It’s the first thing I speak to patients about. Not many people think about the impact optimal chewing has on their health but it does in a big way.
Before actual ingestion occurs, just the anticipation of food will alert the body to prepare for digestion, absorption, and use of nutrients in food. This is referred to as the cephalic phase or the cephalic reflex and is the first step in preparing the digestive system for food. This is a good reason not to go grocery shopping when you are hungry!
(side note: ingestion is the process by which food enters into the alimentary canal/digestive system.)
Therefore, the minute you begin to think about, smell, and/or see food, the process of digestion begins. The organs of the digestive system begin preparing by triggering the brain, via the vagus nerve, to begin releasing:
• saliva from the salivary glands
• the hormone, gastrin
• hydrochloric acid ( HCL)
• pancreatic juices
This cephalic phase initiates chemical digestion by releasing digestive juices and water from the mouth, stomach, and small intestine. It’s quite amazing how the body prepares itself and this is a good reason not to chew gum as it’s basically fooling or teasing your digestive system that food is coming.
So why is chewing important?
Chewing is referred to as mechanical digestion is the physical processing of food. This mechanical digestion stimulates the release of saliva from the salivary glands in your mouth. Saliva will initiate chemical digestion.
Saliva is important for:
- moistening food for swallowing
- stimulating and preparing the digestive juices to be secreted
- helps protect your teeth from decay by removing food particles from them
But the big important issue is that people who barely chew will not break down the food properly leading to heartburn, bloating, gas, poor nutrient absorption, perhaps being overweight ( eating quickly tends to lead to overeating), food sensitivities and allergies and leaky gut.
The bottom line: Indulge your taste buds and enjoy every single bite.
Chewing and Healthy Weight? Read this article in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to learn why this is true.