The Science Behind Chewing: Enhancing Overall Health and Preventing Digestive Issues

Have you ever had a meal that you don’t remember eating, you look down and all the food is just… gone? Do you rush through meals due to a busy schedule or out of a childhood habit to ensure you got enough to eat?

If so, you’re not alone. However, what you may not realize is that proper chewing plays a crucial role in your digestive health, impacting everything from nutrient absorption to the prevention of heartburn and constipation.

Understanding the Importance of Chewing

1. Chewing (or mastication) is the very beginning of digestion.

Chewing’s purpose is to break down food into smaller particles, increasing its surface area for more efficient chemical digestion

Imagine you have a gigantic block made out of Legos and you must paint every side of every Lego purple. Breaking the giant block apart so you can dip each Lego in the purple paint is much faster than dropping the whole block in a bucket and waiting for the paint to seep through every crack.

2. Chewing triggers the release of saliva.

Saliva is the first substance that causes chemical digestion, the process by which food is broken down by bodily chemicals called enzymes that essentially disintegrate food. Specifically, saliva contains amylase and lipase, the primary enzymes that break down carbohydrates and fats respectively. Thoroughly chewing your food releases the saliva into your mouth and ensures all the food is sufficiently covered by it. This important step lays the groundwork for further digestion in the stomach and small intestine.

3. Chewing food for longer fires up the rest of your gastrointestinal tract.

The motion of chewing, as well as the contact of the food with your taste buds, signals the rest of the digestive tract to do its job. Specifically, chewing initiates the following physiological reactions:

  • The valve at the top of the stomach relaxes so food can easily pass in as you swallow.
  • The stomach releases acid to break down protein and stops producing ghrelin, the hormone that tells your brain you are hungry.
  • The pancreas releases enzymes into the small intestine so it can finish digesting your food and bicarbonate to neutralize the stomach acid mixed with it.
  • The small intestine releases a hormone (cholecystokinin or CCK) that stimulates the gall bladder to release bile for fat digestion and sends a message to your brain via the vagus nerve that you’ve had enough to eat.
  • The small intestine also releases glucagon-like peptide (GLP-1) and peptide YY (PYY) which help control blood glucose levels, blood triglyceride levels, and body weight.

The Physiological Impact of Insufficient Chewing

When you don’t chew your food thoroughly, several problems can arise:

  1. Digestive issues: Incomplete chewing can lead to heartburn and acid reflux, as undigested food lingers in the stomach too long, increasing the likelihood of reflux into the esophagus.
  2. Incomplete nutrient absorption: Insufficient chewing results in larger food particles traveling through the digestive tract where they may not be fully broken down or absorbed.
  3. Small Intestine Bacteria Overgrowth (SIBO): Partially digested food becomes a feast for bacteria living in the small intestine, resulting in a bacterial overgrowth, which can lead to bloating and abdominal discomfort.
  4. Diarrhea and constipation: Greater quantities of undigested food in the large intestine can cause diarrhea or constipation as your body attempts to eliminate it.
  5. Overeating: Insufficient chewing prevents the release of hormones related to satiety so you may end up overeating before your brain gets the message that you are full, which can take 15 – 20 minutes from the time you start chewing.
  6. Blood sugar imbalance: Because GLP-1 doesn’t stimulate the pancreas to release insulin, the glucose absorbed from your intestines may not be absorbed by your cells, resulting in increased blood glucose levels.

How to Improve Your Chewing Habits

Eating fast is a habit, probably a mindless one. The good news is that the habit of thorough chewing can be built so you can obtain optimal digestive health.

Here are some tips to help you chew more effectively and get closer to the scientifically-determined magical number of 32 – 40 chews per bite of food:

  • Take smaller bites of food. Although smaller bites won’t specifically increase the number of chews, it will ensure that what is in your mouth has a better chance of being broken down before you swallow.
  • Put down your utensils between bites. Again, this doesn’t necessarily increase the number of chews, but it does help you focus on chewing and not on the next plate-to-mouth movement of your hand.
  • Chew everything. Whether it’s mashed potatoes, pudding, steak or carrots, everything that goes into your mouth should be chewed to ensure proper digestion and nutrient absorption.
  • Chew food until it reaches a smooth consistency. For example, if you are eating broccoli, can your tongue still feel the difference between the stalks and the florets before you swallow? If so, then keep chewing because it’s not ready for your stomach yet.
  • Count your chews occasionally to gauge your progress and ensure you’re approaching the recommended 40 chews per bite.


Chewing your food may seem like a simple and mundane task, but its impact on digestive health cannot be overstated. By taking the time to chew thoroughly, you can improve nutrient absorption, prevent digestive issues like heartburn and constipation, maintain a healthy weight and blood sugar level, and support overall well-being.

Good digestion starts with proper chewing – so slow down, savor each bite, and reap the benefits of this essential yet often overlooked aspect of nourishing ourselves.

Image from Pixabay.


— Iowa State University. Chew on this: study finds additional chewing reduces food intake in young adults. Accessed on January 28, 2016.

— Keller DM. Thorough Chewing Raises Hormones Regulating Food Intake. In Medscape Medical News. September 13, 2011. Accessed on January 28, 2016.

— Mercola J. 7 Important Reasons to Properly Chew Your Food. July 31, 2013. Accessed on January 28, 2016.

— Smeets PA, Erkner A, de Graaf C. Cephalic phase responses and appetite. Nutr Rev. 2010;68(11):643-55.

— The George Mateljan Foundation. Why is chewing such an important part of digestion? Accessed on January 28, 2016.

— Kumar A, Almotairy N, Merzo JJ, Wendin K, et al. Chewing and its influence on swallowing, gastrointestinal and nutrition-related factors: a systematic review. July 14, 2022. Accessed on March 28, 2024.

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