You’ve probably never been asked this before. When it comes to chewing, most of us don't give it much thought, which is good, because we don't want to overthink things! But, if we aren't thoroughly chewing our food it can create unpleasant digestive symptoms. I believe it's the first thing that needs to be considered and ruled out before investigating for food sensitivities, SIBO and/or IBS.
Remember, Food = Fuel. The only way our body can access that fuel is if it’s adequately absorbed. Before looking at absorption, we have to backtrack and take a look at digestion which is directly related to how well you chew your food.
Why don’t people chew enough?
They’re in a hurry
They’re eager to move on to something tasty on their plate
They’re consuming too much food per mouthful
It requires more effort
Why it Matters
1. When we chew it sends a signal to our brain to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and releases stomach acid and digestive enzymes. (Fun fact: just the thought of eating can help release these things as well.) We need stomach acid and digestive enzymes to break down and liberate the smaller constituents from food (ex. amino acids from protein) so that they can be absorbed by our small intestine.
2. Chewing takes larger food pieces --> smaller pieces (shocking, I know). This increase in surface area allows our friends from above (digestive enzymes and stomach acid) to do their thing – digest our food.
3. The increase in surface area also allows saliva to fully coat the food pieces = painless swallowing and avoids damage to our esophagus.
4. Chewing releases hormones (like CCK) that send a signal to the brain saying “I’m full, you can stop eating now.” They found that those who did more chews per bite ate less overall, so chewing becomes an important aspect of all weight loss plans.
5. Proper digestion (through chewing) prevents the overgrowth of ‘bad’ bacteria that try and consume the larger food particles, contributing to gas and bloating.
Signs & Symptoms of Improper Chewing:
-Becoming very full all of a sudden
What does ‘thorough chewing’ look like?
Simple answer: More than what you’re currently doing (assuming you experience any of the signs and symptoms from above). You want your chewed food to be a soft liquid consistency before swallowing – no chunks!
Give it a try! Do a trial where you chew your food more than usual and see if this changes your symptoms.
Please note, this post doesn't get into other important aspects of digestion like stress, medication factors, pancreatic health, etc. There's more than just chewing that goes into healthy digestion/absorption - but it's an important factor that can't be overlooked.