Chewing offers your body the fuel it needs to remain healthy and satisfied

Kyle Kranz

Kyle KranzRunning on the White Line

Eating quality food such as fruits, vegetables, organic, and grass-fed/free range may be the most important aspect of a healthy diet. Next is how the food is prepared. Microwaves are very good at destroying nutrients, and steaming is great at preserving them. Chewing may come in at number three. It is an often overlooked skill when discussing health and weight loss.

In this fast-paced country we live in, people are often in a hurry and spend less time chewing their food. Go to the Student Union and you may notice individuals having the next bite ready to be shoveled in before being done chewing the previous bite. I have seen numbers from three to seven as the average number of chews an American will chew a bite of food. There are many very cool things going on when you spend time chewing. Unfortunately when we rush and skip this first step of digestion, later processes that should be triggered are compromised.

When you chew your food a sufficient amount, two key digestive enzymes are excreted in your saliva. Lingual lipase begins the digestion of fats/lipids and amylase initiates the digestion of carbohydrates. Other digestive enzymes in saliva released during chewing are antibacterial and lubricate.

The processes that are triggered during chewing, but take effect later on in digestion, include the hormone cholecystokinin (CCK). This is a digestive hormone that stimulates fat and protein digestion in the small intestine and triggers the release of bile and other chemicals important in digestion. CCK is also an important indicator of satiety when eating, and an increased amount has been linked to weight loss, healthy body weight, and smaller meals consumed. Eating a meal more slowly stimulates a release of CCK and allows you to feel satisfied with your meal. Eat too fast and you may eat too much too soon.

The best analogy I have heard of is comparing chewing to starting a fire. You cannot start a fire with logs. You must use twigs and branches. These have more surface area in contact to the flames and oxygen and you get a larger fire. The same goes for the metabolism of digestion. Thorough chewing of food increases its surface area and how much of the food comes into contact with digestive enzymes and hormones. Imaging a huge chunk of potato or carrot entering your stomach– not pleasant.

If you are afflicted with heartburn, gas, or irritable bowel syndrome, better chewing of your food may be of some relief. For example, if you skipped proper chewing and large clumps of food enter the stomach, thus not getting a good stimulation of hydrochloric acid released into the stomach, the food may not get broken down as thoroughly, and you can get a back flush up into the esophagus. In this instance, acid reflux was actually due to a low amount of acid in the stomach, not too much.

Some tips are to chew your food 15-25 times. It’s really not as hard as you think. This will better prepare your food and your body for the digestion to come. Also I try to put down my fork and/or take a sip of water between each bite. A study with two groups found that the women who were instructed to chew each bite 20-30 times and put down the spoon between bites ate less of the meal, even though each participant was given the exact same amount of food and told to eat until satisfied. Eating with chopsticks will also slow your meal down (or make you good at eating fast with chopsticks). A three-year study of the eating habits of Japanese subjects in Okinawa found that those who ate until full at a rapid pace were three times more likely to be overweight than those eating at a slower pace. Something I have really been working on is to eat until satisfied and not actually full. It comes in handy during the holidays when in the past I would generally be in pain from the massive amount of food I inhaled at family meals. Finally, mindful eating is the practice of observing your food and being aware of how food makes you feel before, during, and after consumption. Thinking about how I will feel after eating a bunch of Oreos will keep me from consuming them in the first place, it’s an excellent way to have power over your food. Learn the difference between being hungry or simply being bored. Experience your food, how it feels and what’s it’s like to chew it.

Whether you want to lose some weight, avoid over eating and becoming too full after a meal, or get rid of acid reflux, practicing chewing can possibly help. Chewing is part of the process of digestion that many people skip. Take time to be aware of what you are eating and make sure it is the best fuel you can give your body.

Kyle is a senior nutrition major. Visit his blog at or contact him at [email protected].