Chew that food, don't just bite and swallow! (Photo from Jupiter Images)

Yesterday was my daughter’s 14th birthday, so I took her to her favorite place, Chipotle, for lunch (as fast food goes, it’s pretty good). She ordered a steak burrito and gulped it down before I was halfway through my salad. Like mothers everywhere, I told her, “slow down and chew your food!”

Most of us tend to bite-and-swallow our meals, rushing through this pleasurable experience without even realizing it. This cheats our eating twice: first of all, it’s important to remember that your taste buds are in your mouth – not your throat or your stomach – so the longer you chew your food, the longer you get to enjoy the tastes and textures.

The second thing to remember is that digestion starts in the mouth, not the stomach. The process of mastication (that’s a fancy way of saying chewing) uses your teeth to increase the surface area of the food so that the amylase enzymes in your saliva can make the food easier to digest and absorb. Without proper chewing, your stomach and intestines have to work a lot harder to get the nutrients available for absorption, and its more likely a few pieces will sneak by the stomach undigested, which can cause pain, bloating and gas.

As an exercise, take a bite of your next meal and count how many times you can chew it before swallowing I can never get past 35, but when I practice this I really tune in to the tastes and textures of what I am eating.

It’s not practical to count every bite that you chew (especially if you are trying to converse with others at the table) but here are a few things to keep in mind to stay mindful about mastication.

  1. Tougher foods like meat and raw vegetables will need more chewing than, say, pasta, but all should be nearly liquefied before swallowing.
  2. Don’t take the next bite until the first one is swallowed – you’d be surprised how often you mindlessly shovel the next mouthful in without finishing the first one.
  3. Taking smaller bites is usually better for proper chewing.If you put your fork or spoon down between bites it will help you slow down and focus on what you are eating.
  4. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself wanting to eat less. That is what happens when you slow down and let your stomach register fullness. It might also be because your mouth is tired from all that chewing, but hey – whatever works.

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We all know what to do, and many of us resolve to do it every year: eat better, exercise more, lose weight and reduce stress. We may have many demands on our time and energy, and not a lot of cash to spare...