We’ve talked a lot about what to eat in this column, but very little about “how.” It might surprise you to learn how important it is to relax, slow down, and chew your food thoroughly.
Once you take a bite of food, you have begun the oral phase of digestion. This is really the only phase over which you have control. Food needs to be chewed thoroughly into small pieces at this point, so it is easier to swallow and does not pose a choking problem.
In the oral phase, enzymes in saliva start to break down starches and neutralize acids, so it is important that the food remain in your mouth for some time. Chewing your food more slowly can also help you to avoid swallowing larger amounts of air that can lead to burping.
The gastric phase of digestion begins when the chewed food reaches your stomach, where acids and digestive enzymes are mixed with the food particles to prepare them for moving to your small intestine. It’s much easier for your body to absorb and use all of the nutrients in your food if it is broken down into small particles before reaching your stomach.
In the intestinal phase, the food is broken down into nutrients that can be absorbed easily by your body. You do not want large chunks of undigested food to enter the small intestine, where it can ferment and cause flatulence and other disagreeable consequences.
Another reason to chew more slowly is that it takes some time for your stomach to recognize the feeling of fullness. The longer it takes you take to eat, the more satisfied you will be with less food, and the less likely you will be to overfill your stomach.
Here are some tips that you can use to help you slow your eating.
• Sit down to eat and use a plate.
• Turn off the TV, the computer, and the phone so that you can focus on your food.
• Leave serving dishes on the stove. Serve yourself very small portions, so that you have to get up if you choose to eat more.
• Put down your fork between bites.
• Take small sips of water between bites.
• Chew your food enough times so that it has turned into a mush and is easy to swallow.
• Use chopsticks or a smaller spoon or fork.
• Take the time to really enjoy your food and treat your body right.