“Fear less, hope more; eat less, chew more; whine less, breathe more; talk less, say more; hate less, love more; and all good things will be yours.” ~Swedish Proverb
Many scientific studies have explored the benefits of eating more slowly and chewing food longer. You may hear the distant echoes of your mother’s admonishment to “slow down” as you plow through your lunch as quickly as possible—as though eating is an inconvenience, an intrusion into your day that keeps you from getting on with “more important things.”
But maybe your mother was right. Perhaps you should slow down. After all, what is more important than nourishment? You can’t accomplish anything of much importance without a well-nourished body and mind.
Slow Down Your Eating and You’ll Eat Less, Study Shows
The latest study to illustrate the importance of slowing down your eating appeared in the January 2014 issue of Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.1Researchers found that you may consume fewer calories over the course of a meal when you eat slowly.
This study was different in that not only did it compare energy intake with eating speed, but it separated subjects into two groups: “normal weight” and overweight/obese.
Both groups consumed fewer calories during the meal when they ate slowly, but for the normal weight group, the difference was greater. The normal weight group consumed 88 fewer calories during the slow meal, and the overweight group consumed 58 fewer calories.
Researchers are pondering the difference between the two groups, wondering if the overweight participants may have eaten less than usual because they felt “self-conscious” during the study.
The important part, however, is that both groups consumed less simply by slowing down.2 Both groups also drank more water during the slower meals and felt less hungry at the end of those meals.
Another study3 in the November 2013 issue of the same journal had similar findings. Namely, increasing the number of chews before swallowing reduced food consumption in adults of all body sizes. An additional finding was that normal-weight people tend to chew more slowly in general than those who are overweight or obese.
Eating Slowly and Mindfully May Shrink Your Waistline
The research is clear: slowing down your meals does all sorts of good things for your body, including causing you to eat less. Eating slowly creates actualbiochemical changes that make you less inclined to overeat. Even if you aren’t a research buff, I think you will appreciate the underlying message that comes through loud and clear from these studies.
Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, July 2, 20134
Eating more slowly leads to improved satiety (feeling fuller)
Prolonged chewing at lunch decreases later snack intake
The “Almond Study” (Press Release IFT Annual Meeting & Food Expo in Chicago)7,8
Almonds chewed 40 times were more fully absorbed and utilized by the body because the smaller particle sizes were more bioaccessible; larger particles (10 to 25 chews) resulted in larger particles being expelled from the digestive tract, undigested. The more you chew, the less is lost, including the healthy fats!
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, August 20119
Longer chewing results in fewer calories being consumed and more favorable levels of appetite-regulating hormonesthat tell your brain when to stop eating
Journal of the American Dietetic Association, July 200810
Eating more slowly decrease food intake, increased satiety in healthy women
Eating until full and eating quickly triples your risk of becoming overweight
How Can Eating More Slowly Do ALL of That?
Could reducing overeating really be this simple? Well, when you look at the complete picture, it does make sense. When you eat quickly, your body doesn’t have the time to go through its natural signaling process, which involves a variety of hormones and feedback loops between your gut and your brain.
Hormones that tell you when you’ve had adequate food are produced while you’re eating, but it takes a bit of time for this to occur. If you eat too quickly, you can easily overeat before your body has a chance to signal that you’ve had enough. According to the Harvard Health Blog:12
“Stretch receptors in the stomach are activated as it fills with food or water; these signal the brain directly through the vagus nerve that connects gut and brainstem. Hormonal signals are released as partially digested food enters the small intestine.
One example is cholecystokinin (CCK), released by the intestines in response to food consumed during a meal. Another hormone, leptin, produced by fat cells, is an adiposity signal that communicates with the brain about long-range needs and satiety, based on the body’s energy stores.
Research suggests that leptin amplifies the CCK signals, to enhance the feeling of fullness. Other research suggests that leptin also interacts with the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain to produce a feeling of pleasure after eating. The theory is that, by eating too quickly, people may not give this intricate hormonal cross-talk system enough time to work.”
How long does this process take? Scientists seem to agree that it takes your brain about 20 minutes to tell your body when enough is enough. Ghrelin, the “hunger hormone,” is produced mainly by your stomach. Ghrelin appears to act on your brain’s pleasure centers, making you reach for that second (or tenth) chocolate chip cookie because you remember how wonderful they taste. Lack of sleep increases ghrelin. Leptin opposes ghrelin by suppressing hunger and helps prevent overeating.
Of course, if you suffer from leptin resistance, you may not be receiving those satiety signals. But if you scarf down your food in five minutes, you will definitely NOT receive those satiety signals until it’s too late—which is why you may suddenly find yourself feeling like an overstuffed Thanksgiving turkey. So, how do you optimize the dance of the hungry hormones? Eat more slowly. And the best way to do this is by chewing more. Of course, choosing nutritious whole foods and getting adequate exercise are important as well.
Chew on This
Most people chew and swallow their food without thinking about it—it’s almost an unconscious reflex. Inadequate chewing shortchanges your nutrition, because digestion begins in your mouth. The chewing process (mastication) is actually an extremely important step in digestion, making it easier for your intestines to absorb nutrients from food particles as they pass through.
Carbohydrate and fat digestion begin in your mouth. Inadequate chewing causes foods to pass through your GI tract without being properly broken down—so nutrients are simply wasted. As you have already seen, chewing is important in helping you maintain a healthy weight due to its natural “portion control” properties. But chewing has other benefits as well:
Signaling: Chewing sends vital signals to your body to start preparing for digestion; chewing starts the secretion of hormones, activates taste receptors, prepares your stomach lining for secretion of hydrochloric acid, and prepares your pancreas for secretion of enzymes and bicarbonate13
Digestion: Your food gets more exposure to your saliva, which contains digestive enzymes necessary for the first phase of digestion; saliva also helps lubricate your food so its passage is easier on your esophagus14
Pylorus: Chewing relaxes the pylorus, a muscle at the base of your stomach that controls the passage of food into your small intestine; saliva helps the pylorus to operate with ease
Dental Health: Chewing strengthens your teeth and jaw, and helps prevent plaque buildup and tooth decay
Bacteria: Chewing discourages food-borne bacteria from entering your gut on plus-sized food particles; overgrowth of detrimental bacteria in your gut may lead to gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, cramping, and other digestive problems
How Many Chews Is Enough?
As a culture, we chew less now than we used to because we’re eating fewer whole foods and raw foods. If you consume a whole foods diet and eliminate processed foods, you naturally have to do more of the processing yourself (e.g., chewing).
In terms of optimal number of chews, recommendations are all over the board. Most studies seem to top out at 40 chews per bite. However, Horace Fletcher, aka “The Great Masticator” and founder of the chewing movement (if you can call it that), preached 100 chews per bite. This may be excessive for most people, but there’s something to be said for taking your time, and chewing as long as you’re comfortably able. I think it makes sense to not obsess over the number of chews, but simply chew until your food liquefies and loses all texture. Foodie and author A.J. Jacobs attempted to emulate the Great Masticator for just one week, and then documented his experience in a very humorous article entitled “An Overachieving Underchewer.”15 Jacobs found that 100 chews “turned out to be insane,” and he was (tongue-in-cheek) unsure of how to accomplish it “without asphyxiating.”
However, when he cut his chew-number down to 50, although still challenged, he was able to experience the benefits. Initially his jaw hurt, but by the fourth day that had improved. After all, your jaw, just like any other part of your body, may be out of shape. By the end of his experiment, Jacobs claimed that foods tasted better to him, and he consumed smaller meals but was more satisfied. This crystallizes what scientists have been telling us for some time now.
Mindful Mastication: Nourishing Your Body and Soul
What about eating as a form of meditation? “Mindful eating” is a rapidly growing movement that not only focuses on slow eating, but turns food into, well… something akin to a “religious experience.” The mindful eating trend has made its way into some big-time corporations. For example, the Google compound now schedules one lunch hour per month as a “mindful lunch hour.”16
The practice has its roots in Buddhist teachings. Just as there are forms of meditation that involve sitting, standing, or walking in silence, many Buddhist teachers encourage their students to meditate while eating. It’s about experiencing food more intensely—especially the pleasure of it. According to the New York Times, mindful eating:
“…Involves becoming aware of that reflexive urge to plow through your meal like Cookie Monster on a shortbread bender. Resist it. Leave the fork on the table. Chew slowly. Stop talking. Tune in to the texture of the pasta, the flavor of the cheese, the bright color of the sauce in the bowl, the aroma of the rising steam.”
Dr. Jan Chozen Bays, author of Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food, says, “I think the fundamental problem is that we go unconscious when we eat.” The remedy is simply “to eat, as opposed to eating and talking, eating and watching TV, or eating and watching TV and gossiping on the phone while Tweeting and updating one’s Facebook status.”
What’s on your mind while you’re eating may be as important as WHAT you’re eating. Do you ponder the origins of your food, the farmers who brought it to you, the chicken that gave its humble life for your nourishment? It’s a lot about gratitude.
Mindful eater converts report that it’s harder than it sounds… putting down your fork and tuning inward isn’t always easy. Of course,mindfulness can be applied to anything you’re doing—eating is just one daily activity that may benefit from this approach. It is at least food for thought. The bottom line is, slow down, chew more… talk less. Savoring your food and everything it brings will undoubtedly benefit your mind, body, and spirit!
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