That’s right! You don’t need expensive digestive enzymes, hydrochloric acid or digestive bitters after all. You just need to CHEW! French psychologist and pharmacist, Émile Coué de Châtaigneraie (1857-1926) grew to fame by introducing optimistic autosuggestion with the well known phrase:
“Tous les jours à tous
points de vue je vais de mieux en mieux.”
“Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.”
While his mantra-like methodology helped heal, improve and inspire thousands of lives, his other secret to health is often overlooked:
“… be careful to chew your food well, transforming it into a soft paste in your mouth before you swallow. This will help you digest well, so that you will feel absolutely no discomfort in your stomach or intestines afterwards, no pain or heartburn, no discomfort at all. Your body will digest and assimilate the food you ingest perfectly, using all the nutrients it contains to renew your supply of blood, muscles, energy – in short, to regenerate life.”1
Similarly, In 1903, Horace Fletcher, a portly American businessman, invented Fletcherism – the act of chewing food at least 33 times at the rate of three mouthfuls a minute. His way of eating earned him the nickname “The Great Masticator.” He quickly lost 60 pounds using this system. At fifty-eight it is said he could outperform much younger athletes in both strength and endurance.2
The Chief Benefits of Chewing
- Weight Control: Chewing makes overeating difficult. You perceive when your stomach is full rather than bolting too much and quickly regretting it.
- Healthy Digestion: Smaller food particles are simply easier to digest and the act of chewing stimulates the secretion of all the digestive fluids.
- Maximum Nourishment: More nutrients can be extracted because the surface area of the food is made larger.
- Mental Calmness: Chewing requires you be present and focused – which has the added benefit of relieving stress.
- Reduced Flatulence: Proper chewing means there will be no undigested food particles, which would otherwise become dinner for bacteria and yeast in your colon. Saliva also contains anti-bacterial and anti-fungal enzymes.3 (A great selling point if you suffer from yeast overgrowth.)
- Less Toxins: Undigested food will ferment and produce toxins in your colon.
- Enjoyment of Taste: Chewing allows you to more fully experience the sense of taste. You will feel more satisfied with simpler food that’s not overly sweetened or overly seasoned.
- Secondary Benefits:
a. Improved sleep (it’s hard to rest when your tummy is overly full or upset).
b. More energy (because you absorb more of your food).
c. Lower blood pressure (because chewing makes you feel calmer).
Breaking it Down
There are so many ways in which chewing helps produce the above benefits. The first and most obvious is the physical breakdown of the food. If food particles are not small enough, it is difficult or impossible for them to be absorbed by your body.
The walls of your small intestine have pores that are only so big. Think of your gut as being lined with holes the size of marbles and you’re trying to pass golf balls through them. At best your digestive juices only absorb the nutrients on the outside of the food particle.
And if those larger particles do make it through the wall of your intestine that means you have a condition known as leaky gut. Those undigested food particles end up in your blood stream where they are still too big to be properly absorbed into your cells. Yet they can cause allergic reactions. These complexes of food molecules and immune system antibodies circulate or get lodged in tissues (such as joints) where your immune system attacks them even more, often causing painful inflammation.
Mix with Saliva Not Water
Try chewing a mouthful of bread or grains until it turns into a paste. You’ll notice the paste becomes sweeter as you chew. Amylase is one of the enzymes in saliva whose job is to break down starches. Sugar is just a simpler form of starch.
So, the process of digestion actually begins in the mouth. In fact, it helps improve the taste of your food. This is especially true of unrefined food. The more you chew whole foods the better they taste. This is may be one reason why people who mainly eat processed foods think healthy food “tastes like cardboard.” They expect a seasoned taste on the first bite and don’t want to work for it. Refined food is more or less pre-chewed food, which contributes to its sweeter taste. But, in the process of refining, many, if not most, of the nutrients are lost, and lots of sugar and fat are added to give the immediate taste that people crave.
Another enzyme produced in your saliva is lingual lipase, which actually helps break down fat. Fats digest even more slowly than proteins. It’s a good idea to get the process started in your mouth. And the more you chew, the more lipase you will put into action.
Acid phosphatase, also found in saliva, helps extract phosphates from your foods. Phosphates are a critical component of every cell in your body, and are required to encode information in your genes, and assist in the release of energy in your body.
Your salivary glands also release the following enzymes and friendly bacteria that are:
- Detoxifying: Glutathione S–transferase (GST) is believed to help bind toxins in your food.
- Anti–bacterial: Your saliva produces many enzymes and proteins that kill harmful bacteria. Not only do they kill bacteria and yeast that might be in the food or water you just ate, but they also may pass on through your stomach and help protect your entire digestive tract.
- Digesting: Saliva contains over 500 million bacteria cells per ml. These are friendly bacteria that help break down the food in your mouth.
There are still even more enzymes released in your saliva that we are only beginning to understand. All these enzymes are very important and you don’t want to wash them down your throat and esophagus before they do their work. You also don’t want to dilute your stomach acids. So, just sip some water with your meals. Don’t chug-a-lug a pitcher of ice-cold water.
You can take this or leave it, but in various Eastern practices they teach that you derive non- physical energy and sustenance from food. They even have a name for it. In the East they call it life force, prana, chi or qi. In the West we might call it sub-atomic energy.
We are physical, mental and spiritual beings, after all.
This is what Omraam Mikhael Aivanhov writes in his book The Yoga of Nutrition:
“The mouth contains some highly perfected devices in the form of glands on and under the tongue whose task is to extract the etheric particles from food. I’m sure you have all had this experience often: there you were, so hungry you were almost unconscious, and then you began to eat. With the first few bites, long before your food has been digested, you begin to feel better and more energetic. How can it happen so fast? It is because, thanks to the work that goes on in your mouth, your organism has already absorbed the energies and etheric elements needed to nourish the nervous system. Even before the stomach has received the food, the nervous system has been fed.”
Even if this part is not true, you still benefit in innumerable other ways from chewing. But if it is true you’re missing out, all the more, if you swallow your food too quickly.
The mechanical act of chewing and tasting, studies show, causes the brain to send signals to the rest of the gastrointestinal tract. The more you chew, the more hydrochloric acid your stomach produces. Chewing also kicks your pancreas into action, releasing enzymes and bicarbonate into the small intestine.
How Many Times Should You Chew
Counting how many times you chew the first mouthful of food may help you remember to chew the rest of the food thoroughly enough. So, start a meal by mentally counting 30 chomps. Another method is to chew until the food is so thoroughly diluted you don’t even need to consciously swallow. It just slips down your throat.
After that first “intense” mouthful, I would suggest just chewing until the food is paste and you can feel no whole pieces with your tongue. If you can still identify the texture of your food – the edges of rice or the stalk of broccoli – you need to keep on chewing. But if your chewing is also your meditation time – count the number of times you chew. Counting becomes like a “mantra” that keeps other thoughts out of your mind.
Generally, food will increase in flavor as you chew it and then begin to lose its flavor as it becomes diluted with saliva. That’s usually the time to swallow. But, by all means, count out each mouthful if you find it calming or otherwise necessary. If you’ve been eating hastily for years, then some extra-conscious re-training might be in order.
What’s in a Mouthful
How much to put in your mouth is another issue. You don’t want to pack the food in, hoping to chew more in less time. Remember, it’s not just about getting the food into your stomach ASAP, it’s also about mixing the food with saliva. Stuffing your mouth will not allow the juices to mix. You will also not be able to move the food around with your tongue. Your tongue is here for a purpose, so make good use of it.
Putting too much food in your mouth usually leads to half of it being swallowed before it is chewed at all. Vice versa, sometimes people eat too small mouthfuls and that’s part of the reason they don’t chew enough. They’d be chewing all day! So, as long as you have a full set of choppers – use them. Don’t just eat on one side of your mouth, either. Some people have a habit of doing that due to dental problems that may be long past. Make your whole mouth work for you.
Eating in Silence
It’s an important task – nourishing your body. As with most important tasks, it’s usually best done solo. Modern science shows that our brains are not designed for multi-tasking. Apparently, as soon as we try to do two things at once our brain function decreases, creating a distracted, disorganized state of thinking, and an inability to concentrate that continues even after the multitasking experience is over.5
Therefore, ideally, you shouldn’t talk while you are eating. The link between eating in silence, better digestion and inner peace, is hard to ignore. Psychologically, chewing has a calming and internalizing effect. It makes you more present and aware of the flavor and texture of the food. Talking can make you tense up and if you tense your abdomen, that’s not going to help your digestion.
Nonetheless, most people think of mealtimes as a time to converse with others. Yet, if you test it, you may find that talking interferes with how well your food digests. Digestion is especially affected if you end up discussing disturbing issues, like financial troubles, a bad day at school or the latest horror story from the news. It would be better to have an after-dinner conversation with tea. Or go out for a walk (which improves digestion) with your partner or family rather than turning on the TV.
We also have so little time to practice meditation, prayer and awareness. Even from a purely psychological standpoint these practices produce a calming effect and increase the efficiency of our brains – which improves our overall health. Why not make mealtimes a time to practice meditation, prayer and awareness? If you’re religious, tell your kids to have a conversation with God while they eat. Otherwise, just think of it as a time to decompress and be peaceful.
While eating in contemplative silence may be the ideal environment, at least at first, many may find it too boring, especially if you are used to eating in front of the TV. Boring isn’t good. It only leads you to want to finish your meal quickly and not chewing enough. Putting on music is a good solution.
Listening to music may help avoid any awkwardness your family may feel eating together in silence.
Generally, I’d recommend playing calming instrumental music to help your digestion – but whatever keeps you chewing. If you have a sluggish digestive system, maybe listening to something lively, like The Beatles, would be good for you!
Talk Less, Chew More
Now you may want to have one or two meals a week where you do talk and when you have more time to eat – just for a change (or if you have guests over or if you are eating out). Or maybe you eat in a staff lunch area where eating in silence would seem anti-social. Or maybe you just can’t convince the rest of your family to go along with the idea.
So, how do you chew thoroughly and talk at the same time? The secret is simple. Talk less, and listen more. Many people spend most “conversations” just waiting for the other person to stop talking so they can say what they want to say. Oftentimes, meals with larger groups have multiple conversations going on at the same time.
A better solution would be where one person talks at a time – while the others chew and listen. Asking questions that get other people talking is one way to make this happen. Otherwise, a table of awkward silence or an uncommunicative family may only encourage eating too quickly.
Reading, Eating and the TV
Now, reading or watching TV while you eat, really, isn’t ideal. Still, you’re probably better off chewing your food properly while watching TV or reading a book – versus wolfing it down so you can go and do those things. You may find audio books more convenient than a physical book when trying to eat at the same time.
Chewing food is really important – so if the only way you can make time for it is by multi-tasking, then go for it. But, better yet, see if you can reduce the number of activities in your life and increase the quality of those activities instead.
Make it Happen
- You may want to leave a printout of this module at your dinner table for a while and reread it at each meal to reinforce the importance of chewing properly.
- Count to 50 (or even a 100) as you chew your first mouthful and/or chew it until it is so diluted with saliva that you don’t even need to swallow. It just slides down your throat hole!
- Continue counting if you need to. Otherwise, simply chew until the food has no texture and is just a thick paste.
- Never overload your mouth – nor eat too small amounts.
- Eat in total silence if you can. Listening to music is the next best option. If you need to be in a conversation with others try to do more listening.
- Only watch TV or read a book if it’s the only way to keep you patiently chewing your food properly.
Questions & Answers
The stomach secretes hydrochloric acid that dissolves food into smaller particles. If this is true why do we need to chew so much?
Some people argue that you really only need to chew food small enough to fit it down your throat. Yes, your body can keep on “cooking” your food with more and more acid. This means that food must stay in your stomach longer. It also means your stomach must work harder. It also means you must be able to produce more and more stomach acid to get the job done. It also means you’ll probably end up “overcooking” your food and losing some of the nutritional benefits.
In other words, yes, a healthy stomach may be able to make up for lack of chewing – but a more efficient use of energy would be to chew your food properly. You may also start to “burn out” your stomach. This is why you may have been able to get away without chewing as much when you were younger, but as you age your stomach stops producing as much hydrochloric acid.
Still, even a healthy stomach can only do so much. If you have children, you have most likely noticed visible pieces of food in their diapers. Remember, you feed them mushy foods until they have teeth, which you expect them to use to create their own mush. No matter how strong your stomach is, it’s going to be able to break food down only so much. Sure, it can handle a muffin, cheese, or something soft and processed, but not real, whole foods.
Is it better to just purée my food? What about smoothies?
There’s probably no one right answer to this question. It comes down to what works better for you.
Obviously puréeing all your food is hardly an ideal way to live. The only time I would recommend that is if you were unable to chew due to an injury. Otherwise, I would say chewing your own food is best. Your mouth and jaw and teeth have important functions. We don’t even know what they all are. The movement of the jaw activates many layers of cranial nerves in the neck. So, don’t give up on chewing just yet.
When drinking smoothies or juices, you need to mix your saliva with the juice. While most people’s smoothies don’t contain any starch, and thus do not benefit from the amylase enzyme found in saliva, you still benefit from the other enzymes and antibacterial compounds. It may look a little strange actually “chewing” your smoothies or juices. Instead, just hold it in your mouth and swish it around with your tongue. Include citrus, ginger or astringent foods in your smoothies to help stimulate the flow of saliva.
Another option is to make a smoothie-bowl.” Just chop the fruit that you would otherwise blend into your smoothie and place in a bowl. Then make a super-thick version of the smoothie with whatever other ingredients you use (e.g. superfood powders, protein powders, nuts, spices etc.). Then just pour the “smoothie dressing” over your fruit and you have a colorful fruit salad to enjoy.
I just don’t have time to chew my food until it’s a paste. What should I do?
Okay, first, don’t over–estimate how long this is going to take you. Unless you are swallowing your food whole, you’re already probably chewing it 50-80% of the way. To chew it properly is only going to take you 20–50% longer.
Also, you don’t necessarily have to chew it “slowly.” You can chew fairly quickly. Don’t chow away like a lawnmower, but don’t chew like you are half asleep, either. For example, Fletcher recommended three mouthfuls per minute – chewing 33 times per mouthful.
Still, keep in mind that when you are eating food quickly, you are not absorbing all of it, anyway. You may get it down twice as fast but you may only be absorbing 50% of it. What a waste of money! Eat slower, eat less, and absorb more. You can save the time it takes to chew by cutting back on portions, which may be what you want to do, anyway.
Otherwise, undigested food becomes toxic, depleting you of nutrients, straining your body, zapping your energy and disturbing your sleep – all of which eat up your time.
Again, if you must, find some other task you can do while eating – like paperwork, reading or listening to youtube audio, but not the stressful ones!
Do you have any advice on chewing nuts and seeds?
Nuts are hard foods and, simply, take a long time to chew properly. My advice is to make sure they are soaked. This will make them soft and digestible enough so that you can eat them properly in a reasonable amount of time.