I want to say “at the risk of sounding like your mother . . .”, except I’m not even sure mothers are saying this anymore. I know for sure I can say “at the risk of sounding like MY mother”, because she certainly gave me this advice . . . and many many MANY other pieces of advice. But for now we will stick with this one pearl of wisdom.
Chew. Your. Food.
And there’s probably a broader lesson here in that we need to just slow down in general. Where food is concerned, slowing down and savoring, enjoying, and chewing is beneficial on so many levels.
Being present to eating in general is a big step towards healthy eating habits. How many times do we sit in front of a TV devouring food mindlessly, only to feel unsatisfied when our meal is gone? Or worse? We’ve eaten a whole bag of potato chips and didn’t even realize we were doing it?
It’s so important to just engage in the act of eating a meal instead of just passively letting it happen. When we engage in the process, we are much more aware of when we are satiated, and can stop the process of overeating.
However, being present is only one piece of the puzzle. Chewing our food and savoring it is another major piece. And it’s this lack of fully chewing our food that is getting us into all kinds of health issues.
To begin with, smoothies have been popular for quite some time now. And that’s great. If that’s what’s getting more fresh produce into you, fantastic! But we miss a crucial step of the digestion process when we drink our food.
We were designed to chew our food. As such, digestion begins in the mouth with our saliva. As we chew food, more saliva gets secreted, and enzymes that are vital to our digestive process are part of our saliva. If we are drinking our food, then we have very little if any of those enzymes working towards the first step in the process. Missing this step makes the rest of the process much harder on our system.
So there’s some irony to drinking smoothies, since it’s also supposed to be easier on the digestive system. Turns out, it’s not easier if it’s making us miss this crucial step.
Now let’s turn to non-smoothie meals, aka food. In our fast-paced world, if we do choose an actual meal over a blended one, we are still doing ourselves a disservice by not taking the time to actively and purposefully chew our food.
I mentioned last week that it should be something like 25 to 30 chews per bite of food. I’ve been told as little as 20 and as much as 50. But who the heck wants to count how many times we chew something?? Plus, you can’t really put a number on it, because I probably don’t need to chew my oatmeal as many times as I chew a piece of steak.
Btw - did you catch that? Chew your oatmeal? YES! Chew your oatmeal. Or porridge of any kind. It might be soft and mushy, but remember, we need to chew and activate our saliva glands so that we can use those all-too-important enzymes that only exist in our saliva.
So instead of counting your chews, fun as that may sound, pay attention to what those in marketing call “mouth feel”. If there’s nothing to actively chew into anymore, and it’s basically liquid, you have chewed enough times.
Okay, so what? What if I don’t chew my food to liquid?
Well, okay. You don’t have to. But there are consequences for not.
I so clearly remember from when I was younger commercials for a product called Beano. “Take Beano now and there’ll be no gas.” And it was two women, one of which bemoaning the fact that no matter what she ate, she would get bloated and gassy.
Care to guess what not chewing your food enough can cause? Gas! And bloating! And reflux and heartburn and a whole myriad of digestive issues. Which all can lead to many other issues later.
On top of that, you’re not getting the nutrition you think you’re getting. Your body isn’t built to take a whole piece of food and break it down completely in the stomach and intestines. So if food isn’t completely broken down as it should be, then we aren’t fully getting the nutrients out of it.
Which makes drinking smoothies even more ironic! They’re supposed to be easier to digest, but they’re not. They’re supposed to provide us with more nutrients, but they can’t without those saliva enzymes that start the whole process.
This doesn’t mean smoothies are evil and bad and that you should never ever have them again ever! No no no no. I love a good smoothie!
What it DOES mean is that you need to swish it around your mouth a little, so that you can really start the digestive process.
And you have to
So anytime you’re experiencing some gastrointestinal distress, think back to your last meal. Were you present to eating your meal? Did you chew it to mush? Or did you gulp things down in a hurry?
Try it for a week and I promise things will be a little bit easier for you. And your tummy will thank you for it.