This Easy, Overlooked Diet Tweak Could Revolutionize Your Gut Health

Chewing is an underrated step of digestion.

Originally Published: 
Woman eating hamburger for lunch in restaurant
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If you view chewing as just a necessary step to prevent choking, you’re doing it wrong. Chewing is crucial to healthy digestion, and research suggests that many of us, particularly young people, aren’t practicing it enough. While chewing better may not be the sexiest health upgrade, research shows it can make the digestive process easier on your gut, derive more nutrients from food, and help you feel more sated. Here’s why it’s worth relishing food, not just wolfing it down.

The more you chew, the more you absorb

Chewing is a key part of the digestion process, according to Terrence Barrett, a gastroenterologist at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine. Even before a morsel reaches your lips, the anticipation of eating boosts saliva production. Saliva moistens food and also contains the enzyme amylase that deteriorates it into that perfect, ready-to-swallow bolus.

Deliberate chewing breaks food into smaller particles, which increases surface area and, therefore, digestibility. Digestibility, which is defined as the amount of nutrients absorbed by the body, is important because it influences how long it takes for food to move through your body.

A 2023 study published in the journal Nutrition found that compared to eating whole almonds, ground almonds had greater bioavailability, meaning the compounds they contained could be more readily absorbed by the body. Eating ground almonds resulted in more, smaller food particles, which more readily released healthy fats.

A 2020 paper published in the journal Food also details how walls of plant cells modulate the bioavailability of fruits and vegetables. More thorough mastication breaks down these tough walls to unlock the dense nutrients inside.

If you’re not chewing as thoughtfully as you could be, you might not be getting the most out of your food. Ghrelin is an intestinal hormone associated with appetite regulation, and chewing can increase its production. That means that the more you chew, the more satisfaction you will likely get from your meals.

The older you get, the more you chew

Chewing thoroughly is far more important as you age, Abhishek Kumar, an orofacial neuroscience researcher at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, tells Inverse. Through his research, he has found that “younger people tend to chew less, and they don't break down their food into simpler pieces.”

Barrett says that a significant cause of weight loss among the elderly is loss of chewing ability. Kumar’s 2022 paper also notes that older people are less capable of making good boluses than younger people.

The more you chew, the more you gain

Lastly, Barrett suggests that chewing can become a moment for mindful relaxation. Mindfulness, a practice unto itself, revolves around slowing down and observing the many facets of a present moment. In the same way one might focus on their breathing, which can help lower central nervous system activity, focusing on the qualities of every bite can center you. Chewing has been associated with stress reduction through decreased activity in the amygdala, the brain’s emotional center of the brain.

“Actually [thinking] about the process of chewing and tasting every little thing that you're putting in your mouth,” he says. “You're actually helping your brain calm by chewing slowly.”

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