Chewing and Digestion

Patient Expert

During my nutrition studies, one of the teachers shared a powerful story of two of his relatives who believed that they had survived the concentration camps of the holocaust by "chewing" their water. While others drank the water they received as fast as they could, this man and son drank theirs slowly, chewing the liquid for as long as they could in order to allow their saliva to mix with the water before swallowing. By doing so, they alleged that they were able to absorb more nutrients from the water and consequently survive longer periods of starvation and dehydration than others in the camp. Whether it was in fact the chewing of the water or other factors that contributed to their survival, this story was enough to have me pay closer attention to the benefits of conscious chewing.

Chewing is very important part of the digestive process. To begin with it activates the salivary glands, which binds the food, making it easier to swallow and subsequently coat the food with digestive juices once it enters the stomach. Saliva is also important for killing some of the bacteria in food and protecting the teeth. By keeping the food in your mouth longer, you allow your tongue to recognize the flavors and ensure the right digestive juices are released. Additionally, the nutrients are more quickly released and assimilated allowing for maximum absorption.

So how long should you chew?   Many experts recommend chewing your food 30-50 times until it turns to liquid within your mouth. If you are someone who currently eats quickly, while doing other things and/or chews very little, making the transition can be difficult at first.   For many other reasons other than giving yourself time to chew, carving out a "meal" time in which you do nothing other than eat and enjoy your food can be tremendously beneficial.   Many friends of mine take a moment to give thanks to the food they have in front of them. This can be a great practice to keep you conscious to the act of eating, which should be relaxing and pleasurable.

Over time you will find that chewing becomes a new habit that is easy to maintain. You may even notice that you feel lighter and more energetic as your body begins to use less energy to digest your food. Others even discover that they naturally lose weight, not only because they give their bodies time to register the "full" sensation while eating, but also because the body is absorbing more nutrients which contributes to a feeling of satisfaction much sooner.

To further aid in good digestion, consider these tips:

Don't drink liquids while eating, especially cold ones. Leave 30 minutes to an hour or so for your food to digest so that your stomach enzymes don't become diluted which can cause gas and bloating.

Don't eat late at night. Have your last meal 3-4 hours before you go to bed so that you are not digesting your food while you sleep. Most likely you'll also find that you sleep better and feel more rested the next day.

Consider proper food combining to maximize digestion and nutrient absorption. It's best to eat fruits alone and to wait at least 2 hours after a meal before consuming them.

Look into digestive enzymes or a probiotic supplement if you feel it would aid your digestive process.

Don't overeat. By taking the time to chew and enjoy your meals, you'll know when your body has had enough.

Eat your largest meal in the middle of the day when your digestive power is strongest.

Take a light walk for 15 minutes or so before returning to your daily activities. Although it's best to stay upright, if you feel the need to rest for any reason, lay on your left side to aid in digestion.

Eat the best foods for your body type. Depending on your body's unique digestive process and food sensitivities, there are foods that you'll digest more easily than others. Learn and know your body by paying attention to the signs it gives during and following a meal.

Institute of Integrative Nutrition