Do I Have to Chew My Food 20 Times Before Swallowing?

In this edition of It’s Not a Stupid Question, a nutritionist explains why chewing doesn’t just make you healthier, it makes you happier.

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From a young age, we’re taught to chew before we swallow. This, of course, is primarily to prevent our young selves from choking on large chunks of unmasticated food. To this day, though, articles around the web spout the importance of chewing your food at least 20 times. But is 20 really the magic number of chews? Here’s natural health and holistic nutrition coach Brandy Gillmore on the matter:

“It’s not about hitting a magic number, so to speak; It’s about achieving an outcome,” she says. “The goal is to chew the food until its texture is similar to that of a well-blended smoothie, whether that takes 20 chews or 40 chews.” In simpler terms, you’re supposed to keep chewing until your food’s been ground down to goo.

With that out of the way, here are the benefits of thoroughly chewed food, according to Gillmore:

Chewing Improves Digestion and Nutrient Absorption
Starting—literally—at the top, thoroughly chewing your food allows your saliva to begin the digestion process. “Saliva contains an important digestive enzyme called amylase, which has the ability to begin breaking down foods before they reach the stomach,” explains Gillmore. On top of that, chewing sends warning signals to the stomach and the pancreas to let them know food is heading their way. “This is important, because the better your body is prepared to break down and digest the food, the more nutrients your body will absorb from said food,” Gillmore explains.

Chewing Keeps You Slim(mer)
When you absorb more nutrients from your food (because you’re chewing it properly), you’ll feel more satiated, and therefore eat less overall. This of course, leads to a slimmer waist. “It takes time for your body to signal to your brain that you’re full,” Gillmore adds. “When you eat slowly—because you’re taking the time to chew—it allows the time for this signaling to take place. This alone can dramatically decrease your chances of overeating.”

Chewing Keeps Your Gut Healthy
“When large particles of food don’t break down all the way in your stomach [because you didn’t take the time to chew them], they can continue on into your intestines,” Gillmore explains. “When this occurs, the food can start to putrefy, which can cause excess bacteria in the gut and an overall less healthy gut environment.”

Chewing Keeps You Happy
Research shows that unhealthy gut environments (oftentimes caused by under-digested food) can cause a decrease in serotonin—aka, the happy chemical. “Serotonin is an important neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood, appetite, sleep and sexual desire,” Gillmore adds. “It’s estimated that 80 to 90 percent of serotonin is created in the gut, which is why a healthy gut environment is vital.”

So there you have it: Chewing your food into mush will make every single aspect of your life better. Who would have thought it could make such a difference?