7 Important Benefits of Chewing Your Food

Why chewing is the most critical element of proper nutrition you may be missing

“Nature will castigate those who don’t masticate.”

― Horace Fletcher

So you’ve dialed in your nutrition, followed a strict macronutrient plan, and you still aren’t experiencing results? The solution could be far simpler than you can imagine: chewing your food 32 times every bite.

While it’s true that we are what we eat, we are also how we eat. In our busy society, too many individuals rush through meals, skip chewing their food, or simply wash down what they put in their mouth with a variety of liquids. Such food practices lead to serious digestive issues and consistent overeating because the body is not getting any nutrition from the poorly chewed food. The failure to properly chew food can also lead to bloating and weight gain.

Therefore proper nutrition isn’t just about meeting macros and eating quality foods. It’s about producing the right hormonal responses in the body to food. This can be all accomplished by simply chewing your food!

Chewing and the Human Digestive System

When one thinks about what makes up the human digestive system, one typically visualizes the stomach and the intestinal tract only. This leads many to believe that digestion starts in the stomach. However, what this common perception is missing is the actual starting point for the entire digestive process: the mouth. The physical act of digesting food starts in your mouth, not in the stomach. This is perhaps one of the most critical reasons why you need to chew your food an appropriate amount of times. It sets up the entire digestive process for success by allowing nutrients in food to actually be utilized by the body for its natural processes.

When it comes to the actual act of chewing, your teeth, tongue, and salivary glands all play critical roles that set up the digestive process. Your teeth grind down consumed food into more manageable and smaller bites, your salivary glands secrete various enzymes on the food to aid in absorption, and your tongue manipulates the food in your mouth to get it finely chewed before it enters the stomach.


(Coach’s Resource: Chewing your food is one of our eight Basic Lifestyle Guidelines (BLGs). Learn how to coach healthy lifestyles and the seven other BLGs in this free course.)


The Benefits of Chewing Your Food

Doing such a simple task like chewing your food actually yields plenty of results for your health and wellbeing. Here are the seven health benefits you can receive from chewing your food according to Dr. Mercola:

  • 1. Absorb More Nutrients and Energy From Your Food
  • 2. Maintain a Healthy Weight
  • 3. Your Food Gets More Exposure to Your Saliva
  • 4. Easier Digestion
  • 5. It’s Good for Your Teeth
  • 6. Less Excess Bacteria Lingering in Your Intestines
  • 7. Enjoy and Taste Your Food

Dozens of studies have proven these benefits. The latest research from the Institute of Food Technologists has shown that when participants chewed almonds longer, the smaller particles were better and more quickly absorbed by the body. Further studies conducted by researchers at Harbin Medical University in China found that participants consumed 11.9 percent fewer calories, regardless of whether they were slender or obese when they spent more time chewing. They also lost weight, lost fat, and claimed to feel more energetic throughout the day.

How to Chew Your Food Properly and The Importance of Food Hygiene

If you find that over the course of reading this you feel you don’t chew your food enough or thoroughly, you can change it. You can change it if done in an ‘active’ way, as chewing is an ingrained habit. Like any bad habit, it takes time to reshape and reform. Our coaches suggest that you start by attempting to chew each bite around 32 times. However, the amount of ‘chewing’ appropriate for yourself may be entirely different. In any case, the overall goal when you chew your food is to grind whatever you’re eating into a fine paste. In addition, you should:

  • Chew slowly and steadily
  • Chew until your mouthful of food is liquefied or lost all of its texture
  • Finish chewing and swallowing completely before taking another bite of food
  • Wait to drink fluids until you’ve swallowed

This leads us into a concept we at OPEX Fitness call ‘food hygiene’. Food hygiene is not just about what you eat, it’s about how you eat. It’s really not as complicated as it may sound. Do you sit or stand while you eat? Are you chewing your food 32 times? Are you distracted while eating? The answers to these questions reflect how you eat your food as well. Chewing your food is an important part of food hygiene as it is part of the eating process. However, there are other elements within food hygiene you should optimize if you wish to enhance your digestive system.

Start nourishing your body by following these basic tips:

  1. Chew Your Food – Don’t just chew enough to swallow. Your saliva plays a huge role in breaking down food. Take your time when eating. Start by chewing at least 30 times before swallowing.
  2. No Liquids – Avoid drinking liquids 15 minutes before or after any meal. Allow your stomach the space and time needed to absorb the nutrients digested from your meal. Don’t use liquids as a replacement for your salivary glands.
  3. Sit Down – Sitting down can help relax you and aid good digestion.
  4. Take Ten Deep Breaths – Taking a moment before eating will help put your body in the right state for good digestion.
  5. Smell Your Food – The simple act of smelling your food will switch your salivary glands on and get your stomach ready for the meal you are about to enjoy.

Remember, the digestion process starts with chewing. Not when the food is in your stomach. It may take some time for your body to adjust to these food hygiene practices. However, the payoff will come in the form of improved athletic performance, better body composition, and better resiliency both mentally and physically.

Sometimes the key to achieving your fitness goals is about what takes place outside of the gym rather than in it. That is why we have created OPEX Nourishment, learn more about our nourishment ideology and get our Basic Lifestyle Guidelines in the free mini-course Coach’s Toolkit.

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13 Comments

  1. Excellent description with clear rationale for effective chewing and other important activities around eating. Thanks for this helpful information!!

  2. Can you expand your thoughts on shakes and blended food? So many of our athletes live on shakes meaning the absorption is quicker I’d imagine than if food was chewed, but clearly there are other considerations too:
    1- easy to eat too much
    2- often filled with sugar laden juice and fruit
    3- reliance on powdered protein as more than just a supplemental source of protein
    4- tendency to let shakes go from just post-workout to meals.

    I’m tracking there are also the questions of lifestyle, priorities in life, reasons for not being able to sit over food and partake in the social aspects of eating, But what are some of the nutritional considerations as well? (e.g.stress releasing effects of smelling and chewing, and effects on digestion from the same, etc)

    1. Hey Jason! Hope things are going well. I’ve spoken to some of our coaches and I’ve found you some answers!

      “Even shakes and blended foods need to be chewed as well.. teeth/jaw are for mastication but infusing saliva (which contains digestive enzymes) needs to start in the mouth.

      Sitting and relaxing allows the switch in nervous systems to allow best digestion, as well as proper enzyme release to break down further as it heads to the jejunum of the intestine for assimilation.” – OPEX Coach Sean McGovern.

      Essentially, it sounds like saliva still plays a vital role in proper absorption even if the food has been blended or in a shake form. You can’t cheat biology. There is no substitute for proper digestion.

      Let me know if I can find some more answers for you!

    2. Jason! I’ve got another response from a coach for you!

      “Most athletes are malnourished whether from low food hygiene and absorption or from looking good naked instead of performance and under eating; shakes are fast absorbing as the positive aspect, negatives as Sean mentioned, still got chew, athletes also need sugar and lots of it, so not a problem with having shakes for athletes – shakes are a problem when someone is using them for weight loss, or when they are not eating real food due to speed of life – most powdered proteins are low inflammatory and have low “extras” in them, so extra protein in this area is ok for athletes – in the end, if BLG’s are not 100%, none of this matters.”

      – OPEX Head Coach Mike Lee

  3. Appreciate the content in today’s fitness world when everybody is concerned about eating healthy and owning a body with protein shakes, you are giving emphasis on the chewing factor of the food.

    Which is actually very important in absorption and effectiveness of nutrients in a food.

    Cheers

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