Do you remember the last time you were starving? And when you finally got something to eat, you inhaled it? And you were like ‘man, this is so tasty’ and then go to take another bite and realize it’s all gone? My guess is you probably weren’t paying too much attention to chewing. In my nutrition classes I have learned more about the digestive system than I ever wanted to know, and chewing is a really important part of that! What’s the point of eating all your greens if you’re not getting the maximum benefits?
Digestion is a two-step process. First, we break down foods we eat into smaller molecules by chewing. Second, our body delivers molecules (aka nutrients) to our bloodstream so we can utilize them now or store them for future use. Digestion actually starts in your brain. When we smell, see, or even think of food, our brainy brain sends a signal to our vagus nerve. Our vagus nerve lets our entire digestion system, also known as the gastrointestinal tract or GI system know “hey dudes, get ready to do this thang!”
By chewing our food, we are preparing it to be digested. During times when we eat, whether it’s a small snack or a larger meal, our saliva helps use break food down into nutrients. It contains an enzyme called amylase, which breaks up carbohydrates, and lingual lipase, which breaks down fats. Our saliva (I know it’s a gross word but we’ve gotta use it), also contains a few more digestive juices that help with the entire digestive system. Did you know your body produces about a quart of saliva a day? Sick!!! Most of that is water and gets reabsorbed.
Chewing slows down your entire eating process, which in turn spreads out your glycemic response – that’s how your blood sugar rises and falls over time depending on what you eat. By taking more time to chew, it allows those digestive enzymes and juices more time to do their job. Also – and this is fun – when eating mindfully our parasympathetic nervous system is activated. That system is sometimes called ‘the rest and digest system.’ It conserves our energy and calms us down.
It’s okay to be the last person at the table who takes a long time to eat. You’re actually doing yourself a favor. I’ll leave you with one last gross tidbit. When you chew up your food and it turns into a pile of mush before you swallow it, that has a name. It’s called a bolus. You’re welcome!
P.S. – the donkey above is my parents! His name is Donkey and he loves carrots. He’s great at chewing.