In this episode, you will learn the why and how chewing your food impacts your health, how to make sure you are chewing enough, plus an at home stomach acid test to determine if you are suffering from low stomach acid.
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Resources mentioned in this episode:
- 7 Day Spark
- Eating with Intention
- Wellness Circle
- Simple at Home Stomach Acid Assessment
- Submit a Question for the Show
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5 Ways Chewing Improves Your Health
I know what you are thinking, “you want me to chew my food? How do you think I eat? I CHEW!” Ahh yes, I totally get it, but I would wager that you typically eat in a rushed or distracted (or both) manner. Am I right?
Do you eat fast? Do you eat while you are watching tv? Scrolling Facebook? Driving? Do you have a really short window to eat your lunch (like most schools - but that is for a different day)? Are you a parent and you are managing additional plates during mealtimes? Then it is quite likely that without thinking about it - you aren’t chewing your food well at all.
But, fear not! We are going to fix that TODAY! Because chewing (and the steps before it) are crucial to start your metabolism, get your stomach acid flowing, and to help you increase your energy. Did you know it did all that stuff?
Where does digestion start?
This is kind of a trick question - because some of you are probably guessing in the stomach or if you are a little more into the human suit function and physiology you might even have guessed the mouth. Both guesses are a little off though!
Digestion actually starts BEFORE you even put the food in your mouth! Crazy right? Digestion starts in what is called the Cephalic Phase. Cephalic is just a fancy word meaning the head.
Digestion begins when you start thinking of food. Sometimes this is initiated by hunger or site or often by smell. But the act of thinking of food starts a chain reaction that is the beginning or the first step of digestion. When you begin thinking of food, you activate the Cephalic Reflex, you start to salivate (so the amount of saliva in your mouth increases, you start to build up your stomach acid and enzymes so that you stomach is ready for the food when you eat it.
The second step of digestion is chewing. If you have taken the time to get hungry, think about your food, or bless your food your the enzymes in your mouth that initiate break down carbohydrates are already prepared and waiting (as well as the acid + enzymes in the stomach).
What does chewing do?
There are 3 main functions of chewing:
1- reduce particle size, break down the food
2- expel the air from the food and mix with saliva
3- increase the surface area of the food to allow more digestive enzymes
How does chewing benefit my health and wellness?
If you aren’t convinced yet, and maybe you aren’t here are some specific ways in which chewing really benefits your health and wellness:
Chewing mindfully and fully increases your energy. It sure does! It can actually reduce your fatigue and increase your energy levels.
Here's the thing digestion is the most energy draining process in a healthy body. The act of breaking down the food you ingest, absorbing the nutrients, and excreting the leftover waste takes up more energy than any other function.
The longer your food is chewed, the easier it is to digest. This means your body uses less energy to digest the food and related functions. This leftover energy isn’t just wasted, as a result of chewing thoroughly and mindfully, your body has more energy for other functions.
Chewing your food can eliminate gas, bloating, and abdominal pain. This builds on those functions of chewing we talked about. In reducing the particle size, expelling the air, and increasing the surface area to allow the enzymes to do their work. You are also reducing the gas possibilities and the possibilities of undigested food getting downstream further than it should, and that’s just the physical part.
From a chemical digestion standpoint, the Cephalic reflex is continued and increased when you chew your food, providing more stomach acid to break down the proteins you ingest, having adequate acids to break down your food further and prepare to absorb the nutrients.
Chewing your food helps you achieve satiety. When you rush to eat and subsequently don’t take time to appreciate your food or chew your food to liquid, you tend to overeat. This can lead to less energy and gas, bloating, abdominal pain, as well as some of the issues we will talk about next with reflux and heartburn.
It takes about 6 minutes for the food to reach our stomach once it is swallowed, and about twice that amount of time (minimum) for the message of “satiated” or “satisfied” to get to our brains. Amazing, huh? When was the last time you took that long to eat anything?
As mentioned in the functions of chewing, one of the functions is to increase the surface area of the food to allow more digestive enzymes - this serves many purposes but one is to improve the absorption of nutrients. This also decreases your cravings and your primal drive to overeat because your nutrient intake and absorption is sufficient.
Chewing your food lowers your food poisoning/foodborne illness chances. Stomach acid is our first line of defense against ingested bacteria, parasites, and other pathogens. If you aren’t chewing well (and taking the time to appreciate your food) you aren’t allowing the body to function in the way it was meant to in regards to your protection.
Often low stomach acid has multiple causes but a simple way to begin to improve it in DIY mode is to chew your food until it is liquid and do your best to activate that cephalic reflex.
Chewing your food reduces or eliminates acid reflux and heartburn. Did you know that acid reflux and heartburn are actually caused by LOW stomach acid? I know, I know. If you were to look at the typical solutions they are always reducing stomach acid. That really only creates a TUMS or Prilosec (or other Proton Pump Inhibitor) customer for life.
As I have mentioned, chewing your food (and the steps before chewing) signal your digestion to start, including ramping up the stomach acid in preparation for food to slide on down the esophagus into the stomach. Having adequate stomach acid allows food to break down and move through the stomach appropriately and avoids the weakening and inflammation of the LES resulting in heartburn.
Stomach Acid Tes
Even though we are primarily talking about chewing today it is really intimately related to stomach acid as well. So I want to give you a really useful tool to check to see if stomach acid (and likely chewing) is a problem for you here's what you can do at home:
It's pretty simple oh, you just need one teaspoon of baking soda and 8 to 10 oz of water. You mix the baking soda in the water and drink it on an empty stomach then you think really hard about your very favorite food or food that you're about to eat. Over the course of about 10 to 15 minutes, you should begin to burp.
The burping action happens because you are instigating the cephalic reflex by thinking about food and increasing your stomach acid and when you add baking soda to that it's just like that volcano science project that we've all done. It creates gas.
If you don't have any burps, that is a sign that you are suffering from low stomach acid. Keep in mind, this is not a perfect test and in fact is rather subjective, but it's often good enough to give you an idea of if you need to have some interventions. This test is a good one to do on all ages.
You can download the full instructions and information here.
How to chew my best?
All of this leads to exactly how do I chew the best and kick off my digestion in the right way. It’s pretty simple:
1- Get mindful about your eating habits. This starts with a blessing or sending energy to your food, or even taking a moment to be thankful for the nourishment in front of you. If this isn’t your thing, you can achieve similar results by smelling your food. If your sense of smell is impaired or if you want to jump start your digestion, you can also use essential oils to stimulate this aromatically. My favorite recommendations are Peppermint Vitality, Lemon Vitality, or Digize Vitality. These will kick start the Cephalic Phase of digestion.
2- Chew your food until it is liquid. There is no magic number here obviously some foods require more chewing than others. It’s really important that you chew your food until it is liquid - you should not be swallowing solids. This is also one of the reasons why I'm not a fan of drinking protein shakes without a specific purpose or for more than 1 meal a day. Aside from the fact that the vast majority of them are full of inflammatory ingredients and troublesome ingredients, they also bypass the ever-important function of chewing.
3- Remove distractions. Eat with as little distraction as possible. Conversation and company aren’t bad distractions, but the mindless distraction of your device or television causes you to eat and eat without chewing or paying attention to your food - this doesn’t lead to healthy digestion and ends in downstream issues for your human suit.
4- Take time. The biggest issue is time. Take the time and space to eat and enjoy your food. And if you can’t enjoy the food you are eating now, find some that you can!
So let’s do a quick recap.
To wrap this up, improve your health by improving this one little aspect of your habits - chewing. This can serve to rev up your stomach acid and improve your digestion leaving you with more energy, ridding yourself of heartburn, improving your ability to shed unwanted weight and help to eliminate your chances of food poisoning. Don’t forget to download and try the stomach acid test! Let me know how it works out!