Updated: Nov 22, 2020
“Chew your drink, and drink your food.”
Healthy digestion and nutrient absorption begins with the simple act of chewing our food. When food is not digested properly, you could suffer, for example, from digestive issues such as indigestion, bloating, acid reflux, constipation, headache and even tiredness and low energy.
The mechanical and physical process of mastication helps to break down large particles of food into smaller particles, reducing the stress on the esophagus and helping the stomach metabolize your food. When you chew each mouthful properly, you increase the saliva production, which contains digestive enzymes that make the digestive process possible. Digestion is one of the most energy-consuming processes of the body, so it’s essential that you help your body along by doing your part! As one of my mentors used to say “the stomach does not have teeth!”
From ancient times, the virtues of chewing have been widely recognized. Chewing contributes to more efficient use of nutrients, gives stronger energy, and makes the food more satisfying. Basically, even if the most healthful food in the world is not chewed thoroughly, then the digestive process will not be easy, and will take lots of energy.
I would like to consider, among many others, two specific aspects of chewing thoroughly: The effect on the digestive process itself and the impact chewing has in consciousness and stress.
CHEWING AND DIGESTIVE PROCESS
Chewing well releases the full power of saliva which has a pH factor of around 7.2, (slightly alkaline). Saliva digests complex carbohydrates by breaking them down from complex to simple sugars. (That’s why grains, beans, and vegetables get sweeter the longer you chew them.) Mechanically speaking, chewing any food well prepares it to pass more smoothly and completely through the digestive system. Saliva can also neutralize imbalances in your food. Even if your diet is not well balanced or, for example, too cold, chewing helps compensate for the imbalances facilitating greater assimilation and warmth.
From the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspective, proper mastication of food puts much less burden on the Spleen* and Stomach (Chinese digestive system) protecting our “digestive fire” or Spleen/Stomach Yang energy. At the same time all the fluids from food breakdown (Yin energy) will be more available to be used and transformed. Proper chewing takes care of both: Spleen and Stomach, which could be translated as proper digestion and assimilation. You can observe that even with different terminology we’re talking about the same benefits.
Chewing also regulates and stimulates peristalsis, the automatic expansion and contraction of the muscles of the entire digestive system. The result is that elimination will return to normal and toxic conditions in the colon, which could cause discomfort and disease, will be warded off plus a regular and harmonious bowel movement. Additionally, chewing gives your body time to respond to what is being ingested (it takes around 20 minutes for the stomach signal to get to the brain!). This allows you to feel full and stop eating when you are naturally inclined to do so, making you feeling lighter after meals and avoiding overeating.
CHEWING AND CONSCIOUSNESS
It’s important to be conscious of how you eat. Most people eat automatically and give little or no thought to eating mindfully. Being relaxed before sitting down to eat will help you take the time to chew properly. Doing some deep slow breathing before you start may help you to unwind.
You’ve probably not thought much about chewing and the fact is that most people chew very little. Observe the way you and other people chew and I am sure you’ll be surprised at what you see. With a bit of reflection, you’ll soon realize that your body deserves better care.
According to Denny Waxman, internationally recognized macrobiotic counselor, teacher and author, solid food should be chewed until it turns to liquid. Try to chew each mouthful of food fifty times. Start slowly, and maybe for the first two weeks chew each mouthful twenty-five to thirty times. Work your way gradually to fifty or, if you have the will and the patience, to a hundred. Once you become accustomed to well chewed food, you will feel uncomfortable if you eat too quickly. The more you chew, the more aware you become of your needs. It leads naturally to a calmer and more orderly life.
Everything in Nature occurs in an alternating pattern—movement followed by rest—action followed by non-action. Ideally our lives should reflect this process, as we’re not separate from Nature. We might think we are wasting time if we stop our activities to chew our food but, the truth is that valuing our quiet time will make our active time even more productive.
If you can take at least one or two of your three daily meals alone, you will have the ideal opportunity to concentrate on chewing well. Even if you can chew well at only one meal, you will notice an improvement in how you feel and think. If you can form the habit of chewing well at every meal, your health and your outlook on life will improve dramatically. Think about this as an experiment. If you don’t have time for meditation, or to take a Yoga class to slow yourself down, try to focus on your food. As I said, at least on one meal. Chewing with no TV, no cellphone, and no reading.
Traditionally there were three times (meals) during the day when we stopped what we were doing in order to return to balance and to re-nourish ourselves. Meals are great stress relievers, a very high form of connecting with the world around us.
A FEW MORE WORDS ABOUT CHEWING:
There are two things that may help you to achieve and master this new idea:
Taking small bites of food: This will help you having more control on swallowing. If you get too much, food will expand as it mixes up with the saliva and you will end up swallowing the food earlier in the process.
Putting down your utensils: You will be able to focus on mastication and avoid rushing while looking at the next bite on your fork.
If you take the time to chew your food properly you will notice right away that you crave less for sweets, specially after meals because you’re getting all the sweetness from complex carbohydrates. You will feel more satisfied with each meal without feeling you’re about to explode because you won’t overeat. In time, this will bring more energy to yourself, because you’re spending less on the digestive process. These, I believe, are great benefits, sometimes hard to achieve through any other method…
The way we CHEW our food can be a great place to start our journey or a profound subtlety we can add to our life… Food is one of the ways we have to connect with life itself; and the act of conscious chewing can be a fascinating experience to deepen our awareness and health. Start today. Spend some days counting and sensing the texture of your food. Then stop counting and just feel. It will definitely be a life-changing game.
* There’s a convention about capitalizing Chinese Medicine terms to be able to differentiate them from regular everyday terms. For example, Cold can be more extensive in its Chinese meaning that the regular word ‘cold’… The same is true when talking about Chinese concepts like Stomach which is different than the Western, anatomical stomach.