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Digestion plays a fundamental role in the most basic physiological functions. Optimal digestion promotes the absorption of nutrients, toxin excretion, and energy production- all of which play a large role in health and wellness. Yet, unfortunately, the fast-paced society we live in undoubtedly hinders our digestive health. Luckily, there is one simple trick to effectively improve digestion and support overall health. And, it might just be easier than you think!
Did you know digestion starts in the brain? Through many of our senses, like touch, taste, and smell, the brain signals the digestive system to prepare for food consumption and digestion. We all have such busy lives we tend to eat on the go and rush through our meals. It’s often thought that chewing is solely so we don’t choke on large pieces of food. However, there is so much to it!
As you begin to chew, the body cues the production of saliva. The brain’s initial role in triggering digestion is integral because saliva serves as such a critical part of the digestion process. It essentially gets the ball rolling by providing enzymes to moisten, soften, and break down food. While this is just the start of the digestion process, it’s arguably the most important one.
As the bolus (or broken down food particles) moves into the stomach, hydrochloric acid, enzymes, and gastric juices further break down the particles. This explains why a healthy production of stomach acid is necessary to proper digestion and nutrient absorption. Without adequate stomach acid production, the food stays undigested, eventually becoming putrefied. As you can imagine, this can lead to many feelings of discomfort.
Moving down the digestive chain, the small intestine, liver, gallbladder, and large intestine are further responsible for digesting the food particles, leading to water absorption and recycling, nutrient absorption, and waste excretion.
When we’re chronically stressed and hurried, digestion is put on the back burner. The body’s main goal is simply to survive. Consequently, when we do consume food, the body cannot digest properly and common physical symptoms can arise, including:
These symptoms are common, yet not normal. They serve as a reminder that digestion is an important part of the body’s functions. And, when we don’t give it the attention it deserves, we’ll pay the consequences.
From start to finish, digestion is demanding. It requires a lot of physical energy to break down food and extract the nutrients the body needs. Your body is in some stage of digestion more often than not. The process utilizes many organs in the body and involves several stages, however chewing is the first (and arguably most important) step to digestion.
When you chew thoroughly, your food is exposed to saliva for longer periods of time.
Saliva consists of water, electrolytes, mucus and enzymes. The enzymes help break down your food before you even swallow. For example, the enzyme alpha amylase breaks down carbohydrates and the enzyme lingual lipase breaks down fats. The longer food is exposed to saliva, the longer it is exposed to these enzymes. So the longer you chew, the longer the enzymes will break down food, making the remaining steps of digestion easier.
Like I stated earlier, you should be chewing at least 20-25 times per bite of food. I encourage you to try it next time you eat! First, chew and swallow like you normally would and take note of how the food feels in your mouth and as it travels down your esophagus. Then, on your next bite, chew 20-25 times consciously. At about chew number 15, the food breaks down significantly to where it’s softened so thoroughly, it almost slides down your throat without effort.
Similar to softened food, smaller food particles are also much easier to digest. Once food enters the small intestine, bile acids are added for digestion. The bile acids will start to break down the food from the surfaces it can reach. So the smaller the food is, the easier the breakdown will be. This means chewing puts less strain on the later stages of digestion and allows the stomach to work more efficiently and break down food faster. This also maximizes the amount of nutrients you will get from food. The smaller the particles of food, the easier it is for your body to absorb nutrients, vitamins and minerals.
The faster you eat, or in other words— the less you chew, the less likely you’ll be tuned into your fullness cues and the more likely you will overeat. The feeling of fullness becomes noticeable about 20 minutes after you start to eat. Chewing your food for longer forces you to slow down, which helps regulate your hunger and fullness hormones, leptin and ghrelin. This helps keep you full for longer periods of time and allows you to better listen to your body’s needs.
As we know, chewing increases saliva production. Saliva also contains a polypeptide that stimulates growth and repair of epithelial tissue, which lines your gut microbiome. This polypeptide is called epithelial growth factor (EGF). The more you chew, the more saliva is produced, and in turn, also the more EGF. Chewing also reduces the risk of bacterial overgrowth in the gut. Food particles that aren’t broken down can ferment in your gut and cause bacterial overgrowth, leading to gut issues like dysbiosis or leaky gut. When you chew your food thoroughly, food particles are smaller and less likely to harbor bad bacteria.
Clearly, digestion is an indispensable part of our health. Luckily, there is one simple way to improve digestion, and that is, to chew your food thoroughly.
It might seem like an over-simplified task, but it’s actually a make-or-break part of the digestive process. When chewing is minimized or rushed, the body doesn’t produce enough saliva to begin breaking down the food. As a result, the entire digestive process is slowed down, impaired, and likely ineffective.
Ideally, you should chew every bite at least 20-25 times, if not more. As a result, the digestive process has a better chance of effectively digesting the broken down food particles and absorbing any nutrients. When chewing is a priority, you’ll likely notice many health benefits, such as:
While chewing each bite thoroughly is a fundamental way to improve digestion, it’s not a magic pill. If you’re experiencing more severe/chronic digestive distress that isn’t alleviated by this simple fix like chewing your food, I recommend signing up for my signature program. We use functional medicine and quality testing to get to the root cause of digestive issues and create a customized plan for healing based on your unique chemistry. Learn more about my signature program here.
"When it comes to balancing our body, healing the gut, reversing autoimmunity, and achieving optimal health—we are a lot like a car that won’t run right. In order to fix the problem once and for all instead of relying on jumper cables, we must get underneath the hood, run the diagnostics, and replace the battery so that it runs good as new."
-Nikki Yelton, RD
If you are ready to stop wasting precious time, get off the never-ending hamster wheel, and finally surrender trying to figure things out on your own—this is your moment.
You don’t have to settle for just getting by and hoping tomorrow is a better day. We both know you are a woman who deserves better and are made for so. much. more.