You probably heard it a thousand times from an adult family member at the dinner table: “Slow down and chew your food!” Odds are, as a kid, you probably didn’t listen to them. But it turns out that those pesky adults were offering some sage advice when it comes to how to get the most from food nutrients as well as how to avoid the “gastric upset” that effects a whopping 70 million people worldwide.
Chew Your Food: The First Step in Digestion
Why is chewing your food so important for digestion anyways? After all, that’s why we have stomach acid, right? Actually, the act of digestion – a process that our bodies do automatically – is a very complex process. Step one is to chew your food.
The importance of proper chewing is two-fold. First of all, when chewing food, you break down large food particles into smaller ones so they can be digested more easily by the rest of the system and so your body can extract the most nutrients from them. Coated with lubricating saliva, small bits can more easily make their way down the esophagus and into the small intestine.
The smaller the particles you swallow, the more your small intestine can absorb nutrients from them as they make their way down.
In fact, when you do not chew your food enough, some may go undigested. This can be a major problem since parts of this undigested food may eventually enter your bloodstream through small gaps that may exist between the enterocyte cells of the gut lining.
Experts in the gut-immune connection have been making the link for years between “Leaky Gut” (the presence of these gaps) and a whole host of disease conditions, including autoimmune disease, which currently affects one in five Americans.
Large particles that move slowly down the digestive tract also become fuel for pathogenic (“bad”) bacteria and fungi. The longer food particles lingers, the more they have the possibility to become catalysts for putrification, which can produce neurotoxins in the gut.
The second advantage of chewing your food thoroughly is that salivary glands are activated in your mouth when you chew. Saliva contains important digestive enzymes such as lingual lipase, which breaks down fats, and amylase, beneficial in breaking down sugars. When you chew for longer, these enzymes have the time to do their job.
Dr. Richard Mattes, professor of nutrition at Purdue University and author of a 2013 study on the subject, says that chewing your food more can even give you more energy:
“Particle size [affects the] bioaccessibility of the energy of the food that is being consumed. The more you chew, the less is lost and more is retained in the body.”
How Many Times Should You Chew Your Food Before Swallowing?
So, just how many times should you chew your food? It turns out there’s not one number for every food, and it really depends on what you are eating. A piece of steak needs to be chewed far longer than a bite of watermelon, for example.
However, if weight loss is a goal, a recent Chinese study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition recently reported that a person needs to chew food at least 40 times per bite. Most experts say to simply chew your food until it has lost all its texture or liquified in the mouth.
11 Do’s & Don’ts for Getting the Best Digestion” to “How To Improve Digestion – 11 Tips
Chewing your food properly is by far the most important action you can take to improve your digestion right now.
Here are 11 other “Do’s” and “Don’ts” that will help make mealtime a pleasure, not a pain:
#1. DON’T drink lots of water with a meal or right after.
Taking sips of a beverage is fine during a meal but try to keep it to a minimum. Consuming lots of liquids while eating or right after a meal can adversely affect the digestive process by diluting vital digestive enzymes and stomach acid that help to break down food.
#2. DON’T have a cup of coffee right after a meal.
Experts are split as to how caffeine can affect digestion both positively and negatively. Caffeine is a diuretic, so coffee can speed up digestion. Sometimes a little cup of joe can be helpful if you need a little help “getting things moving.” On the other hand, if you drink too much coffee immediately after a meal, it may speed up digestion so much that your body does not have time to extract all the nutrients it can from the food you just ate.
Coffee is also highly acidic. If consumed during a meal or right after it, it can lead to heartburn for sensitive individuals. If you crave a hot beverage after a full meal, try a cup of green or herbal tea instead.
#3. DON’T eat a lot of fruit or processed sweets directly after a meal.
A little fruit after a meal may beneficial if you do not have a sensitivity. But fruit in general is digested very fast by the body. If you consume a lot of it right after a meal, then it may sit on top of the other foods you just ate and ferment, which can cause bloating, gas, and pain.
In addition, eating processed deserts like cakes or ice cream and high-sugar beverages like sodas may make it harder to normalize blood sugar levels, which is your body’s main objective right after a meal. If you must have a sweet after you eat, try a small piece of fruit or a small square of dark chocolate.
#4. DON’T participate in strenuous exercise right after eating a big meal.
The body’s main objective after a meal is to channel the most amount of blood it can into the gastro-intestinal tract via the circulatory system to facilitate digestion. Vigorous exercise directly after a meal can bring this process to a halt. This may not only affect digestion, but bloodflow within the circulatory system as well.
#5. DON’T take a hot shower or bath right after eating.
According to popular nutrition expert Kimberly Snyder, CN, when you take a hot bath or shower, your body temperature naturally increases. When this happens, the blood that would normally be used to aid in digestion will instead be pulled towards the skin and extremities for core temperature regulation. This will slow digestion down.
#6. DON’T go to sleep right after eating.
Again, this is because of blood sugar, which tends to spike after a meal. The body will need a few hours after eating to normalize blood sugar levels. Sleeping may increase insulin dependence. In fact, some experts warn that getting into the habit of taking a “siesta” right after eating could promote insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes.
#7. DO consume gut-friendly fermented foods with every meal.
Eating fermented foods with your meal can actually help your body digest. This is because foods like raw sauerkraut have the first part of digestion covered; they already contain a hearty number of digestive enzymes as well as a plethora of beneficial bacteria that can help your body absorb essential nutrients.
Eating fermented foods and taking fermented supplements can also help reduce symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, gluten intolerance, and allergies/asthma by boosting the immune system.
#8. DO have veggies with every meal.
The first reason why this is important is a no- brainer. The more green leafy and other kinds of low-starch veggies you eat in general, the better – and meals are a great way to get one or two servings of organic steamed broccoli or green salad in during the day.
Also, vegetables are loaded with vitamins and minerals and are able to complement any kind of meal, whether it is protein-rich or carb-rich. The most important factor about vegetables for digestion is that raw or slightly steamed veggies can retain their enzyme and fiber content, which helps everything move along and the most amount of nutrients be absorbed.
According to Dr. Mattes, “When your total diet is higher in fiber, there’s a greater loss of fat. Fiber binds with fatty acids to create energy sources in the body.”
#9. DO take a leisurely stroll after a meal.
While vigorous exercise may hurt the digestive process, research confirms that a short stroll after a meal can aid digestion and normalize blood sugar levels. A 2009 study conducted by researchers at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, found that a 20-minute walk about ten to fifteen minutes after dinner helped Type 2 diabetics regulate their blood sugar levels.
Another study published in the journal of the American Diabetes Association found that for overweight and normally sedentary older adults, a 15-minute walk after each meal helped to regulate blood sugar levels better than a 45-minute walk first thing in the morning.
#10. DO use probiotics and digestive enzymes.
These days, because of lifestyle, toxins and overall stress, almost everyone has some sort of gut bacteria imbalance that can periodically cause mild to moderate discomfort. And for thousands of people, infusing good nutritional and mealtime habits into one’s life is not enough to right the imbalance that may lead to other disease conditions.
Many experts suggest that daily probiotic intake is as important in this toxic, stress-filled world as drinking enough quality water. Probiotics are beneficial for those over 60, for women in general, and an absolute must for those who are on the journey of healing digestive conditions. This is because they infuse the body with millions of beneficial bacteria that are vital for restoring balance over time.
Supplementation with digestive enzymes is also a must if you are dealing with Leaky Gut, you eat a lot of cooked or processed foods, or you are over 30 years of age. Remember that without enzymes, dozens of other mechanisms in the body – including the absorption of key nutrients – cannot occur.
The best way to incorporate digestive enzymes into your daily routine is to find a source that is organic, of high quality and contains several enzymes in one easy-to-take supplement.
#11. DO S-L-O-W down when you eat.
This may go without saying; if you are chewing your food properly, this automatically helps you to slow down while eating. But slowing down in general at mealtime has its own advantages as well.
First, you can enjoy your food and the experience you are having while eating more. Unplugging from work, TV, and electronic devices and choosing to spend a few minutes focused solely on eating can also help to slow your whole body down, potentially putting it in to a healing mode through eliciting the “relaxation response.”
A good strategy to follow for slowing down while eating is to take smaller bites of food and deliberately chew in a slow and steady way, taking time to savor the flavors and textures of the foods you are eating.
It’s amazing how sometimes the simplest of actions can produce the most significant results over time. Just like mom said, chewing your food properly has many cascading benefits for digestion. But this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to actions you can take to help your body’s digestive processes.
If you, like so many others, suffer when you eat with bloating, cramping, heartburn and overall pain, you may benefit by adding some or all of these tips to your next mealtime experience.