Are you one of the 74% of Americans experiencing digestive distress? Luckily, simple techniques that everyone can do may go a long way in reversing this trend.
The trend in the West is to eat fast, on the run—gobble and go while inhaling food. This, according to Ayurveda, is a very bad idea and linked to some not-so-good juju! For example, one famous saying says, “If you eat standing up, death looks over your shoulder.”
According to Ayurveda, the digestive process starts with the sight, smell, and taste of food.2
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The second step in the digestive process is chewing. The benefits of chewing are quite amazing and unsung! Here are my top 10 science-backed reasons why we should fully chew our food.
Chewing Reason #1: Help Out Lower Digestion
The most obvious reason for chewing is the mechanical effect. But not only does chewing mechanically break down food, it also stimulates production of digestive enzymes in the mouth.10
If you have some downstream or intestinal digestive issues, simple logic would suggest that if you could fully break down food in the mouth with enzymes and chewing, the workload to finish digesting in the intestines would be much less.10,11 So, step one in rebooting your digestive strength, especially for hard-to-digest foods like bread, is to stop, relax, and fully chew your food!11
Chewing Science: Dr. Damien Brady at the Bioscience Research Institute in Ireland conducted a study comparing raw coconut oil with a naturally enzyme-modified coconut oil, modified or predigested to mimic the effect of the digestive process that starts in the mouth.
They found that partially-digested coconut oil is more effective than raw at impacting levels of potentially harmful bacteria in the mouth, including infamous Streptococcus mutans.18 Once coconut oil is partially digested by enzymes, it can attack cavity-causing bacteria!
This is exactly what happens when we take time to chew our food. Enzymes in the mouth mix with chewed food and literally change its properties. Raw coconut oil was completely different and much less potent than predigested coconut oil (chewed and mixed with mouth digestive enzymes).
Ayurvedic oil pulling or swishing oil in the mouth every morning accomplishes the same thing as when coconut oil is predigested.
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We are just beginning to understand the impact of digestive bacteria that start the digestive process in the mouth.10 How bacteria and enzymes transform our food and then transform us is still being understood in Western science, but is something Ayurveda knew thousands of years ago.
Chewing Reason #2: Increase Satisfaction + Reduce Food Intake
Chewing food longer has been shown in many studies to increase satisfaction and satiety and reduce hunger levels.2,3 In one study, 10 out of 16 experiments found that chewing reduced food intake. In another study, five out of 16 experiments found a significant effect of chewing on satiation.2
Finally, prolonged mastication significantly reduces self-reported hunger levels, suggesting that longer chewing makes us less hungry and more satisfied.3
Chewing Reason #3: Boost Hunger Hormones
Chewing has been linked to a boost in hunger hormones that tell the body to stop eating. In a meta-analysis, three out of five studies showed that increasing number of chews per bite increases relevant gut hormones linked to feelings of being full.3
Chewing Reason #4: Weight Loss
Chewing has been linked in numerous studies to weight loss. One study found that more chewing prolonged meal time and reduced rate of eating. People slowed down and enjoyed their food more while losing weight!4,5
Overweight participants of another study chewed less and ingested more calories. Chewing 50 times per bite reduced caloric intake, suggesting that slow eating caused by more chewing may help reduce caloric intake during meals.5
Chewing Reason #5: Boost Rest-and-Digest Nervous System
The autonomic nervous system is composed of two parts, the fight-or-flight sympathetic system and the rest-and-digest parasympathetic system. Chewing was found to significantly activate digestive-boosting parasympathetic response compared to other activities.6
When the body is relaxed and enjoying food, the digestive nervous system engages. When you eat while stressed or on the run, the rest-and-digest nervous system turns off. Rest-and-digest nervous system activity is boosted by longer, mindful, and more effective chewing.
Chewing Reason #6: Decrease Cravings + Emotional Eating
Many of us battle with uncontrollable cravings and emotional eating. The gorging gene may be responsible for this. Our ancestors rarely had an excess of food, but when they did, say, run into a ripe fig tree or huckleberry patch, the gorging gene would kick in and encourage us to eat as many figs or berries as possible. Early humans knew that a bear or other fig- and berry-eating creature could show up any minute!
Studies show that when attention or mindfulness during eating is combined with prolonged chewing, there is significant reduction in weight, food cravings, and emotional eating.7
Chewing Reason #7: Boost Cognitive Function
Chewing has been found to boost cognitive function in many studies. In Colorado, students are given gum before standardized tests to help them achieve better scores.
As folks get older, they generally chew less, resulting in more chronic health and digestive concerns. Studies show that chewing in animals, adolescents, and older adults increases cognitive function. In the brain, there are multiple neural circuits connecting chewing with the hippocampus, which is directly linked to cognitive function.8
Chewing Reason #8: Better Attention + Focus
It is well known that chewing gum is used for sleepiness prevention during work, learning, and driving, suggesting a link between chewing and sustained attention. A meta-analysis of many studies on chewing evaluated whether chewing elevates attention and/or alertness, leading to improvements in cognitive performance. 64% of studies they evaluated showed that chewing food or gum had positive effects on attention and focus.9
Chewing Reason #9: Lack of Chewing Linked to Numerous Digestive Concerns
A study with folks who had chewing difficulties found that 60% of 142 participants had chronic digestive complaints. 32 had abdominal pain (burning sensation, bloating, or cramps), 12 had constipation or diarrhea, and 41 reported both abdominal pain and bowel movement concerns.
After jaw surgery and restoration of normal chewing, 85% reported significant improvement in abdominal pain and 64% of those complaining of constipation or diarrhea saw a restoration of normal bowel function.11
Chewing Reason #10: How Many Times Do I Need to Chew Each Bite?
Some reports say the magic number of bites is 32 per mouthful. Others say each bite must be chewed for 30 seconds. I don’t think your meals would be very enjoyable is you had to count chews or set a timer before you could swallow.
Ayurvedically, being relaxed and mindful is the key. Chew until all taste in that bite is gone and there is no sense of the original texture. Then swallow. Sipping room temperature water or tea with meals, creating a soup-like consistency in the stomach, is a good idea!
Imagine how many more times you would chew, how great your digestion would be, and how smart you would become8,9 if you followed these simple rules:
- Sit and relax when eating
- Chew until most or all taste in that bite is gone
- Chew until original texture of the food is gone—then swallow!
Learn more about Ayurvedic eating here.