Mastication simply means chewing

As kids, we were all told to chew our food well and not to swallow before we had done so. Maybe even an exact number of chews was suggested.

Nowadays, most of us have such extremely busy lives, that even less time is being given to chewing.

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But we’re still alive, right? So what was all the big fuss about?

The fact is we are missing out on a lot by not chewing our food adequately. Mastication breaks down our food particles into tiny bits, so they can come into direct contact with our taste buds.

This is what allows us to taste and enjoy our food!

Biological benefits of mastication

Without this sense of satisfaction, we find ourselves always hungry and craving more food.

Also, chewing slows down our eating so that we eat less and our brains have enough time to register that we have had enough food.

Simply put – chewing is a great weight loss tool!

1. Mastication is the first step of digestion

It is called mechanical digestion. Food is crushed and ground by teeth, to increase its’ surface area, to allow for mixing with the saliva, mucus, and enzymes.

2. Mastication initiates the second step of digestion

In this stage, enzymes released by the salivary glands, namely salivary amylase, lipase and lysozyme, begin the chemical breakdown of food, especially carbohydrates.

3. Mastication decreases bacteria in your intestines

mastication_2With improper mastication large particles of undigested food enter your stomach which may then pass undigested to your intestines.

There, bacteria will begin to break it down and cause it to putrefy, potentially leading to gas and bloating, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, cramping and other digestive problems.

4. Mastication relaxes the lower stomach muscle

Chewing is directly connected with the movement of food from your stomach to your small intestine. At the lower end of your stomach, there is a muscle called the pylorus.

This muscle must relax for food to pass into your small intestine.

Sufficient saliva from chewing helps relax the pylorus and, in this way, helps your food move through your digestive tract.

5. Mastication triggers the rest of the digestive process

The process of chewing activates signaling messages to the rest of the gastrointestinal system that trigger it to begin the digestive process. These signaling messages are part of the cephalic stage of digestion.

This is the first phase in which you start to see, smell and taste your food.

The release of these small messaging molecules that are critical for digestion, such as cholecystokinin, somatostatin, and neurotensin, has been found to increase by over 50% just by the mere sight, smell and taste of food.

Thus chewing signals the pancreas to prepare to secrete enzymes and bicarbonate into the lumen of the small intestines. Additionally, stimulation of the taste receptors signals the stomach lining to produce hydrochloric acid that helps in the breakdown of proteins.

So how much chewing is enough?

As a general guideline you should chew softer foods, such as fruits and vegetables – 5-10 times. More dense foods, like meats and other vegetables – up to 30 times.

However, don’t fret too much about this, as eating should be something you enjoy doing!

Just keep in mind that you should chew your food until it becomes easy to swallow and broken-down. Any time you are satisfied with your bite, by all means,  go ahead and swallow it!

Connect with Expert Dr. Hala Youssef

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