NRNM: Slow Down… And Chew

In fierce opposition to the ADA’s National Nutrition Month, I’m doing my own advocacy with National REAL Nutrition Month. Throughout March, I’ll post ideas and tips for something you can do to improve your own health habits, along with stuff you can do to painlessly share what you know with the people you love. (All the posts thus far are right here, or click the “National REAL Nutrition Month” label below.)

NRNM: Slow Down… And Chew

When I was growing up, our whole family ate dinner together almost every night – usually at 5:00 p.m. – and we were required to put our fork down on the table between bites. No shoveling!

I’ve admitted to y’all that sometimes, when I’m mostly sure no one is looking, I eat like an animal. Big bites to get the food in as fast as possible. Frankly, sometimes it’s just fun. But that’s not really the best way to go. There are sound reasons, besides persnickety table manners and attempting to be ladylike, for eating slowly and thoroughly chewing our food.

My experience with the demon tummy over the last few days has reinforced this idea for me. I’ve been taking the smallest possible bites, chewing them into oblivion, then waiting for a few minutes before reloading my fork… just to make sure the food’s going to sit OK when it lands.

It occurred to me that this might not be a bad way to go all the time.

Until I went to a Whole9 workshop, I didn’t realize that digestion actually starts in the mouth. Chewing breaks food into smaller pieces, which means more surface area for the digestive process to work on. But that’s just mechanics. There’s chemistry at work, too. Saliva contains enzymes that start to break down the food, and chewing sends messages to the rest of our gastrointestinal system that tell it to fire up the digestive process.

If you’ve ever dieted, someone probably told you that it takes about 20 minutes for our brains to register that we’re full. By slowing down the eating process – chewing our food well, taking a moment between bites, savoring our food – we can be more in touch with what we’re eating and how we’re feeling about it. And that means that the moment our body thinks we’re full and our brain thinks we’re full will happen simultaneously. Neat!

Here’s something new I learned today: There’s a muscle called the pylorus at the lower end of the stomach. To move food from the stomach to the small intestine, the pylorus has to relax – and sufficient saliva from the correct amount of chewing helps relax the pylorus. (That’s almost a Seussian sentence.) That means chewing well at the beginning of the digestive process ultimately helps your body process the food during the digestive process.

And finally, when we gulp our food and don’t chew it properly – see reference to eating like an animal above – we increase the risk of indigestion, heartburn, gas, and ahem flatulence. So not pretty.


Tip(s) For You and Your Near & Dear

1. Chew Your Food. A lot.
Yes, some diet pushers have a 30-chews-per-bite rule. Personally, I have things I’d rather think about than counting the number of times I’ve chewed something. However, a good rule of thumb is to chew your food until you can’t identify it on your tongue from its texture. That means things that need a good grinding – like raw or fibrous veggies, meat, nuts – get to spend lots of quality time with your chompers.

2. Play the “Put Your Fork Down” game.
No elbows on the table. No hats at the table. Fork down between bites. These are the manners that were drilled into me at our dinner table and the rules of our game. You’ll be amazed how leisurely a meal can seem when your place your fork on the rim of your plate between bites. Who knows what kind of kickass conversations you’ll have over a slower-paced meal! And the “fork down” rule gives you plenty of time to savor your delicious dino-chow.

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  • Marcos Torres says:

    Sometimes I catch myself swallowing way too soon kinda im in the army and have little time to eat. working on that.