Happy holidays everyone! I almost wrote a column about making healthy food choices this holiday season, then I witnessed Mom whipping up family classics in the kitchen. Instead I am going to leave you with some food for thought, or thought for food… something like that.
Mindful eating is an approach that involves bringing one’s full attention to the process of eating. A mindful eater honors the process by giving extra attention to the appearance of food and taking in the tastes, smells, thoughts and feelings that arise during a meal.
There are many paths that lead to being a more mindful eater. Several techniques and approaches can be employed and entire books are written on the subject. For today we are going to focus on one aspect: Chewing
Chewing your food can ease digestive woes, boost energy levels, and when accompanied with a balanced diet can help you feel vibrant and energized. Proper chewing is an excellent strategy for weight management because it forces the eater to slow down. When a person eats more slowly they will know when they are full and stop eating, rather than overeating unknowingly and suddenly feeling stuffed.
Chewing also helps you to consume fewer calories because your body is able to synthesize and absorb more of the nutrients you take in. Meaning you can have more energy while eating less food.
Healthy digestion and nutrient absorption begins with the act of chewing your food. When food is properly chewed the body releases digestive enzymes in the mouth and stomach that aid in breaking down food so that the body can efficiently turn it into energy. When food is not chewed and digested properly, it can lead to serious digestive issues like indigestion, heartburn, constipation, headache and low energy.
The process of chewing breaks down large pieces of food into smaller particles, thus reducing stress on the stomach and esophagus, and making it easier for the body to metabolize. When food is properly chewed the mouth releases extra saliva, containing digestive enzymes. These enzymes lubricate the throat and stomach and aid in the digestive process.
Digestion is one of the most energy consuming processes in the human body. Proper chewing helps the body absorb necessary nutrients and conserve energy, leading to health and longevity.
When food particles are accompanied by enzymes and efficiently reduced in size they travel more easily through the intestines, helping the body to regularly eliminate waste.
A dietitian told me about a story that appeared in a scholarly article. It was a story about prisoners of war who survived years in captivity. The two survivors were captured along with several others, however they were the only that lived through the experience. While in captivity, they were given just scraps of food each day. The other prisoners eventually died of starvation. When asked what they had done differently the men said they had chewed each morsel of food until it dissolved into nothing in their mouths. They were able to survive because they conserved energy and allowed their bodies to absorb every single nutrient held in the food.
Ghandi was also a big fan of chewing, or mastication as he called it. Many know him for his peaceful diplomacy, but Ghandi wrote several books on nutrition and health. In ‘Diet and Diet Reform’ when comparing raw and cooked foods he says, “The habit of proper mastication of food inculcated by the use of uncooked greens therefore, if it does nothing else will at least enable one to do with less quantity of food and thus not only make for economy in consumption but also automatically reduce the dietetic himsa (violence) that one commits to sustain life. He then identifies raw, whole plant foods as the superior choice for the human diet.
Think about it, foods that take longer to chew are generally better for us. Whole meats require more chewing than sausage or hot dogs. Whole apples require more chewing than applesauce. Whole grains require more chewing than processed crackers, muffins or cakes. Kale, broccoli, and carrots must be good for us because they require tons of chewing!
Chew on that this holiday season.