There are many sayings, myths and recommendations about how we should eat our food. Some of it is cultural – such as the use of tools – some involve noise while eating, keeping the mouth closed, spilling food, or for women, being “dainty”.
Most mothers tell children not to “gobble” their food but to eat more slowly. But is eating behaviour in terms of bite size, chewing and swallowing quickly really related to weight gain and obesity? And is there any truth to the old saying that chewing your food 32 times will make you lose weight?
The chewing movement.
Chewing food slowly and many times has been a strategy for weight management for decades. Originally it was based on ideas emanating from medicine. A 1926 book on obesity by physician Leonard Williams holds some good examples of the medical thinking of the time.
He noted that the stomach requires the food to be “thoroughly disintegrated by the teeth” and “steeped in saliva” to work properly and that “everyone knows” that food should be chewed properly.
In recent decades it has become common in dietary regimens for losing weight to include advice about chewing thoroughly, or even specifying a set number of chews per bite or mouthful. This goes along with other “tips” such as putting the knife and fork down between every mouthful, as a way of slowing eating time and reducing intake. (Check out Paper Tiger’s video on tips for the office worker. Post continues after video.)
What happens when you chew?
When you eat, you chew food into smaller particles and mix it with saliva in the mouth. Saliva starts the process of digestion and the breaking down of food. This continues in the stomach, where it is mixed with acid.
The broken-down components are then moved along the gut, with nutrients and water being absorbed along the way, and the undigested portion of fibres and partly digested foods passes out of the body. Chewing food well allows this process to start properly and continue well.