Difficult digestion, maybe you chew badly: how to understand it

Chewing properly is good for health and avoids tiring digestion. Some precautions can make the difference.

Difficult digestion, maybe you chew badly: how to understand it

“Chew, eat more slowly!”. How many times as a child have we heard it repeated and how many times have we intimated it to our children intent on devouring the hamburger or sweeping up a plate of spaghetti. Perhaps we said it without thinking too much about it, just to maintain a minimum of decorum at the table, one of those educational prescriptions that, after listening to them, seem to have been engraved in our DNA. But it happens that idioms have a fund of truth and this is the case. Chewing food properly and avoiding swallowing it – it’s scientifically proven – is good for health, avoids tiring digestion and prevents even serious problems.

You will have a tiring digestion if you have lunch in front of the PC

Unfortunately, the pressing rhythms of our lives, work schedules and family make meals additional “tasks” to be sandwiched between other commitments and quickly disposed of. A meeting in the early afternoon, the child to be picked up from school or taken swimming, and our lunch is running out of time. A plate warmed up in front of the PC or a sandwich at the bar just so you don’t pass out. The reason is obvious, but not obvious: eating too quickly and chewing too little prevents us from digesting food properly and makes digestion tiring.

woman suffering from a stomach pain
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Digestion begins in the mouth

First of all, it is good to clarify a concept: our digestion begins in the mouth. So if you devour a sandwich in 30 seconds, practically without chewing it, the result will be intuitive: your speedy lunch will bypass this fundamental digestive phase and your poor stomach will have to deal with portions of food that are too large to handle, hence the concrete effect mentioned above and, in addition, the difficulty in your body’s absorption of nutrients. Digestion, then, can only be long and tiring. To avoid all this there are not many alternatives. The food should be chewed until it is small enough to be swallowed easily, so that the stomach is not overworked. Saliva also contains enzymes such as amylase and lipase, which break down carbohydrates and fats respectively, starting their digestion, as well as lubricating the bolus, so that it can be swallowed without difficulty.

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If the stomach is on fire

Incorrect chewing not only makes digestion difficult, but can also cause the classic “heartburn”. In fact, while we make our jaw go, the production of hydrochloric acid begins in the stomach, which is essential for the digestive process. If you eat too fast, you don’t give this organ enough time to produce this acid and get ready to digest food properly. The consequence is the production of gas bubbles, which can rise to the level of the esophagus and throat, giving rise to burning. Of course there are times of the year, especially holidays, when it will be difficult to avoid some digestive problems, but even for dinners and various binges, the rule of slowness applies which, together with suitable natural remedies, can help.

Swollen belly and general heaviness

out of order text on persons belly
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If the rush leads you to eat without savoring, you’ve probably experienced an annoying sense of bloating and constipation that may not translate into acute pain but which has the effect of slowing you down both physically and mentally. You can’t concentrate, if you run to catch the bus it seems like you’re taking part in a cross-country course, you feel a general heaviness you’ve learned to live with but whose causes you may not be able to understand. If food particles are not broken down properly through chewing thoroughly, they can cause more than just strenuous digestion. In fact, there is also a risk of a proliferation of bacteria in the colon: a circumstance that can lead to fermentation and the consequent unpleasant sensation of feeling the belly like a basketball.

Pay attention to essential nutrients

clear drinking glass with white liquid on brown wooden coaster
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The penchant for fast food prevents you from absorbing many key nutrients. Chewing, in fact, helps the body to break down carbohydrates, proteins and fats into molecules called respectively monosaccharides, amino acids and fatty acids. These molecules are absorbed by the small intestine, but when food is not broken down enough carbohydrates, proteins and fats will not be completely broken down. The intestines will find themselves unable to absorb these vital nutrients that you need to live.

Improve your chewing habits

The answer to all of these drawbacks is simple: improve your chewing habits. Easy to say, but how do you do it? How many times, for example, should each bite be chewed? And how long should it stay in the mouth before being swallowed? There are strategies that each of us can implement to change bad habits related to chewing and too little time dedicated to meals.

The rule of thirty

Even if it is unrealistic, and a bit demented, to think of having to count the exact number of chews we dedicate to each single forkful, it can be useful to identify a maximum range. Let’s say that you could attest to around twenty or thirty chews per bite. While that’s not nice to say, you should get to a mush. A little rule? You shouldn’t feel the need to take a sip of water or wine to wash it down. Of course, the variable that makes the difference is the type of food you’re eating. For a cup of milk with corn flakes twenty chews will be more than enough, if instead you want to treat yourself to a piece of nougat give yourself longer times, also to enjoy the pleasure of tasting it.

Put down your cutlery and breathe

white handled fork beside brown bread
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A few small tricks can be implemented at the table to slow down the pace at which we eat. For example, while you are enjoying your excellent steak, you can use the foresight to place the cutlery on the plate from time to time. Breathe. When you’ve finished chewing and swallowing, take your cutlery back and move on to the next bite. If you have the habit of always holding the fork in your hand and loading it with food as soon as you take it out of your mouth, the effect will be as follows: your mind will tell you that you urgently need to finish this new morsel and so on until the plate it will come out clean and ready for the dishwasher.

The risk of overeating

Eating too fast can lead to overeating. In fact, the excitement of a frenetic meal makes it difficult to listen to the body’s signals that tell us that we are full. The risks of exaggerating with food are known, obesity, high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, abnormal glucose levels. All conditions that can increase the risk of heart disease and other health problems such as diabetes, stroke and some types of cancer.

Little food on the fork

Eating more slowly can help you understand when it’s the right time to say no to an encore, surely if you want to lose a few pounds go in the direction of slowness. And don’t overload your fork because this habit will force you into huge bites. Apart from the bon ton aspect, the risk is to appear a ruminant or risk suffocation.

Don’t go to dinner hungry

If you arrive at dinner time hungry you are in trouble. It is difficult to resist the instinct to bite into the first appetizer you find in the fridge and every rule understandably skips. If you have seen the animated film “Madagascar”, you will remember Alex the lion who is so hungry that he dreams of steaks everywhere. Don’t push yourself to this stage, try to find time for a mid-morning and afternoon snack to face dinner with more serenity than a felid.

Eating at the table is a precious rule

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The place where you eat and what you are doing while eating a meal greatly influences how we chew and swallow food. The ideal would be to decide that when you eat you are at the table. It is not an easy rule to follow, but very satisfying both from a gastric and… family point of view. Apart from the dinner in front of the TV that can sometimes be accommodated, definitely to be avoided is having dinner scrolling through Instagram on your mobile phone or replying to e-mails. Just as it is highly discouraged, also for obvious safety reasons, to eat while we are driving or on the train during transfers to go to work. These are situations in which we can easily assume bad postures and develop contractures that make it difficult to chew and swallow correctly. Just as dining in situations of high stress – for example at the airport a few minutes early before boarding – can put a strain on your digestive system.

Learn to enjoy what you eat and avoid tiring digestion

And we come to a last but no less important aspect of the matter, less related to health and more enjoyable: are you sure you taste the foods you eat? What’s the taste in killing a swordfish tartare or truffle risotto in a heartbeat? Giving yourself more time to consume a well-made dish means being able to involve all the senses for a pleasurable experience that gives space not only to the taste, but also to the aromas, textures and colors of the dishes. 

You will object: it’s not that I go to fancy restaurants every day, I often eat frozen food and even if I don’t feel the flavors it doesn’t change much…. Depends. Remember that eating quickly is a habit, you will do it at home as in a starred restaurant. 

So if you want to start enjoying food to the fullest, take it all very, very slowly. Slow food teaching. And don’t forget that lunches and dinners have always been the moments of conviviality par excellence. Let’s put smartphones aside for that hour in which we can share some reflections with our family members and, one mouthful after another, recover the dimension of well-being inside and outside of us.

When it comes to health, a lot of people know what they should be doing – eat better, exercise more, de-stress. But actually making those changes can feel overwhelming and out of reach. That’s where my nutritional coaching sessions come in – think of them as a GPS for your wellbeing journey. Together, we’ll explore the intersection between food, exercise, sleep and stress to uncover what really works for you.

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Popsicle Society

I love traveling, cooking and enjoying this beatiful world. 
I’m a life lover! Simple as that!

15 thoughts

  1. That was just excellent Ribana!!! I agree; I am known as “the slowest eater west of the Mississippi!” Nobody can accuse me of eating too fast and not enjoying my food. Since I was a child I have eaten slow while enjoying every bite. I consciously eat that way and I am not sure why. I always sit correctly as well…sitting up straight. It does make a difference in health and digestion. Also, I’m on this Lifestyle of eating and exercising; cutting WAY down on sugar and have lost 13 lbs. within 90 days, no medications, sleep well and working on my water intake….different ways to naturally flavor it and in AZ I need to drink more water. But you are right about proper digestion. Somehow I learned that early.

    1. I’m very glad that you’re on a journey to improve your lifestyle! Healthy eating and exercising are the most important ingredients for a healthier life! I’m very glad that you’re feeling better and that you enjoy it! Keep up the good work and have a healthy and happy life 🙂

  2. I am so guilty of gulping down breakfast and lunch! I definitely need to learn to savour family mealtimes and eat more slowly. It’s amazing how seemingly such a small thing as wolfing your food down means you are more likely to get obese or develop metabolic syndrome, both of which increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke. Thanks for sharing and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

    1. Yes, most of the time we don’t realize a small gesture can have a big effect on us. Slow down, and enjoy your family mealtimes and at the same time take care of yourself 🙂 Have a wonderful day Aiva!

  3. I’m super guilty of eating too fast. It’s probably the root of all of my stomach issues. 😅 Good advice and information! Being healthy is more than just what you eat, but how you eat!

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