Did you know that digestion begins in your mouth? And did you know that you should never drink while you eat? Drinking washes away the enzymes in your saliva.

Chewing your food is an art, really. Chew slowly, take smaller bites, and chew your food into mush before you swallow. And don't drink liquids while you chew. If you wait until after your meal to drink, you will notice that your mouth produces more saliva as you chew. Sipping on a dark, red wine is an exception. The darker, quality wines contain digestive enzymes, which aid digestion in the mouth and throat, and people typically do not chug wine when they eat.

Your saliva contains the first round of digestive enzymes, and those enzymes prepare what you have eaten for the slide down the esophagus into the stomach. Once in the stomach, the food (now mush) begins its second round of digestion - the stomach acids. If you have swallowed large solid pieces of food, these acids can come back up the esophagus as acid reflux. Sometimes, the food doesn't even get past the esophagus.

Amylase and lysozyme are the enzymes in your saliva. As part of the initial process of food digestion in the mouth, amylase initiates the breakdown of starch into smaller carbohydrates and begins breaking down fats at the molecular level. Lysozyme inhibits bacterial growth in your mouth, and breaks down food caught in your teeth, protecting them from bacteria that can cause tooth decay. So, not only does saliva contain digestive enzymes, saliva also lubricates and protects your teeth, the tongue, and the tender tissues inside your mouth - in other words, aiding cavity prevention and gum health.

Saliva is produced and secreted from the salivary glands. Human saliva is composed mostly of water with electrolytes, mucus, antibacterial compounds, and enzymes.

In your tummy's defense, your stomach doesn't chew your food for you. If it did, we would start babies off with solid foods instead of mushy baby food! If you take a big bite of food and swallow it whole, your stomach is left having to break it down into mush. Your teeth are designed to do that before the food gets into your stomach, and if you have left your tummy to chew for you, you will get a stomachache. Acid reflux typically occurs, and eating is no longer healthy or pleasurable.

If you take a big swallow of water, tea, a soft drink, or alcohol while you are swallowing your food whole, you have washed away the enzymes in your saliva, and your body has missed out on the first steps of digestion.

Does anyone have a Tums®???

Chewing has many healthy benefits. Chewing actually exercises your jaw, and this keeps your gums and teeth in fit condition. Now, I am NOT referring to chewing gum. Chewing tough foods is what exercises the jaw, and this builds healthy teeth and can actually result in less cavities. Dogs chew bones to keep their teeth strong and clean. They chew on toys, sticks, and rope - lots of "chewy things." What do you chew on?

Nuts, lean meats, whole grains, apples; even corn on the cob works your mouth and jaw. Chewing foods with high mineral and vitamin content also helps restore nutrients to your teeth. The more you chew, the more saliva is released, and this allows more nutrients in food to be released within your mouth.

Think about the difference between chewing a fresh strawberry and chewing a French fry. How does it feel to eat a fresh-cracked nut, chomping it into tiny pieces, as opposed to chewing a bowl of ice cream - whoops, unless chucks of candy are in the ice cream, there IS NO chewing involved. Get my point?

I spend a long time in the mornings enjoying my breakfast bowl of Kashi® Heart To Heart naturally toasted, oat cereal with fresh almonds and berries. I cannot eat it quickly because it is a quality food product that requires me to choo-choo-chew it, and that takes time. By the time I have finished my breakfast bowl, I have exercised my jaw and mouth, and believe me, I can feel it. It's like a morning "work-out" for my jaw, teeth and gums.

What we eat and how we eat shapes our bodies. Begin with your mouth. Learn to take your time when you eat. Take smaller bites, choose foods that require you to chew, and allow your saliva to begin breaking down your food before you swallow. You might find that you enjoy the taste of your food more, that you eat less, and that you no longer have acid reflux.

Choo-chew to you, too!

Posted June 2009 | Permanent Link

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