To build strong bones and fuel the interlocking systems that keep you vibrant and healthy, your body needs the vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients from the foods you eat. That process – of turning the raw material of your diet into fuel for your body – is called digestion.
Today we’ll look at an often ignored part of that process, one of the few digestive steps that you have direct conscious control of: chewing, also known as mastication. Masticating your food properly sets your digestive system up for better nutrient absorption and prevents digestive problems, while failing to do so can sabotage even the best diet.
How The Digestive Process Works
The digestive system is a group of organs that work together to turn the food you eat into energy and nutrients that your body uses to fuel its many processes and functions.
Our bodies contain a continuous, hollow passageway of about 30 feet in length called the alimentary canal. It’s through this long and winding tube that everything we ingest travels and is processed, beginning in the mouth, and then continuing in the pharynx, esophagus, stomach, small intestines, and large intestines.
In addition to the organs that make up the canal itself, a number of auxiliary organs work to facilitate digestion, including the teeth, tongue, salivary glands, liver, gallbladder, and pancreas. Together these organs execute six major functions to digest your food:
- Ingestion – The intake of food.
- Secretion – Every day your body secretes around 7 liters of fluids that are essential to digestion, including saliva, mucus, hydrochloric acid, enzymes, and bile.
- Mixing and Movement – This function includes Swallowing chewed food; Peristalsis, the muscular movement that pushes food through the gastrointestinal tract; and Segmentation, the contraction of the small intestine that creates increased exposure to the intestinal walls.
- Digestion – Digestion describes actions that help break food down into its component chemicals. Mechanical digestion begins with chewing and continues through muscular mixing, while chemical digestion begins with saliva in the mouth, continuing with acids in the stomach, before the brunt of the breakdown is enacted by pancreatic juice in the small intestine.
- Absorption – Through digestion, the food is separated into simple molecules and minerals. Those could be absorbed in the stomach or the large intestine, but most absorption occurs during passage through the small intestine.
- Excretion – Everything that proves indigestible is finally removed from the body through the process of excretion.
This incredibly complex, life-giving system is one of the most powerful tools for building stronger, more resilient bones. Providing the right building blocks — the nutrients and minerals that Savers know as Foundation Supplements — and supporting the efficiency and functioning of the digestive system can help to increase bone density naturally, and avoid fracture.
It’s not enough to simply make sure the appropriate foods are on your plate; you also have to actively participate in setting up your digestive system for success. Most of the functioning of the gastrointestinal tract is outside of your conscious control, but the first step, the one that puts the wheels of proper digestion in motion, is entirely yours to execute: chewing.
Digestion Begins With Chewing
You may have noticed in the above description of digestion, that both mechanical and chemical digestive processes begin in the mouth. The mechanical importance of chewing is fairly obvious, you use your teeth and tongue to break apart food into smaller pieces, tearing with your incisors and grinding with your molars. But chewing is also critical for the function of saliva.
As you increase the surface area of the food in your mouth, more of it is exposed to your saliva, and when you take the time to chew, saliva has more time to break down complex molecules. This brings us to the first detriment of under chewing:
1. Insufficient Digestion Of Food
If you’re swallowing food without chewing enough, you’ve missed an opportunity to improve your digestion. This is true both mechanically and chemically. Your saliva contains the enzymes amylase (also called ptyalin) and lipase, which digest fats and starches on the spot.1 If you don’t chew your food well enough, this process is compromised and can lead to poor nutrient absorption, heartburn, constipation and acid reflux.
2. Increased Risk Of Diabetes
A study conducted by researchers at the Graduate School of Medicine at Kyoto University in Japan has shown that thorough chewing and slow eating prevents the occurrence of diabetes.2
The scientists considered the chewing habits of 2,283 men and 4,544 women aged 40-74 years. They then compared that data with the rate of diabetes diagnosis among the participants. Here is the conclusion of their study as published in the journal PLoS One:
“In conclusion, we identified an inverse dose-dependent association between masticatory performance and diabetes in a population-based cohort. After adjustment for possible confounding factors, odds of diabetes decreased gradually as masticatory performance increased.”2
Even when the researchers adjusted the results to account for other factors that might be causing those participants to develop diabetes, poor chewing habits were still linked to a higher incidence of diabetes.
3. Wasted Nutrients
If your food hasn't been chewed well and the digestive process hasn’t started before the food is swallowed, then the entire process is behind by a step. This means that nutrients in your food won’t be available for absorption. The larger chunks moving through your system won’t be broken down into the component parts that your body and bones- need.
A study at Purdue University explored the relationship between chewing and energy retention by having participants chew 55g of almonds 10, 25, or 40 times before swallowing. Then the participants’ fecal matter was assessed for fat content. The study showed that the more the participants chewed, the smaller the particles eliminated by the body were, and the more had been absorbed by the digestive system.3
4. Under Chewing Can Impact Your Mood
An incomplete digestive process leads to a buildup of gases in the stomach. This bloating is uncomfortable and can have a negative impact on how you feel, both physically and emotionally. Additionally, when you’re not getting the full benefit of the foods you eat, your body is lacking the resources it normally uses to keep you feeling healthy and energized– which can leave you feeling lethargic and low-spirited.
The ability to chew your food has also been linked to cognitive wellness. A study conducted at the Aging Research Center at Karolinska Institute found that those who have difficulting chewing hard foods, like apples, are more likely to develop cognitive impairments.4
5. Unwanted Weight Gain
Chewing thoroughly can prevent weight gain. The extra time required to patiently chew your food leads you to eating at a slower pace. A study published in 2014 found that eating more slowly resulted in consuming less, while feeling fuller and less hungry.5
Another study, conducted with 30 healthy women, found that eating slowly resulted in a higher level of hunger satiation, and a greater feeling of pleasantness, all while reducing the number of calories consumed.6 Partially perhaps because this slower eating allowed more time for the body to register fullness.
Thoroughly chewing your food gives you a greater consciousness of how much you’re eating, and whether you actually want more.
6. Danger Of Choking
According to the National Safety Council, choking is the fourth leading cause of unintentional injury death. More than half of the 5,051 people who died from choking in 2015 were above the age of 74.7 Choking occurs when the wind pipe becomes blocked by a foreign object, in this case, food. Often, in the event that food goes down the wrong pipe you can cough it up. But a larger, less-chewed chunk of food might get lodged in the windpipe.
One way to help reduce the likelihood of choking is to thoroughly chew your food into an easily swallowable and digestible consistency. The additional awareness that consciously chewing creates will also help you to avoid the danger of choking.
7. Risk Of Food Poisoning
Do you get food poisoning often? It might be because you’re not chewing your food thoroughly. One of the enzymes found in saliva -lysozyme – destroys pathogens carried by food.8 Those germs can lead to dangerous food poisoning. Take advantage of the natural protection your saliva offers by taking the time to chew your food.
Chew Longer To Absorb The Nutrients Your Bones Need
All of this translates into improved bone health through full absorption of the Foundation Supplements that your body uses to build new bone mass. If the micronutrients and phytonutrients that a pH-balanced diet affords are properly digested, then you’ve set your body, and your bones, up for success.
The Save Institute recommends chewing a minimum of twenty times, but as the studies above reveal, the greatest benefits come from chewing your food 40 times. It may sound excessive, but think about it as an opportunity to fully experience and enjoy the food you’re eating. Check out Bone Appétit, the Save Institute's cookbook and 30-day meal planner, for dishes worth spending some time with.
Eat Your Way to Stronger Bones!
Discover over 200 mouth-watering bone healthy recipes for breakfast, smoothies, appetizers, soups, salads, vegetarian dishes, fish, and plenty of main courses and even desserts!
Whip yourself up something worth chewing on, and take your time nourishing your bones!
Till next time,
1 James W. Woolnough, Anthony R. Bird, John A. Monro, and Charles S. Brennan. “The Effect of a Brief Salivary α-Amylase Exposure During Chewing on Subsequent in Vitro Starch Digestion Curve Profiles.” Int J Mol Sci. 2010; 11(8): 2780–2790. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2996734/
2 Toru Yamazaki, et al. “Mastication and Risk for Diabetes in a Japanese Population: A Cross-Sectional Study.” PLoS One. 2013; 8(6): e64113. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3674007/
3 Cassady BA, Hollis JH, Fulford AD, Considine RV, Mattes RD. “Mastication of almonds: effects of lipid bioaccessibility, appetite, and hormone response.” Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Mar;89(3):794-800. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19144727
4 Lexomboon D1, Trulsson M, Wårdh I, Parker MG. “Chewing ability and tooth loss: association with cognitive impairment in an elderly population study.” J Am Geriatr Soc. 2012 Oct;60(10):1951-6. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23035667
5 Shah M, Copeland J, Dart L, Adams-Huet B, James A, Rhea D. “Slower eating speed lowers energy intake in normal-weight but not overweight/obese subjects.” J Acad Nutr Diet. 2014 Mar;114(3):393-402. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24388483
6 Andrade AM1, Greene GW, Melanson KJ. “Eating slowly led to decreases in energy intake within meals in healthy women.” J Am Diet Assoc. 2008 Jul;108(7):1186-91. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18589027
7 National Safety Council. Injury Facts 2017. Web: https://www.nsc.org/learn/safety-knowledge/Pages/injury-facts.aspx
8 Tenovuo J, Lumikari M, Soukka T. “Salivary lysozyme, lactoferrin and peroxidases: antibacterial effects on cariogenic bacteria and clinical applications in preventive dentistry.” Proc Finn Dent Soc. 1991;87(2):197-208. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1896432