Hotdogs, hamburgers, fries, pizza, fish sticks, chicken nuggets, sweetened beverages, soft white bread, donuts, croissants, soft cookies, and so on! The modern diet, consisting largely of fast food and manufactured food, is regularly slammed for its low nutritional value, but we often forget that it can be very soft. Result: we chew less and less, and even swallow things whole. Bypassing such an important step in digestion, chewing, means many people now suffer from digestive problems and obesity. Healthy eating should not simply assess a food for its caloric content and composition, but also take its consistency into account.
Chew more, eat less: a question of time
Chewing takes time, a commodity we often lack in this modern world where stress and speed reign supreme. However, devoting a few more seconds per mouthful could be worth it. We know the human body is like a well-organized machine. When it requires energy, it sends a hunger signal to the brain that drives us to find food. Once the belly is filled, the stomach and intestines send a message back to the brain via hormones, informing it that we are full and it is time to stop eating. It’s as easy as 1-2-3, right? No… it is rare that people really pay attention to their satiety signal.
You’ve probably heard of the famous 15-20 minute delay: this is the time it takes for hormonal messages sent by our digestive organs to become powerful enough to be heard. It therefore becomes easy to quickly devour a lot of food and stop eating when you feel heavy, rather than actually being full. Take the test: how many minutes does it take you to eat a burger-fries-pop trio? Soup and a donut?
Look for different textures
Though chewing is good for your health, you do not need to go overboard and eliminate everything that is soft. There are many foods, such as yogurt, fish, oatmeal and bananas, with a soft texture that are nutritious. However, a balanced meal that is on the soft side, such as soup, macaroni and cheese, vegetable juice and apple sauce, would be better off with more texture. On the other hand, chips, cookies and candy are crunchy, but it is only a treat.
To add more texture and bite, choose foods that are high in fibre. Yes, these foods promote regularity, but they are also satiety champions. Why? Fibre-rich foods require more chewing, fill the stomach and, as a bonus, usually contain fewer calories. We’re talking about raw veggies, pasta and vegetables cooked al dente, fresh fruit, nuts, whole grain breads and brown rice, etc. In the opposite corner, many soft and processed foods are high in fat and quickly assimilated carbs. Soft drinks, pastries, poutine and ice cream are just a few of the high-calorie sources that are easy to gobble up quickly and in large amounts.
Sink your teeth into it
Without putting it in the same league as brushing your teeth, chewing helps prevent plaque by providing the teeth with a natural rubdown. Another benefit: the more you chew, the more saliva you produce, and the risk of cavities is reduced. Our chewing muscles also get a better workout.
Chew well, digest well
We often tell kids: “Don’t put so much in your mouth!”, “Chew it better or you’ll choke!” That’s true. Good chewing habits also make for faster and more efficient digestion. Chewing is the first step in a long process that involves several organs. It’s normal for things to run better if they start out well.
1 - Mouth: In addition to eliminating the chances of it going down the wrong pipe, chewing food well adds saliva into the mix. It contains enzymes that kick off the digestion of sugar and send signals to the stomach, pancreas and intestines to get ready for the arrival of food.
2 - Stomach: Having received the message, it starts to secrete strong acid and some enzymes. Combined with a bit of mechanical mixing, it finishes the process of breaking down food. The more that food has been crushed by the teeth, the less the stomach has to work and it will empty more efficiently. What’s more, ample chewing can help prevent acid reflux and the sensation of being stuffed after a meal.
3 - Intestines: Imprisoned in food, nutrients are more easily liberated if there was an efficient break down of food in the two previous steps. It is here where vitamins and minerals, amino acids, simple sugars and fatty acids are absorbed and transmitted to the blood. The long journey through two to four metres of intestines will also go faster.
Slow down and savour it
Eating, even though it is an essential function, can be a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Have you ever seen a sommelier tasting wine? After taking a long look at the precious liquid in the glass, he pours a small amount into his mouth. Does he swallow it right away? No, not yet! He rolls it around the palate, letting it flow over the tongue while softly inhaling the scent all the way to the back of the throat. This simple sip is then analyzed in language worthy of a poet. It’s your turn now! How would you describe the last bite or sip that you took?
10 classics you can really sink your teeth into
Put a new spin on your favourite foods by adding ingredients to make your teeth and jaw work harder, and help slow down the speed at which you eat.
Morning oatmeal – Sprinkle with chopped nuts or raisins
Bowl of yogurt – Top with banana slices or berries
Soft-shell tacos with beef – Add red kidney beans
Vegetable soup – Add barley or lentils
Hamburger and fries – Stack on some tomato, lettuce and pickles, with a salad on the side
Hotdog – Pair with a side of slaw (coleslaw!)
Grilled cheese – Make with a nut bread instead, and apple slices on the side
Spaghetti with tomato sauce – Use whole wheat pasta, then add some rapini and slices of sausage
Ice cream – Decorate with pecans and cherries or dried cranberries
Fruit juice – Opt for real fruit!