Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Art of Mastication

How to Masticate Properly

Ted has a limited time for lunch. He quickly leaves his job, dashes to his car and goes to the nearest fast food restaurant. He decides to go through the “drive-thru” to save time. Ordering a numbered meal on the menu board, he then pulls up ahead, pays the cashier clerk, gets his meal bag and drives off.

Hurriedly unwrapping the burger while widening the orifice in his head called a mouth to the full extension of the jaw muscles, he takes a gargantuan bite. Forcibly swallowing the chunks of beef only after three hasty chomps, he quickly inserts several potato fries into his mouth while negotiating traffic ahead of him.

The soft drink he sucks through a straw seems to take on the role of a liquid plunger compressing the food down his gullet to avoid choking. He repeats this method of consumption until his entire meal is inhaled with world class speed.

(Unbeknownst to Ted, he has just broken the record held by a Wet Vac on how fast spillage can be cleaned up emanating from a fifty gallon drum.) Arriving just in time to report back to work, his lunch time is now over.

Does this sound familiar? Perhaps you know someone who eats like Ted. To consume food in this manner is extremely taxing on your digestion system, not to mention being unsafe to eat while you are driving.

Our gulping friend Ted would do his body some good if he could just learn to master the art of masticating. How to masticate properly is perhaps the most important and fundamental requirement of healthy digestion, for it is the first step of digestion.

What is Mastication?

It is, basically, chewing. It's the process by which food is mashed and crushed by teeth. “Masticate” stems from the Greek word, mastikhan, which means to “grind the teeth.” During the mastication process, the food is positioned by the cheeks and tongue between the teeth for grinding.

Some Benefits of Masticating Properly

• It generates saliva. Saliva is allowed to break the food down so that you can absorb the nutrients.

• Salvia also helps kill potential food-borne bacteria. (Saliva in your mouth contains an enzyme called lysozyme which kills bacteria.)

• It increases the surface area of foods in your mouth to allow more efficient break down by enzymes while still in your mouth.

• The food is made softer and warmer and the enzymes in saliva begin to break down carbohydrates in the food.

• Salivary enzymes can digest as much as 30 to 40 per cent of starches before food even reaches the stomach.

• The digestive system is being prepared for the reception of the food, stimulating the production of digestive enzymes in the stomach. (The various glands of the stomach that perform such important work in digestion begin to pour their juices into the stomach.)

• The more we chew our food, the less work we leave for the rest of our digestive organs, including the stomach, pancreas, liver, gall bladder, and intestines.

• You allow the taste buds in your tongue and your mouth to fully register the flavors of the food, whether bitter, salty, sour or sweet, which can enrich your eating experience making it more pleasurable and enjoyable.

• The act of chewing is relaxing. It is no coincidence that the digestive system is hindered during stress.

Stress is hard on the stomach. Our entire physiological system is extremely sensitive to our moods. Remember how you felt the last time you spoke in public? Those butterflies weren't in your head.

In fact, experts now see stress as a major player in a wide range of digestive problems, including irritable bowel syndrome, indigestion, and heartburn.

As we masticate properly, it is a relaxing act of food intake. We are only able to digest properly if we are relaxed.

• Thorough chewing helps to prevent the heavy feeling that sometimes follows a meal.

• It is believed by many to also facilitate managing and losing weight because it slows down the eating process, allowing time for the body to signal to the brain when it is full.

How To Masticate Properly

• In a hurried lifestyle that so many lead, it may be difficult to allow enough time to eat ones' food. But, it is worth the try. As with our friend Ted in the beginning of this piece, he had very little time to eat the amount of food he ordered so he attacked it ferociously. Try to give yourself enough time to eat your food so that you can chew slowly.

• Perhaps one of the most important thing to remember is to please take small(er) bites. I've seen spoons, forks and even knives pilled so high with food that I've wondered how in the world could it ever fit in a person's mouth. But, lo and behold, they manage. Wow.

• Chew, chew, chew and chew some more. There are advocates of chewing anywhere from “3 - 5 times” to “35 - 100 times” before swallowing. Personally, I prefer not having to apply any of my math skills while eating.

Here is what I do and it's much easier. Just continue to chew until the food becomes somewhat of a liquid or is broken down enough so that it actually passes down your throat involuntarily. Allow your involuntary muscles in your throat, all by themselves, to pull the small pieces of food down.

Each mouthful should be retained in the mouth, being masticated up to the point of involuntary swallowing. And you know what? As you develop this habit, you will be swallowing before you realize it.

• Use your tongue to periodically position the food between your teeth while you are chewing so that your teeth can break down the food properly.

• Endeavour to eat in a nice relaxed manner. Digestive activity slows down significantly when worry or anxiety cause tension in the abdominal area. Be stress free while masticating. (See the point, “the act of chewing is relaxing” handled above in the section called, “Some Benefits of Masticating Properly.”)

• Sit in an upright position when eating. Hunching over your food is not only poor eating etiquette, but it also hinders the food, when it is swallowed, to travel down the esophagus smoothly to the stomach. Try it and see, or rather, feel it for yourself.

• Use of liquids during a meal may be necessary when they are needed to satisfy thirst, rather than to force or wash food down one's throat. A certain amount of liquid is essential to carry on the digestive process. But even liquids should be drunk by taking small mouthfuls (sipped), not guzzled.

If one does not properly masticate food, what is eaten goes through the digestive system as large pieces of food, making the digestive organs work that much harder. Let's face it. You do not have teeth anywhere else in your body. After you swallow your food, there are no other opportunities to break up large pieces of food, so give your body some help.

In the beginning you may have to give some very conscious attention and effort to reform your eating habits. But with discipline, desire and proper application, over a period of time, the art of mastication can be established and mastered for the rest of your life without further thought.

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