If you suffer from digestive issues like heartburn, acid reflux, getting chunks of food stuck in the throat, or general upset stomach after eating, the amount of chewing you do may play a role. Most of us pay little to no attention to how much we’re chewing while eating. If we’re finishing our meals rather quickly, chances are we aren’t chewing our food enough.
Why is this so important, anyway? When we take our time and chew thoroughly we are letting our mouths do the work they were meant to. Your teeth are designed to physically break down food, and the saliva produced while chewing kickstarts digestion. Plus, the more your food is chewed, the less work the digestive organs have to do, and the more effective digestive enzymes will be.
So how much chewing should one person do? A reasonable goal for beginners is to aim for 20 chews per bite. Experts may attempt to chew 100 times per bite. This may seem excessive, but again, this is what your mouth was meant to do! Notice how different foods (animal proteins, vegetables, grains) all take different amounts of time to fully masticate (when your mouth is full of mush and you have nothing left to chew, you’ll know you’re there).
If you find that chewing is taking too long, try taking smaller bites. Remember the saying, don’t bite off more than you can chew? Sound advice, and the key to optimizing digestive function.
A few things to note:
You may find that your tastes and feelings about certain foods may change as you increase the amount you chew. That piece of steak may taste great when you take two bites, but 20 may change your mind (and leave your jaw feeling a bit sore).
It’s nearly impossible to keep track of how many chews you’re using when you’re distracted by things like TV’s and cell phones. If you really want to improve your meal time habits, the screens should be put away.
Pay attention to how your digestion begins to change when you start to modify the way you chew. How do you feel 30 minutes after you eat? At 3 hours? At 6 hours post-meal? Try starting with one meal a day, and practice until you feel confident you’ve mastered this habit. Then, aim for two meals a day, then three, then at all meal times. Eventually, you’ll be a chewing master and digesting food with ease. Bon appétit!