I have heard estimates that 50% of digestion begins before the food hits the stomach. Factors such as where you are eating, how stressed or relaxed you feel, how attentive you are to your meal versus your computer or iPhone and how frequently you chew each bite altogether play a huge role in how efficiently food is digested. Of these factors chewing (mastication) is perhaps the easiest to influence and with perhaps the most immediate and impactful result.
A study at the Medical University of South Carolina found that eating a 690 calorie meal in 5 minutes rather than 30 minutes induced up to 50 per cent more acid reflux episodes. The theory is that the digestive tract being overloaded with larger lumps of food can be physically straining and irritating to the esophagus and stomach as well as prompting and overload of stomach acid and weakening the lower esophageal sphincter.
Incompletely chewing food can also lessen the surface area of the food thereby reducing overall nutrient absorption from the meal. A study of subjects who ate almonds and chewed them either 10, 25 or 40 times confirmed that those who chewed longer were able to absorb a higher level of lipids and other nutrients versus those who chewed less and ingested the almonds more quickly.*
Chewing aids in nutrient absorption, helps increase the feelings of satiety during a meal and allows for digestive ease by stimulating digestive enzymes further downstream. It truly is one of the simplest yet most impactful ways to improve your health and all it takes is awareness and shifting old habits.
If you know you are a fast eater begin by trying these simple steps at your next meal:
- Turn off your iphone, move away from the computer or TV and fully attend to your food. Notice the smells and sights of your meal and perhaps take a moment of gratitude.
- Chew each bite about 35 times and try to make your meal last over 20 – 30 minutes
- Limit water consumption during your meal to small sips and avoid ice. The cold temperature dampens the production of hydrochloric acid.
It’s quite likely you will notice the difference right away. Bon appetit!
* Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Sep;94(3):709-16. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.111.015164. Epub 2011 Jul 20. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/89/3/794.long