Six, 8 and 9 – are these numbers familiar?
Well, apparently that’s the average time, in minutes, that we Brits spend eating our breakfast, lunch and dinner, respectively.
And 23 minutes for all your day’s eating almost guarantees that you won’t chew your food sufficiently to initiate proper digestion (data from from 15 cross-cultural studies indicate that on average, human beings spend about one hour a day chewing food and even this is less than we need to extract all the goodness from our foods).
Survey results to chew over
To understand people’s attitude to chewing food properly, Locke undertook a survey of the British public. Her results revealed some alarming facts, including:
You can download the Just Chew it campaign fact sheet here.
Chewing – the oldest remedy of all
The Alliance for Natural Health (ANH), which is one of the supporters of the campaign, notes that traditional systems of medicine, such as Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), have known about the benefits of chewing and mindful eating for millennia. But that was before junk food, ready-made meals and meals-to-go were invented.
Digestive disturbance is among the most common conditions reported to GPs. Failure to resolve issues can lead to a host of serious problems, ranging from a compromised immune system, to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and even to colon cancer.
Chewing your food well, as modern research has shown, also has an impact on satiety, making us less likely to overeat.
According to research and clinical experience, the responsible factors include: inadequate chewing of food and associated enzymatic digestion; excessive consumption of simple carbohydrates and sugars; intolerance to common foods, such as wheat and dairy; over-eating; and inadequate fasting periods between meals.
A five-point plan to kick-start proper digestion
Below are ANH’s five pointers that may help you to transform your digestive, immune and neurological health:
1 Try to build up to fasting between 12 and 16 hours overnight. Skipping breakfast is not a problem if you eat well later, and make sure you eat sufficient protein. It’s ideal to exercise before your first meal of the day at the end of your fasting period. Also, make sure you complete your evening meal before 9 pm
2 Choose to eat the right foods – and a diverse range of foods. The more superfoods the better! These include avocado, spinach, seaweed, pomegranate, all berry fruits, broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, grass-fed buffalo/beef, wild Alaskan salmon, almonds, coconut oil (virgin, organic), olive oil (cold pressed, unfiltered/cloudy, extra virgin), mango, green tea and dark (>80% cocoa solids) chocolate
3 Minimise your intake of starchy carbohydrates and consume vegetables instead! If bowel disturbances continue, consider cutting out wheat and gluten from your diet (around 20% of people have some degree of intolerance to gluten)
4 Try to ensure you are in a suitable place to sit and enjoy your food; avoid eating on the run, at your desk or in front of the TV. Dining rooms and kitchens – or gardens and parks in good weather – are ideal places to eat! Having great food, in agreeable surroundings and in the right company, is what good, mindful eating is all about!
5 Chew your food properly – and understand the reasons why! As Mahatma Gandhi once said, based on his recognition of the scientific evidence, “Chew your drink and drink your food”. The number of chews before swallowing will vary according to the food, but a convenient rule of thumb is that about 30 chews prior to swallowing is normally optimal. This means that you should take at least 45 minutes to eat a two-course main meal.
Among the benefits of proper chewing are: breaking up the food sufficiently to allow quicker and more complete penetration of enzymes and digestive acids; chewing slower allows for more signalling to the brain so that satiation occurs earlier, making you eat less; and longer chewing sets up the correct sequence of events for proper mechanical and chemical (enzymatic) digestion to occur. Digestion progresses from the mouth through to the stomach and intestines, where digestive acids and enzymes are sequentially released from different glands and organs.
Proper digestion of food allows nutrients to be properly absorbed, but that is not its only function. It is also essential for the 100 trillion or so beneficial bacteria in the gut, which play a vital role in maintaining a resilient immune system and the prevention of autoimmune and neurodegenerative diseases that now affect over 30% of the adult population.
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