You may have first heard about mastication in a middle school health class. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about. It’s totally natural. Everybody does it (unless you’re in a hurry and don’t have the time). Some people masticate several times per day. I’ve even seen people masticating in their cars on the way to work.
Mastication is another way of saying “chewing.” Chewing your food well is the first step toward healthy digestion. Being mindful of chewing while we eat can help us relax during mealtime. Eating in a relaxed, stress-free state will activate the parasympathetic nervous system. This is the opposite of the “fight or flight” state governed by the sympathetic nervous system.
If you think about it, when our ancestors were running from a bear, their bodies did not need to devote energy and resources to digesting a meal. The natural focus of the sympathetic nervous system is to RUN! Blood flow is diverted away from the gut and to the heart and skeletal muscle. Eyes dilate to expand our field of vision. Our breathing rate increases to support our escape from danger.
Modern-day stressors can keep our bodies in a sympathetic state and cause problems in the digestive system. Traffic jams, difficult co-workers, bad relationships, homework, and the evening news can all combine to prevent us from relaxing. Chewing your food thoroughly before swallowing helps initiate digestion. Enzymes that begin to break down carbohydrates are found in our saliva. Oils, proteins, and minerals become available for increased absorption when we chew. Let’s stop running from the bear and slow down our mealtimes by being mindful about chewing. A balanced meal does not mean balancing a sandwich on your knees while you drive on the freeway.
Horace Fletcher (1849-1919) was an interesting fellow. I learned about him during my undergraduate nutrition program. He became known as “The Great Masticator” because he promoted the practice of chewing each bite of food approximately 100 times. He gained a following, and this method of eating eventually became known as “Fletcherizing.” You can read one of his books on the subject for free here. The following suggestions are an excerpt from the book, Power Eating Program: You Are How You Eat, by Lino Stanchich.
Fibers Can Also Be Very Beneficial to Healthy Digestion! Check Out Our Free For the Love of Fiber Guide to See Which Fibers Are Best for You.
How to Chew Properly
To get into the habit of chewing correctly, try counting the chews in each bite, aiming for 30-50 times. It helps if you put your fork down between bites.
- Chew every mouthful of food at least 30 times each until the food becomes liquid.
- Chewing breaks down food and makes it easier on the stomach and small intestine to digest.
- Saliva assists in the digestion of carbohydrates.
- Saliva can also make the food more alkaline, which creates less gas. (Gas is experienced in the stomach and intestine, but it is also caused by spleen imbalances.)
If under pressure at meals, take deep breaths, chew, and let the simple act of chewing relax you. Taking the time to chew will help you enjoy the whole spectrum of tastes and aromas that make up the meal.
Good Chewing Suggestions
- Shower or wash hands and face
- Turn off the television and put your phone away
- Do not read
- Find a clean, quiet place to eat
- Light a candle or play soft music
- Stretch and breathe
- Say a prayer or meditate
- Align your posture and breathe
During Your Meal
- Place a bite of food in your mouth
- Put your utensil down
- Place your hands together while chewing
- Begin chewing and deep breathing
- Concentrate on what you’re doing
- Look at your food or something attractive, or close your eyes partially or fully
- Say thanks
- Sit and talk after your meal
- Take a light stroll
If you are suffering from digestive problems, we can help. The naturopathic doctors at Living Wellness Medical Center offer a brief meet and greet, call 480-588-6856 to schedule today.