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Why chewing might be the most important wellness practice of your day

The very first instruction I was given when I went to the famous Mayrlife medical health resort for a taste of their famous gut health weeks was to chew. I laughed and thought; ‘I’m no barbarian — of course I chew my food.’

I sat at the table and was given a portion of vegetables with a side of cheese and hummus — the sort of food babies with few teeth can easily chomp their way through — and thought, this all seems too elementary. Then I saw the sign on the table: ‘Chew each mouthful 40-60 times,’ it said. Have you ever chewed a vegetable 60 times? It’s quite the enterprise — but now I have, I can tell you that by the end of that, you are basically chewing a mulch of food, unrecognisable from the form in which it entered your mouth.

According to the experts, this means good things and, trust me, I’ve asked a hell of a lot of them about this chewing business. In fact, Clinical Nutritionist Stephanie Moore says chewing thoroughly is absolutely essential to absorbing nutrients. “The gut microbes and stomach acid get all the attention but in actual fact, neither work well if we don’t chew well. The mechanical action of chewing is important to grind down food into smaller particles, but chewing also triggers a whole cascade of reactions in the brain and throughout the digestive tract.” The things that happen when we chew are quite varied, from saliva production being stimulated to telling the stomach to make stomach acid.

Equally, not chewing properly can according to Moore “down-regulate digestive function,” potentially causing some pretty frustrating problems, including “bloating, smelly wind, and dysbiosis, which is an overgrowth of nasty gut bugs.” Dr Max Schubert, Medical Lead at Mayrlife who is of course a great proponent of chewing, adds that “feeling overly full after meals” is another key sign that more mastication was required.

In terms of how many chews are required, not everyone is as prescriptive as that note at the clinic (where it is present to try to remind guests to really lean into the chewing thing), with nutritionist Clarissa Lenherr, telling me that she “likes to get clients to focus on chewing until the consistency of apple puree or just generally soft,” but doesn’t prescribe a number of chews, per se.

Nutritional Therapist Eve Kalinik similarly loves to get people chewing, but says “I wouldn’t suggest fixating on a particular number of chews as the whole point is to slow down and enjoy the process of eating and not stressing about achieving a certain number of chews.”

If like me, you find you are prone to eating too quickly when distracted by watching TV or reading, the advice from the experts is emphatic — doing so is a big no no. Lenherr says that “when we are distracted by working, emails, scrolling, and TV, we can miss those hunger and satiety cues and end up over eating or feeling dissatisfied with our meals. This may lead to overeating or cravings for foods to help get that satisfaction factor.”

Convinced? Get chewing and, like me, you may well notice your digestive system seems overall more happy and less stressed. Though be prepared to be very strategic about when you pop a fork full of food in your mouth at a dinner party — all those chews mean responding to questions can be quite the challenge. Consider yourself warned.