I have a friend who I actually have not met. She is from Canada and her name is Krista Scott-Dixon. I got involved with her through her women’s weight lifting site Stumptuous seven years ago and she is someone who knows more about weight lifting, food, eating, and women’s health than anyone I know. She came up with a recipe for a smoothie made with coconut milk that basically kept my mother alive while she was dying of dementia. Brilliant woman. She’s widened her focus in terms of food but recently, she posted something that really hit home with me, which is that if she could say one thing to the people she coaches, it would be “slow down and chew your food.” There’s a lot of other stuff about being mindful about what we eat and the choices we make when we feel like we want to reward ourselves and so on.
But think of all the things that happen when we slow down and chew our food.
First of all (and if you are doing this, you ARE forgiven but stop doing it RIGHT NOW), when we actually take the time to make a meal and sit down and eat every bite in an attentive way, we are probably not sitting in front of the tv or the computer screen. And I know how easy it is to do this when we are at work because squeezing in lunchtime AWAY from the damn desk is often close to impossible (but we need to do it; the Man doesn’t own every single minute of our lives; if “he” did, then they’d install the computers in the bathroom). But when you are attending to something on the screen, you are not attending to what is happening in your mouth. Which means that the food that is being put in there is not getting masticated properly.
Second of all, there are a LOT of forms of food that we’re taking in that frankly could be delivered through a tube directly into our stomachs because they are fairly liquified. And that is actually not a really good thing because chewing has a lot of benefits. . . .
First, chewing makes bigger chunks of food smaller (no, duh). That increases the surface area that can be reacted with first in the mouth in the saliva and then in the stomach and small intestine with enzymes and chemicals there. That means that your body gets more bang for the buck in terms of what you are eating. The larger the chunks of food are that end up in the large intestine, the less complete the digestion is, which is (as Martha Stewart might say) NOT a good thing and encourages bacterial overgrowth, gas and other issues.
Second, chewing releases saliva which signals the pyloric valve at the bottom of the stomach to relax, which allows the food to move on (ahem) to its next stop, the small intestine.
Third, chewing, just by itself sends signals to the entire gastrointestinal tract to set itself up to accept and process the food. Healthful and complete digestion sets up the entire beneficial bacterial environment in the small and lower intestines. Scientists now have found connection between the numbers and types of bacterial in the colon and various chronic diseases, and between the types of food people are eating and those numbers and types of bacteria. ‘You are what you eat’ is very true.
Fourth, chewing also sends signals to the brain which tells us that we’ve reached satiety, that is, we feel full and don’t need to eat anymore. People who eat quickly tend to take in far more calories than people who eat slowly and methodically. Chewing thoughtfully can literally help people lose weight.
So, how much chewing is enough? Is this like the old prune commercials where “three isn’t enough and four is too many”?
“A good rule of thumb is as follows: if you can tell what kind of food you are eating from the texture of the food in your mouth (not the taste), then you haven’t chewed it enough. For example, if you are chewing broccoli and you run your tongue over the stalk and can tell that it is still a stalk or over the floret and you can still tell that it is still a floret, don’t swallow. You need to keep on chewing until you can’t tell the stalk from the floret.” See chewing.
Fifth, and something that becomes more important as we age, is the role of teeth in chewing. When people get older, if they have lost teeth over time or have had their teeth replaced with dental plates, chewing becomes painful and difficult, which makes adequate and complete digestion almost impossible. This makes it very easy for elderly people to become malnourished, which makes their quality of life worse. Additionally, as we age, tissues shrink as well, which makes the fit on prosthetic teeth (plates) very haphazard (anyone who has listened to an old Sean Connery Bond film vs. his speech in “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” will realize that there is this very odd slippery quality – Connery wears dental plates and they do not fit very well).
This sends many elderly folks into a spiral of “it hurts to chew so I’ll eat softer food”, then they start eating really not very good food, then they get mal-nourished so their tissues degrade further and either they lose more teeth or their plates slip even more and they take them out. So then they start to drink their nourishment. And in the meantime because they are not chewing anything, the amount of nourishment they are getting out of what they are eating is further compromised, so the bacterial in their guts are going to be compromised too. So their health further deteriorates. And so it goes.
So the last lesson out of this is thus: Take care of your teeth and your teeth will take care of you. And chew the damn food. A LOT.
(photo courtesy of wishymom)