How many times do you chew your food? Until now, you’ve probably never thought about your chewing habits. Why would you? Chewing is an innate ability. Following just a few simple guidelines, however, can help you change a small habit to make a big health impact.
One tiny change, three major benefits
When we start to chew properly, three significant health benefits are unleashed: weight control, optimal nutrient absorption, and smooth digestion. Nutrient absorption and smooth digestion are both maximized by salivation and other physiological reactions that chewing triggers. Weight control, and potentially weight loss, can be achieved by reducing caloric intake.
These benefits were demonstrated by a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Study participants were asked to chew two ounces of whole almonds 10, 25, or 40 times and were monitored over four days. Participants also reported hunger both before and after consuming the almonds.
The results revealed that chewing almonds 40 times (compared to 10 or 25 times) led to decreased insulin levels (an indicator of appetite) more quickly and made participants feel satisfied faster. Participants also reported feeling fuller for a longer period of time. Increasing the number of chews was also correlated with lower lipid excretion in the stool, meaning more healthy fat was likely absorbed from the almonds and used by the body.
Mary Clifton, a doctor of internal medicine, explains that chewing is a very important part of digestion. Amylase and other enzymes present in saliva start breaking down carbohydrates. Even more importantly, chewing and swallowing activates dozens of chemical reactions in the stomach, pancreas, and small intestine. If you don’t chew thoroughly, your gut doesn’t get the message that nutrition is coming.
Clifton recommends slowing down when chewing and when drinking smoothies or juices. This will give the body adequate time to prepare for the nutrients and calories coming its way.
Two recent studies indicate that chewing thoroughly may help us eat less.
Both studies first established a baseline chewing rate for each participant. Participants were later asked to attend three lunches where they were instructed to maintain their baseline chew rate, increase chews by 150 percent, or increase chews by 200 percent. This means that a participant with an average chew rate of 10 would chew 25 times in the 150-percent-increase condition and 30 times in the 200-percent-increase condition.
When the number of chews increased, the amount of food consumed decreased significantly in younger adults. Researchers concluded that increasing the number of chews before swallowing may be an effective behavioral strategy to reduce food intake and aid weight management.
What exactly could this mean in terms of caloric reduction? A 2011 study examined just that. Researchers first established a baseline chew count for each participant. Over a three-month period, participants were then randomly instructed to chew normally or slow down. On average, participants who were instructed to slow down their chewing by 50 percent ate 70 fewer calories during meals.
Now do the math. A reduction of 70 calories per meal equals 210 fewer calories per day (at three meals per day), 1,470 calories per week, and about 5,880 calories—or 1 1/2 pounds—per month!
Old philosophy, new approach
Using chewing for weight control is not a novel idea. Horace Fletcher was a self-taught nutritional authority in the 1800s who introduced a concept known as “Fletcherism.” He cautioned people to eat only when “good and hungry” and to avoid eating when angry or worried. He also suggested that chewing food until it was liquid or “until the food swallowed itself” would prevent overeating.
A 2011 study revisited Fletcher’s theory of increasing chews to reduce food intake. Participants were instructed to eat until comfortably full and to either chew 35 times per bite or 10 times per bite. The results demonstrated that food intake to become comfortably full could be reduced by chewing it more.
Make a change
Ready to make a change in chewing habits? Tess Challis, a vegan chef, wellness coach, and author, recommends starting small. If 35 chews per bite is too daunting, start with staying mindful for five chews. Just beginning to pay attention will have an impact. Once you are in the habit of counting your chews, you can increase from there.
Challis also suggests paying attention to tastes and textures as you chew—so get indulgent! Before taking a bite, linger with the food in front of your mouth and savor the smell. Once you take a bite, notice the texture of the food and enjoy the flavor. Is it sweet? Salty? Spicy? Before you know it, you’ll have chewed your food a lot more than usual. Now it’s ready to swallow.
Don’t think of chewing as a chore. In this fast-paced world, chewing is a great opportunity to slow down, center yourself, be present in the moment, and get even more enjoyment out of mealtimes—not less!
Need a little extra digestive help?
During digestion (and beginning when you chew!), your body produces enzymes to break down food. There are three main types of enzymes: proteases to digest proteins, lipases to digest fats, and amylases to digest carbohydrates.
Prolonged digestive difficulty may indicate these enzymes have become depleted in your body, making symptoms like gut irritability, diarrhea, and bloating difficult to overcome. Enzyme supplementation may greatly improve these symptoms.
If you don’t know which food is specifically giving you trouble, then start with a product that includes all three pancreatic enzymes: amylase, pepsin, and lipase. Trypsin may be included to help further break down amino acids, while added cellulase helps break down high-fiber foods. Lactase, meanwhile, helps to properly break down lactose (a type of sugar) in dairy products.
-Paula Blanchet, RHN
Tip: Portion control may be achieved by using small dishes, small utensils, or measuring cups, but a simpler way is to chew more. This can be done anywhere, anytime, and without anyone noticing!