Gandhi’s advice to chew your drink and drink your food has stood the test of time. Although what you eat is important, how you eat deserves equal attention as research shows chewing thoroughly and eating slowly helps prevent weight gain and improves digestion.
Chewing more thoroughly suppresses appetite
A series of recent studies show chewing each bite thoroughly reduces appetite, lowers calorie intake, and can aid weight loss. That’s because the hormones that leave us feeling satiated don’t kick in until 20 to 40 minutes after you begin eating.
For instance, one study measured the release of gut hormones that suppress appetite in subjects five minutes and 30 minutes after they consumed a meal. The results showed eating the meal more slowly increased the secretion of appetite-reducing hormones.
In another study a group of both lean and obese men ate the exact same meal twice in one day. For the first meal they were instructed to chew each bite 15 times and for the second meal, 40 times. The results showed that whether lean or obese, the men consumed 12 percent less food when they had to chew each mouthful 40 times.
Another recent study showed lengthening the time of your meal can decrease hunger, something many European cultures practice regularly. Stretching a meal over two hours by taking breaks makes the food seem more rewarding, lowers grehlin, a hormone that induces hunger, and raises hormones that increase satiety.
Chewing thoroughly improves health
Digestion starts in the mouth, not the stomach. Saliva contains enzymes that begin the breakdown of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. Exposing food to saliva for longer periods of time in your mouth creates less stress on the rest of the digestive tract, which frees up more energy so you feel better.
Taking the time to eat slowly and consciously also gives the digestive tract ample notice to secrete stomach acid, pancreatic enzymes, gallbladder bile, and other chemicals to completely digest your food for maximum nutrient absorption. By wolfing down your meal you throw improperly digested food into an unprepared digestive system, which is stressful and can create symptoms of bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, or stomach pain.
Because the immune system resides largely in the gut, chewing thoroughly is one way to promote better immune health.
Healthier foods require more chewing
You may have noticed that many processed and fast foods are so easy to chew you hardly need teeth. Whole foods, on the other hand, tend to require more chewing. Simply choosing a whole foods diet free of refined foods can encourage you to chew more thoroughly.
However, you may need some outside reinforcement to develop a better chewing habit. Here are some strategies:
- Take the time to sit down and calmly eat a meal
- Take small bites
- Count so you chew each mouthful 20 or more times—until your food is completely liquid
- Pay attention to the taste, texture, and flavor of your meals; avoid reading or watching TV while eating
- Try to make meals into lengthy, relaxing occasions as often as possible