Mechanical digestion (chewing) and the breakdown of carbs and fats begin in the mouth. This is step 1 in digestion.
If we don’t adequately chew our food, enzymes that further breakdown carbs, fats and proteins throughout the digestive tract won’t be as effective as they should be because the food particles will be too big for them to act on.
Chewing signals the secretion of saliva, which contains enzymes that start digesting carbs and fats in the mouth, as well as the digestive tract to get ready to do its job. That job is to move that food down the esophagus, into the stomach, the small intestine and then the large intestine, where at each stage, additional activities of digestion occur that process the food into absorbable nutrients that your body will subsequently use for fuel. For all of this to happen, you need to chew, and chew thoroughly!
Chewing seems simple enough. But wait! How rushed are you when you are eating? Are you gulping down food while rushing to get the kids off to school and yourself to work? Do you eat lunch at your desk or between meetings when you have literally a minute to spare? Are you so hungry by dinnertime that you inhale whatever you can grab fast as fast as you can grab it?
This is the most common problem I see when it comes to this phase in digestion. This one is one of the easier ones to address (relatively). We address it by being present while we eat. Make eating a stand-alone activity, rather than a multitasking one. Focus on your food, and chew it.
Some people have dental problems that make chewing difficult. If this is the case, and we should all do this regularly by the way, see your dentist to address your teeth and gums and make sure your dental health is in tiptop shape. If you do have dental issues, you can also talk to a nutritionist about ways to modify your diet to make sure your nutritional needs are being met.
There are children, as well as adults that have developmental or neurological issues that impair their ability to chew, and swallow. This can happen in older adults as well. From a nutritional perspective, it is important to work with a nutritionist to modify the texture of the diet to make chewing and swallowing food easier, while still maintaining adequate nutrient intake.
So, since chewing is the first step in the digestive process, and it signals the process to begin, when we don’t chew appropriately, food ends up not digested completely and/or efficiently. What happens? A lot! Here are some examples of what happens:
Incomplete absorption of nutrients
Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), and overgrowth of other bacteria in the gut
Symptoms like abdominal pain, gas, bloating, belching, diarrhea and constipation
Decreased feelings of fullness, so increased intake of food leading to weight gain
Imbalanced blood sugar levels
Chew, chew, chew your food! And if you can’t chew and swallow, let’s talk about how we can modify your diet to help you avoid all that can go wrong.
Remember that at any time, if you have questions for me, please contact me. It’s literally me on the other end of this technology, waiting to hear from you to learn what I can do to support you on your health journey.
P.S. If you know someone that might benefit from this information, please share the love (forward them this link) <3
Your partner in health,
Jennifer, MPH, MS, CNS
Functional and Clinical Nutritionist