Most people eat more like snakes than the primates we are, breaking down bites of food just enough so they’ll fit down our throats before swallowing. The average number of times Americans chew each bite is 5-7. This may work fine for pudding, but it’s not great for something with any fiber in it, like broccoli.
The act of thoroughly chewing your food is a powerful and often overlooked key to optimal digestive health. There are two crucial components of digestion designed to take place in the mouth. The first is the physical act of grinding the food down into a mash of smaller particles. This is especially important for things like vegetables and grains, which have cellulose-based casings that encapsulate the oils and micronutrients at the core. These delicate nutrients will not be fully released for absorption unless the fibrous walls are ground up and broken down by our chompers.
The second crucial component is the release of key digestive enzymes in the mouth that begin the breakdown of carbohydrates and fats. When you slow your eating down a bit and chew enough to taste the food before swallowing, this encourages a generous production of these digestive enzymes, many of which are only released in the mouth and not in the stomach.
Improved digestion can mean clearer skin, sweeter breath, faster weight loss, and more.
How many times should you chew each bite? That depends on the type of food and size of the bite. Start by taking a reasonable-sized forkful rather than a monster bite. Proteins need to be softened or broken up thoroughly, but a lot of the digestive work for them will happen with the acid released in your stomach. Carbs, however, especially whole grains, beans and vegetables, need to be ground into a paste and thoroughly mixed with saliva for the best digestion and maximum nutrient absorption. If you’re counting, start with 20 chews per bite of carbs. To make it a meditative practice, try for 35 chews.
As a simple, non-counting guideline, make sure that each bite has been reduced to a soft mash in your mouth. If you can roll it around and it still feels like a walnut or a piece of cauliflower, you’ve got more chewing to do.
Jeannette Bessinger (thecleanfoodcoach.com) is a RI-based clean food writer, speaker and award-winning educator. Author and co-author of 8 books, she’s designed menu plans and recipes for many doctors, naturopaths, nutritionists and strength trainers. Find her 28-Day Reboot—an easy, tasty, nutrient-loaded, month-long meal plan—at allthatmatters.com/affiliates.