Do you know how digestion works in your body? Here’s a simplified overview:
- You chew your food while your mouth secretes saliva, which contains digestive enzymes. Then, you swallow.
- The food travels down the esophagus to the stomach and mixes with stomach acid. At this point the body breaks down protein and separates minerals for absorption.
- The partially digested food then goes into the small intestine, where it is mixed with digestive enzymes to break down carbohydrates and bile to emulsify fats.
- Your small intestine absorbs water and some nutrients.
- The food then moves from your small intestine to the large intestine where the body removes more water and absorbs more nutrients.
- You eliminate the waste.
Guess how much of this you have control over? That’s right, just the chewing portion! Let’s try a little experiment, shall we?
- Find something that requires some chewing. Nuts or carrots are good options for this experiment.
- Place a piece of this food in your mouth and count how many times you chew before you swallow. Notice how the food feels in your mouth and going down your throat.
- What did you observe?
- Now, place another piece of the same food in your mouth and chew it double the number of times you did the first time. Notice again how it feels in your mouth and throat. Different, right? More liquid, smoother, perhaps more digested?
Chewing your food thoroughly helps your body in many ways. The longer the food spends in your mouth, the more time the digestive enzymes in your saliva have to work. Chewing the food into smaller particles means that there is less work for your stomach to break down those proteins, leading to more efficient nutrient absorption. It also means you are less likely to notice recognizable chunks of food in your stool.
We (at least in the US) tend to wolf our food down in a very short period of time. There’s no time for chewing! This is a huge burden on our digestive system, and can lead to a domino effect of inefficient digestion all the way down the line.
What if we didn’t encourage children to hurry? What if, instead, we sat down with our children and ate like they do, taking in the wonder that is the color, flavor, and texture in front of you? How would eating be different?
Tell me what you noticed from our experiment in the comments!