Nutrition Articles

Stop and Chew Your Dinner

The Benefits of Slowing Down & Chewing More

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In this era of fast-paced everything, even the act of eating a meal has become something we can do on the run. Breakfast comes in bars, lunch can be eaten while speeding down the highway, and dinner is merely an accompaniment to the evening news, squeezed in between other pressing activities. Invariably, when eating plays second string to everything else, every meal becomes “fast food,” as in eaten-very-fast food. If you find yourself wolfing down your meals in a hurry, you’re actually shortchanging yourself in more ways than you might think.

It turns out there’s a reason food tastes so good. You’re supposed to enjoy it—slow down and savor it, not just get it to your stomach as quickly as possible. Chewing your food thoroughly is actually the first step in the complex process of digestion, and if you glaze over it, just chewing the minimum amount of times necessary to get the food down your esophagus, you’re actually compromising this process. And it’s a mistake many people make.

If you try to imagine swallowing a whole piece of pizza, it’s easy to see why chewing is necessary. But besides breaking up your food into manageable chunks, there’s another good reason to put in the effort and chew. The saliva that coats your food as you chew actually contains digestive enzymes that begin to digest your food before you even swallow it. The enzymes alpha-amylase and lingual lipase begin digesting carbohydrates and fats, reducing the amount of work for which the stomach will be responsible. And it isn’t just a nice gesture. If food fragments are swallowed un-chewed, not only do nutrients remain locked in the fragments, but these fragments create an environment in the colon that is conducive to digestive distress—bacterial overgrowth, gas, and bloating.

For food particles to even leave your stomach though, the “gates” of the stomach, the pyloric sphincter, must open. Conveniently, chewing also aids in this process, signaling this event. And speaking of signals, just seeing your food causes your brain to send signals to the pancreas and stomach to secrete digestive acids and enzymes that are essential to digestion. And the longer your food has contact with your taste and smell receptors—the longer you chew each bite—the stronger these signals become. Strong signals mean more digestive molecules, less indigestion, less acid reflux, and superior nutrient absorption.

Chewing your food thoroughly and eating your meals more slowly has another benefit. It might shrink your waistline—and not just because you’ll have less bloating and indigestion. Eating more slowly gives your body a chance to tell your mind that it’s full, so that you stop eating before you go overboard. In a preliminary study presented at the North American Association for the Study of Obesity’s Annual Scientific Meeting in 2004, study subjects ate less when they were instructed to eat more slowly.

Here are some practical tips for chewing more thoroughly and eating more slowly:
  • Give yourself enough time to eat—at least 20-30 minutes just to eat the meal, plus additional time to prepare it.
  • Don’t eat amidst distractions, like the TV, computer, or while driving.
  • Be fully present while you eat. Notice the smell, temperature, texture, color, and subtle flavor differences of each food you consume.
  • Take smaller portions, taking a break before refilling.
  • Put your fork down after each bite.
  • Eat mindfully, chewing each bite as many times as necessary to pulverize any texture.
  • If you’re eating in a group, be aware of the speed at which others are eating. Challenge yourself to be the last to finish.
Besides all of the physical benefits, perhaps the most pleasant benefit of all is that, if you allow yourself to slow down and chew, you’ll enjoy your food much more.

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Member Comments

  • It takes real discipline to eat slowly. I work with kids, and have a tough time keeping up with them.
  • Sorry, this article did not ring true with me at all. I just totally disagree. I have always, always chewed my food slowly. Whenever I have gone out to a restaurant I am ALWAYS the last to finish, to the point where it has been embarrassing. And this was all the way thru my fat years BEFORE I started watching what I ate. So eating slowly has never meant losing weight for me, if you eat a lot you're going to get fat even if you take an hour and a 1/2 to eat it. This is one of those articles that just doesn't add up.
  • I always learned to eat fast because we only had a half hour for lunch at work, to get your food, eat, go to the bathroom and anything else you needed to do in that time. I still eat quickly even though I have retired.
    Also I like my food piping hot and taking 20 minutes to eat leads to lukewarm food and I detest cold meat and potatoes etc. though maybe I would eat less if it didn't taste as good.
  • LIGHTWINGS33
    Good article...learned something new today. Thanks.
  • Read this article before but glad I read it again. So many good points to aid in the digestive process. And I'm much more aware of when I'm gobbling my food versus eating slowly and mindfully.
  • I too need to slow down and taste my food. I vow to be the last one finished and to "Be fully present while you eat".
  • Good thoughts…I'll have to chew on them. Ha! Seriously, I appreciate the article. Eating too fast is a bad habit for me. Now that I'm freshly aware of the problem and more educated about the benefits of chewing slowly, I will try again to break this life-long habit. Thanks!
  • How true, great article!
  • MS_GODDESS
    I enjoy eating mindfully, but sometimes I let myself get SO hungry, that I just want to wolf it all down! Making a meal by myself last 20 minutes is definitely a challenge! Funny thing though, when I'm with a group, I'm frequently the last one to finish my meal!
  • I have a hard time making half a sandwich last for 20 minutes.
  • I have discovered that the body/mind is a powerful tool to many healthy lifestyle changes. When I eat mindfully and concentrate on food I can feel the juices in my mouth. When I eat distracted I don't even notice or feel the juices come into my mouth. Mindfully is very important for our bodily functions. I am working on using mindful steps to better health.
  • Some distractions actually help me eat slowly. Right now I have to put my food down because I'm typing. Eating while at the computer is different than eating in front of the TV. It's also a difference of eating alone vs. being with others. Sitting alone chewing and thinking about my food feels weird to me. So onto the computer I go.
  • I'm just like BUB001...always the last one finished eating at a restaurant, probably because I do so much talking too. I tend to eat meals while sitting at the computer and with the TV on (talk about multi-tasking!) and it usually takes me at least 30 min to finish.
  • As I child and through most of my young adulthood, I was the last to leave the table. I was a very picky eater and very slow. Since I became a teacher many years ago, I became a fast eater out of necessity (no long lunches any longer). I need to rethink my eating habits again. The digestion factor is an important one.
  • Not something I've ever had a problem with. I guess I talk too much when in a restaurant with friends or family, because I'm always the last person to finish eating. The young ones then groan if I also order a dessert.

About The Author

Liza Barnes Liza Barnes
Liza has two bachelor's degrees: one in health promotion and education and a second in nursing. A registered nurse and mother, regular exercise and cooking are top priorities for her. See all of Liza's articles.

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