August 12, 2013

Slow Down & CHEW!

Articles by Dr. Erdman are for informational purposes, and are not to be taken as specific medical advice.

You’ve probably heard many a parent telling their children to stop eating so fast, slow down and chew your food. I used to hear it all the time growing up. I think I could have been done with my plate of food before Mom and Dad even started! I was in a hurry to get back outside and play.

Have you ever noted how people around you eat when you are at a restaurant?  Some eat slow and talk their way through a meal, while others are all business, get it in and get it down! I’ve often heard it said you should chew each bite 25 times. Whoever came up with that, I have no idea, but it sounds a bit like over kill to me. At that point why not just puree it?

Believe it or not, there really are physiological and psychological reasons to chew your food properly. What is properly chewing a bite of food? Well, I haven’t found anything to be too dogmatic about, and the amount each food needs masticated (chewed) obviously depends on what it is. It is not necessarily how many times you chew each bite, but how each morsel taken in ends up before you swallow it. Eating on the run or in front of the TV is not conducive to good food processing. Unfortunately, short school lunch periods and half hour lunches at work tend to force us into fast eating and a bad habit. You should eat purposefully, taking smaller bites, chewing slow and steady, and fully breaking down each bite until it has lost its basic texture. You need to finish chewing and swallow completely, prior to taking another bite. Do not wash your food down with liquid. That is not to say don’t drink with your meal, just don’t chew half way and wash it down with drink.

When you completely chew your food, more nutrients and energy are absorbed from the food. Your stomach and intestines have less work to do to procure the necessary nutrients. It also helps prevent improperly digested food from entering your system. “Particle size [affects the] bioaccessibility of the energy of food that is being consumed. The more you chew, the less is lost and more is retained in the body,” says Dr. Richard Mattes, a professor at Purdue University. When the particles you swallow are smaller, less large particles enter the intestines. When large particles remain undigested into the intestines, bacteria must break them down. This is a putrefying process that can then cause gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, cramping and abdominal pain.

By chewing thoroughly, the longer it takes you to finish a meal. This is a good thing, because, ultimately, it will allow you to eat less food and still feel full. Why? Because your system takes time for your brain to signal your stomach that it is full. Science has shown that people who eat more slowly generally consume 10% fewer calories.

By eating more slowly and chewing more thoroughly, the food is exposed to more saliva. Saliva is filled with enzymes that start the digestion process. It also lubricates your food, so it’s easier on the esophagus.

Besides, when you rush through a meal with hardly any chewing, you’re not tasting the food or enjoying it. Both of which are good psychological outcomes of consuming food.

There is one other aspect of chewing that I must touch on, and that is chewing for no reason, while you are not consuming food. Yes, I’m talking about the constant chewing of gum some people are addicted to. When you chew, your body sends signals to your brain that food is about to enter the body. Enzymes and stomach acids are ramped up, yet no food shows up. This causes stomach bloating, overproduction of stomach acid, and can reduce your ability to produce sufficient digestive secretions when food does show up in the stomach. Excessive gum chewing can also cause mechanical muscle imbalances in the jaw, leading to a painful TMJ pain. Generally gum chewing should be avoided on a regular basis. Chewing gum occasionally for better breath or after a meal to help clean the teeth when you can’t do proper oral cleaning is one  thing, but chewing gum constantly is not a habit I would recommend.

Let this information be a simple reminder to slow down, enjoy your food, and reap the benefits of better health by doing so.