A prime reason for chewing food very well is to help digestion. Spit contains the digestive enzyme, amylase, that helps breakdown starch, and salivary lipase, that helps breakdown fat.
Spit also has some natural disinfectants.
By chewing food very well, we reduce it to a paste, or bolus. The addition of our spit means the bolus is lubricated and easier to swallow. Partially chewed food means our digestive system has to break down great lumps of,say, meat or carrot, which makes it harder for us to get the nutrition we need from our food.
Don’t forget that the sugars we eat are very easy to digest, so in the short term we still get energy from our food, but long term, energy levels sink as our nutritional status sinks; no matter how much easy food we eat in the form of sugars and simple carbs like pasta and white rice, we still feel tired and frequently hungry.
Then there is the theory or hope that chewing food very well reduces food intolerance – because it has been pre-digested a bit, so causes less problems further down the line.
Finally chewing food primes the digestion – the act of chewing nudges the stomach into producing HCl (hopefully) which then prods the pancreas into squirting out digestive enzymes, and this all speeds up peristalsis. And this, incidentally, is why chewing gum is not such a good thing to do – the stomach gets all excited, ‘Hey, here comes some nosh! Man the pumps.’ But nothing gets swallowed – apart from tasty spit. So if we do produce HCl, we now have an acidic stomach with nothing to work on.
All that apart, there remains an even better reason for chewing food well, one that blows all this theory away: food tastes so extremely excellent. I am frequently told, ‘I love my food!’. If this is the case, then chewing the food extraordinarily well prolongs – and intensifies – the pleasure. Breathing out also helps, since most of our sense of taste comes from our nose. Pretend food apparently tastes awful about half way through mushing it up in the mouth. But the real thing gets better at about the same point. Whether it helps lose weight is questionable: chewing food for longer may increase satisfaction and satiety or fullness, so we feel full sooner. Possible.
Mind you, chewing food for ages means eating takes ages. And that can be fun if we are in a bit of a hurry. Mouth frantically working away like a washing machine. And it can be a little anti-social – eyes shut in a crescendo of ecstasy as we nosh away.
However, starting by increasing the number of chews to 15, then building to 30 and maybe upwards sets us on our way to a free thrill every meal.