Why specifically is chewing so important?
First, small food pieces cause less esophageal stress. The esophagus is a delicate, yet very important muscular tube located between your larynx and your stomach. Stress of any kind is not good for the health of the esophagus.
Second, the longer the food stays in your mouth the more exposure it has to saliva and its digestive enzymes. This is especially important for overweight people as carbohydrate digestion begins with the saliva enzyme alpha-amylase and fat digestion begins with the saliva enzyme lingual lipase. Saliva also helps to lubricate food so that it passes through the esophagus more easily. Additionally, saliva aids in the relaxation of the pylorus, a muscle between your stomach and small intestine. The more relaxed the pylorus is, the better is the movement of food through your digestive system.
Third, smaller better digested food pieces result in better nutrient release and a lower likelihood for negative bacterial growth in the colon. The benefits of chewing your food more completely don’t end here either but we hope we have convinced you with these beginning benefits.
Is there a rule for how many times to chew your food? No, definitely not. Counting the total number of jaw movements is silly and takes away from the enjoyment of your meal. Before beginning to eat, take a few deep breaths and then chew your food until it becomes liquified and is easy to swallow. It is really that simple.
After you swallow your food and it reaches the esophagus, automatic very rhythmic contractions called peristalsis move the food down into your stomach where hydrochloric acid and other digestive enzymes and fluids turn it into a dense liquid referred to as chyme. During this process important nutrients such as amino acids and vitamin B12 are released to begin the absorption process into your bloodstream.
It might take up to four hours for the stomach to fully process the food and release the chyme into the small intestine where a majority of the nutrient absorption takes place. Following this process the mostly digested food enters the colon, or large intestine, where insoluble fibers get digested by the healthy bacteria living in the colon. Not everyone thinks about it but there are 10x the number of microorganisms living inside us and on our skin as there are human cells that comprise our individual DNA. Healthy bacteria populations such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium do a wide host of critical health supportive maintenance functions for the body including boost the immune system, assist in nutrient extraction from foods and destroy ingested toxins.
As healthy and supportive as the “good” bacteria can be, the microorganism population is also where a majority of the digestive problems begin. For example, over one-third of Americans have stomachs populated with the negative bacteria H. pylori. As H. pylori bacteria grow stronger, serious damage from peptic ulcers occur.
But digestive disorders are widespread and are caused by a number of things beyond negative bacteria populations. Sometimes it seems like nearly everyone past mid-life is affected by either too much stomach acid, too little stomach acid, an inability to create the digestive enzyme lactase (lactose intolerance), leaky gut syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, etc.