By Eve Persak MS RD CNSC CSSD
Power lunches, take-away boxes, grab-and-go snacks, frozen dinners, and – of course – fast food. All of these are inspired by necessity. Our days are getting busier, so our meal our mealtimes are getting shorter. With only a slim window of minutes to start and finish all that’s on our plate, it’s easy to inhale, rather than eat. But when we forgo chewing and skip straight to swallow, our palates – and our bodies – miss out. In fact, just a little extra mouth-work can side-step common health concerns, support your wellness goals, and enhance your time at the table.Here’s how:
DIGESTION: Believe it or not, digestion starts in your mouth. Mechanical processing begins as soon as your teeth chomp and grind your first mouthfuls food into smaller pieces. Your saliva also contains enzymes (salivary amylase and lingual lipase) that chemically breakdown carbohydrates and fats. As athletes, much of our body’s energy is directed away from the gut and instead devoted to propel the movement of our extremities. As such, it’s not uncommon for athletes – during exercise in the thick of a training season – to develop gastrointestinal sensitivities. Any digestion that happens in your mouth can offset the burden on the stomach and enhance overall digestive efficiency.
ABSORPTION: This second perk is an offshoot of the first mentioned above. The stomach behaves a bit like an internal blender. After an hour or two of churning our solid foods are liquefied to a soup-like consistency – increasing food’s surface area and transforming larger bites into tiny bits. This allows for maximal contact with the walls of the small intestine where the nutrients are then absorbed into the bloodstream. For hard-working athletic bodies, this transformation from edible to usable is key.
SATIATION: It takes only a moment or two for food to travel from the oral cavity to the base of the stomach. However it takes much longer – approximately 15-20 minutes – for our GI tract to biochemically communicate with our brain, giving us the signal that food has arrived. When we expedite meals, we run the risk of filling up – even overfilling – before our bodies can gauge our actual hunger and fullness levels. Chewing our food is an easy way to pace meals and stay in better touch with appetite cues.
SATISFACTION: Your stomach and intestines can’t taste. Only your mouth can. The receptors that sense and recognize flavor reside on tongue. When food bypasses the tongue and heads straight for the back of the throat, our taste buds can’t appreciate them. Yes, food is valuable fuel, but the act of eating is also designed for our pleasure. Pausing to let your palate perceive sweet, salty, bitter, sour and even a kick of heat can enrich your nutritional experience.
So, carve just a few extra minutes at breakfast, lunch and dinner – or start with just one meal a day. As a mindfulness practice, count how many times you’re chewing each of your beginning bites. You might surprise yourself at how few you’re getting in! Then aim to up your number of munches per mouthful for the remaining portion on your plate. You’ll likely fuel better and feel better.
Eve Persak MS RD CNSC CSSD is a leading international nutrition and wellness consultant with global experience in the fitness, culinary, tech, healthcare, hospitality, and spa industries. In her private practice she supports athletes and individuals of all ages with sports nutrition, weight loss, digestive conditions and other medical nutritional therapies. WWW.EVEPERSAK.COM