The first step of the digestive process starts in the mouth with chewing and did you know that chewing food thoroughly has essential health benefits?
In fact, how we eat is just as important as what we eat.
Do you grab food on the go?
Do you rush meals?
Do you have undigested food in your stools?
Do you get bloated, gassy, or constipated easily?
You might not be chewing your food properly and this can impact your physical and ultimately your mental wellbeing. Here’s why:
Chewing aids essential nutrient extraction from foods
The primary function of your stomach is to prepare foods for digestion and the action of chewing stimulates the release of stomach acid. Adequate stomach acid is required to enable to extraction of minerals from protein-rich foods (such as calcium, magnesium, zinc & iron) and prepares the vitamins folate and B12 for absorption.
Without sufficient stomach acid, it is possible to become deficient in the above nutrients, all of which are essential for good mental health and correct brain function.
Chewing helps to prevent gut imbalances
Stomach acid is a potent acid and another of its roles is to sterilise any pathogens we may ingest before they travel further through the body. Insufficient chewing, and therefore potential low stomach acid, can lead to bugs or infections reaching the intestines, where they can disrupt gut bacteria and promote dysbiosis, an imbalance in the composition of friendly bacterial species in the digestive tract.
Hormones and neurotransmitters associated with depression are produced and regulated in the gut via friendly bacteria, therefore dysbiosis may disrupt their synthesis and signaling to the brain, ultimately affecting mood.
Chewing helps to prevent constipation
Chewing food properly helps to stimulate the gallbladder, which in turn promotes gut motility and the passage of stools through the colon. Inadequate chewing can lead to this process being impaired and cause a sluggish digestive system, slowing transit time and promoting constipation.
Constipation can have a significant impact on quality of life and often can be painful too, leaving people feeling fatigued, bloated, and uncomfortable. Feeling low in energy understandably doesn’t make it easy to enjoy activities and can lead to social withdrawal and potential worsening of mood
Chewing helps to avoid overeating & weight gain
Chewing your food thoroughly and slowly triggers a cascade of hormones and messengers to the nervous system which helps to regulate appetite and recognise when you are full.
Eating quickly can lead to this being bypassed, encouraging overeating beyond feeling full. Although the relationship is complex, with many different factors, weight gain and obesity are closely associated with poor mood.
Chewing improves blood flow to the brain
Chewing food properly is not only good for digestion but it has also been shown to benefit brain health. The action of chewing improves blood flow to the brain which has been shown to help protect the hippocampus, a structure in the brain that plays an important role in many processes including learning, memory, anxiety, and regulation of the stress response. Its optimum function is important for good mental health and a reduction in its size has been shown in people with depression.
5 Tips for Better Chewing & Mindful Eating
Chew each mouthful 30 times until it has lost its texture before swallowing
Take smaller bites of food rather than loading overloading your fork
Avoid distractions. It is tricky to concentrate on chewing well and eating mindfully if there are distractions. Ensure that you put your phone away and switch off your laptop. Try to avoid eating in front of the TV too.
Take a break between mouthfuls. Before loading your fork with the next mouthful whilst still chewing the last, take a moment and pause. Try place your knife and fork down between mouthfuls.
Savour each mouthful – Start to really notice the different smells, tastes, textures, and flavours of each mouthful as you chew.