up, and starting to break down food into smaller constituent parts.
For example, protein digestion starts in the stomach, and the larger the particles are, the harder the stomach acid has to work to break down your steak.
If we can get our food to a smooth consistency, your digestive juices won’t have to work so hard.
Chewing your food properly helps you slow down to eat
When we chew properly we eat more slowly. We are better able to judge whether we’re full, or we’re hungry. If the process of eating takes a little longer, we have time to register whether we need to eat everything that’s on our plate or if we want to stop eating.
By chewing your food thoroughly you will allow your body time to get messages back to the brain about whether you feel whether you’re hungry, or full.
One study in lean and obese men showed men who chewed their food 30 times ate 11.9% less food and consumed a lower energy intake.
4. Chewing supports blood flow to the gut
Some research has shown that more time spent chewing can help us bring more blood flow to the gut. If you’re eating on the go, then your body is also diverting energy to sending that email or driving the car or whatever else you’re trying to do concurrently.
Chewing your food properly also improves what’s called Diet Induced Thermogenesis (DIT) – that is the amount of energy that your body expends on digestion.
This means we are able to burn more calories just from slowing down to eat, and chewing properly, which might help if you have a weight loss goal.
It’s about allowing our bodies to do what they are primed to do, digest food properly.
Are there any drawbacks to chewing your food?
If well mashed up food is good for us, what about just liquidizing all our meals?
Well apart from the fact that probably isn’t going to be very appetizing, it is the mechanism of chewing your food that actually helps, not just breaking down the chunks of food to mush. So putting all the food in the NutriBullet might make it smooth, but you won’t be getting the benefits of chewing.
The physical action of chewing supports more than just digestion. Also, if we were to completely liquidise our food then the fibre content would be reduced, potentially affecting gut health.
Non-digestive benefits of chewing
Some studies have linked increases in memory and concentration to chewing, and we know that losing teeth in the elderly is linked to an onset of dementia. Several research studies have shown chewing elevates alertness, consequently leading to improvements in cognitive performance.
These studies used chewing gum whilst people took memory and concentration tests, and those who were chewing did better than those who didn’t.
What about chewing gum after your meal?
A study on healthy Japanese men showed that chewing gum after a meal slightly increased the DIT, or the energy used up by digestion, but slowing down to eat was more effective to increase DIT.
Hi I'm Anna Mapson, registered Nutritionist (mBANT, CNHC). I help people with IBS, gut health and digestive issues.
I can help you to:
- understand your digestion better, so you recognise your triggers
- eat a well balanced diet, with tasty meals that are simple to prepare
- develop healthy, sustainable habits for life
“Anna is amazing! I feel totally transformed"
To find more about 1:1 nutrition consultations or my group membership see my IBS Diet support page