Local Leaders | Wellbeing: It's not only 'what' but 'how' you eat

You've heard the phrase, "you are what you eat", meaning that food you eat provides the building blocks for the body you will spend the rest of your life with.

An important piece of the food puzzle is also, "you are how you eat", whereby the way in which you digest the food affects how efficiently you will produce the building blocks of a healthy body.

Digestion uses an enormous amount of bodily energy; taking food in whole form, breaking it down to tiny molecules, sharing those molecules to the organs/bodily systems and then removing the left overs. Plus all that complexity is performed in a single tube starting at your mouth and ending at your butt!

One way to help your body is by providing food that is easily digestible. Fermented foods have gained popularity in recent years due to their gifts to your gut. Traditionally prepared krauts and kefir contain readily available nutrition because the natural, beneficial bacteria have already liberated the nutrients for you.

However, if you wish to make the entire digestion process even easier, no matter what you're eating, simply chew your food!

Mindful mastication was made famous by food advocate Horace Fletcher, dubbed The Great Masticator, in the early 1900s. He was famous for saying "Nature will castigate those who don't masticate".

Fletcher suggested people chew 32 times (one for each tooth) and the verb "to fletcherise" was named for his method of chewing slowly and thoroughly.

Fletcher's theories were supported by researchers published in the journal, Nature, in 1998, where it was found that the appropriate number of chews per mouthful were usually between 20 and 30, depending on the texture of the specific food.

The paper concluded that we should continue to chew until the food fragments bind together as a goopy, sticky ball, that can be swallowed safely, without the danger of stray particles entering the windpipe. Chewing for too long, the researchers stated, could create excess saliva that would weaken the cohesive forces and allow the bolus (that's the technical name for a sticky, goopy ball of chewed up food in your mouth) to fall apart and create a dangerous environment for choking hazards.

Since the 90s, various studies have found links to obesity and chronic diseases with faster eating of meals. Where mindful practice is included at mealtimes, researchers find significant changes to weight, eating behaviour, and psychological distress.

Chewing sets off digestive enzymes signalling the "get ready for processing" message to your body. It takes time (generally about 20 minutes) for your brain to signal to your stomach that you're full, and this may explain why some studies find people report feeling fuller when they ate slowly.

If you want to draw on the superpower of chewing your food, start with 20 chews per mouthful and work your way up to 30 over a week or so. My clients report immediate weight loss and more enjoyment of the food experience when they increase chewing. If you try it, I'd love to hear about your own results.