Do you really know what it means to chew? Chewing, also called mastication, is the up-and-down and side-to-side movements of the lower jaw that assist in reducing the size of the particles of solid food we eat. The teeth usually act as the grinding and biting surface. The crushing force exerted by the adult molar teeth is between 75 and 200 pounds per square inch, while that of the incisors is 30 to 70 pounds per square inch.
Why Do We Chew?
Chewing our food makes it more easily swallowed and easier for our body to process to the next stage of digestion. Chewing helps keep us from choking. Food is also lubricated by the mucus in saliva, which makes it more easily swallowed. Chewing softens the tough fibers and exposes them to the enzymes necessary for digestion. The gastric juices in the stomach further degrade the food and reduces it to microscopic size. This allows the nutrients and fluids to be absorbed into your gastrointestinal tract. When food is mixed with the saliva of the mouth, it becomes hydrated and permeated with salivary enzymes.
How Much Should We Chew?
Many of us have heard our mothers or family members tell us to “slow down, chew your food!” Some have been told that we should chew a certain number of times before we swallow. However, chewing is only the first step in the digestive process. Our stomach and our small intestine will continue to go through all the muscular motions of mechanical digestion after we swallow chewed food. The enzymes are going to get in there and break apart the food. It reduces the surface area until it eventually is able to digest it all. Food doesn’t just go through the system without being digested, nor does it sit there forever without being digested. It will eventually be digested. The more you chew it up, the less mechanical work your gut has to do, but it is capable of digesting it regardless of how much we chew it.
It’s About Time!
The truth is, as long as we can safely and comfortably swallow our food, it does not matter how long we chew it. What does matter, though, is the amount of time we spend eating. Specifically, the amount of time we take between bites is important. Whether you do that by taking longer to chew your food or if you take longer just in between bites, it is not going to make that much of a difference.
It takes about 20 to 25 minutes for the hormones in your body to reach your brain to tell you that you are full. If we eat an entire meal in five minutes, that’s not enough time for the brain to register when we are full. Therefore, we are more likely to overeat. But if we take 30 minutes to eat dinner, then the brain is going to know when we are full and will signal us to stop eating before we overeat. There is statistical significance confirmed by research that shows evidence of this fact. The longer you take to consume your meal overall, will make a difference in satiety and the overall number of calories consumed.
Chew for Satisfaction
When we slow down and take time to chew our food properly, it also allows us to enjoy our food more. We are able to taste the food more when it is in the mouth longer as we chew. “inhaling” our food does not allow us to enjoy it, and could ultimately lead to heartburn, stomach aches, or other digestive issues. The first few bites of any food are really the best, from a sensory perspective. The pleasure we get from food slowly decreases during the meal. This phenomenon is called the “satiety cascade,” and it influences how much you eat at a meal and when you’ll eat your next meal. Understanding what influences the satiety cascade can help us identify what triggers overeating.
Chew for Weight Loss
One weight loss tip is to increase the time we chew and enjoy food. It helps us to feel more satisfied sooner, and as mentioned above, eat less. the simple act of chewing can reduce your calorie intake. It works by increasing the satisfaction you get from meals, thus helping to tide you over between meals. However, we can take this idea a step further.
Another tip is called mindful eating. This is when we eat slow enough to allow us to focus on the aroma, texture, and flavor of every bite. We savor the food slowly in order to receive maximum pleasure. This slow chewing releases more flavor. It also leaves the food in contact with your taste buds for a longer period of time, and boosts our feelings of fullness.
Foods with crunch and texture take longer to eat, they may lead to greater satisfaction than softer foods. The sounds of chewing those crunchier foods that make more sound can give us more satisfaction. Crunchy foods like pretzels, carrots, apples, and celery offer this enjoyable crunch and take longer to eat. Consider two snacks – a small bowl of crunchy carrot and celery sticks or a smoothie. The smoothy goes down more easily and more quickly. I may have wonderful nutrients, but it probably won’t leave you feeling as full as the carrot and celery sticks would. Chewing crunchy food can also give your mouth and jaw a workout that can be energizing. These snacks fill your belly and may help you feel more alert during a midday slump.
There are also those out there who believe that the more we chew our food, the more of the nutrients will be absorbed by the body. This is a myth. Our digestive system has a pretty good record of absorbing 95-99% of all the macronutrients (carbs, fats, and protein) and much of the micronutrients (the vitamins and minerals) in the foods we eat. Whether or not we chew 5 times or 25 times is not going to make that much of a difference.
Emerging research suggests that chewing gum might also help with appetite control. Chewing gum gets those chewing muscles going and may help satisfy the urge for something sweet. Studies have shown that chewing a piece of gum before snacks appears to reduce snacking throughout the day. Chewing a piece of gum while cooking can help keep you from sampling the meal. It can also be a diversionary tactic to keep you from impulse snacking when you’re bored or tired.
Chewing gum, particularly sugar-free gum, also provides oral health benefits by increasing saliva. Saliva helps to cleanse the mouth of bacteria that can cause decay. Saliva production is important for oral health because saliva contains buffers, minerals, and antibacterial agents. Increased saliva flow helps to neutralize acids in the mouth. This will enhance the re-mineralization of the tooth enamel. It also helps clear the mouth of any food debris that may get caught between teeth.
Unlike many essential body functions, chewing is a voluntary action. The muscles controlling the jaw movements are voluntarily controlled. Learning to control those movements can be to your benefit. At Danville Family Dentistry we will help you take the best care of your teeth and jaw and keep you chewing! Contact us today! 317-745-4400
Are you on Facebook? We are, too! Let’s be friends!