The mouth controls what is probably the most important part of the digestive process: chewing. Chewing your food thoroughly is the single best way to promote good digestion. Since digestive enzymes act only on the surface of the food that is presented to them, the rate and completeness of digestion are directly related to the total surface area of food that is exposed to these digestive enzymes. Many animals can gulp their food with little or no chewing and suffer no ill effects. For example, a snake doesn't chew at all. However, these animals have enormously more potent digestive enzymes than we do. A human being's relatively weak digestive enzymes can never completely do the work that is left undone by poor chewing.
Depending upon the kind of food you are eating, proper chewing can mean taking twenty, thirty, forty, or even more chews per mouthful. Do not consider your chewing to be complete until whatever you are eating is in a smooth, semiliquid form. Don't swallow until your tongue can no longer detect any significant lumpiness.
It is very important to emphasize that the primary purpose of chewing is not just to break the food into pieces that are easily swallowed. Greater ease of swallowing is only a relatively incidental benefit of proper chewing. Good chewing, through complex reflex mechanisms, also stimulates the increased production of digestive enzymes further down the digestive tract, promoting more efficient processing of the food as it proceeds through the gut. For this reason, silly as it may seem, you should even "chew" liquids other than water a few times to initiate these reflex mechanisms.
Likewise, foods that "require" little or no chewing should be chewed thoroughly nonetheless. Eggs are an excellent example. Most people can (and do!) swallow a mouthful of scrambled eggs with very few chews. However, a large clump of unchewed egg in the stomach can often end up incompletely digested. Protein of any kind is especially prone to incomplete processing when too little of its surface area is exposed to the stomach's digestive acids. One of the most common food allergies is an allergy to eggs, and the ease with which eggs can be swallowed without being well chewed probably accounts for this. The less completely a food is digested, the more likely it is that one will develop an allergy to that food or to a component of that food.
As the mouth initiates the digestive process with chewing, the salivary glands secrete saliva to wet down the food. This wetting, aided by the mucus content in the saliva, allows the food to be compacted into a mass that is more easily swallowed. The saliva also contains an enzyme called ptyalin, or salivary amylase. Ptyalin works to begin the breakdown of starches and other large carbohydrate molecules into simpler sugars. The acidity status of the saliva, which is typically neutral to very weakly acidic, allows the optimal activation of ptyalin. When any strongly acidic food is mixed with a starch, this initial breakdown of the starch is inhibited, because the ptyalin remains largely inactive.
Similarly, fat breakdown can be initiated in the mouth, as the saliva also contains small amounts of a fat-metabolizing enzyme known as lingual lipase. As this enzyme is stable in an acid environment, it can act after reaching the stomach's acids. The function of this lingual lipase is of greatest importance in the initial digestion of fats in an infant's diet. As a principle, it is important to realize that certain different enzymes cannot be active at the same points in the digestive tract, since one level of acid in the digestive environment can promote the activity of one enzyme while simultaneously suppressing the activity of another enzyme.
All enzymes in the body are sensitive to the level of acid in their immediate environment. However, some enzymes are activated by an acid environment, while others are suppressed by it. Similarly, some enzymes are activated by alkalinity, which is the opposite of acidity; or they are suppressed by it. This response to acid concentration, or pH, allows the body to exercise a sophisticated level of control over the point at which enzymes "turn on" or "turn off."
Chewing has yet another important benefit that is little realized. The longer you chew, the less food you will eat. Since most people seem concerned over their weight, this prolonged chewing habit is an important point since it results in a lower total consumption of calories. However, it is an important point for everybody, since larger meals will always be more likely than smaller meals to digest incompletely. This can lead to some degree of rotting and putrefaction, with significant resulting toxicity, as I shall explain in chapter 2.
The mind, through habit and reflex mechanisms, is often the primary trigger that prompts you to eat. This largely intellectual hunger is satisfied completely only by engaging in the process of eating for a long enough period of time. If you devour a large amount of food in five to ten minutes, as many people do, your mind may still crave more. However, if you take twenty to thirty minutes to eat that same amount of food, you will start to notice that second portions no longer seem so attractive. Remember: Few people really need to eat as much as they do. Short of real starvation, hunger is mostly a mental process, and the mind will not be satisfied if you stuff your face too fast, even if the caloric content of the food was substantial.
It is also important, especially to those readers desiring to lose weight, to realize that you shouldn't eat if you're not hungry. This might seem a silly point to make, but most people eat out of habit, and when lunchtime or dinnertime rolls around, they are going to eat something, regardless of how little hunger they may feel. The nutritional lifestyle outlined in this book will have the effect of reducing much of the hunger and many of the cravings for different foods that you may have now. In fact, most readers should be able to lose weight and strengthen their immune systems without having to deal with the unsatisfied pangs of real hunger at any time. Nothing could be sillier or more counterproductive to these health and weight goals than to proceed to eat when you are not even hungry. But many people do, and you need to be aware of this potential stumbling block at the outset. Be prepared to form a new habit: Don't eat unless you are genuinely hungry.
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A time for giving and receiving, getting closer with the ones we love and marking the end of another year and all the eating also. We eat because the food is yummy and plentiful but we don't usually count calories at this time of year. This book will help you do just this.