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Health and Beauty Bytes



March/April 2009

Conscious chewing: the best-kept secret to health and beauty!

You’ve probably heard the expression “you are what you eat” a thousand times, but you’re just as much what you digest and what you absorb. Great digestion, having a healthy balance of flora, as well as good absorption and assimilation of nutrients are key to great skin and good health. And of this starts in the mouth!

But in our hyper-speedy, hectic, and stressful lives, most of probably don’t even think about chewing properly. All of which means that we end up virtually inhaling our food without giving a second though to what goes on with the whole digestive process. Yet chewing your food slowly and thoroughly is the single best way to promote good digestion.

Digestion starts in the mouth, so the more you chew, the less work your stomach and small intestine needs to do. As the mouth gets the digestive process going with chewing, the salivary glands secrete saliva to wet the food. This allows the food to be compacted into a mass that’s easily swallowed, plus saliva contains digestive enzymes, which kick-starts the whole breakdown and digestion of food.

Your saliva contains an enzyme called ptyalin, or salivary amylase. Ptyalin works to begin the breakdown of starches and other large carbohydrate molecules into simpler sugars. Your saliva contains small amounts of a fat-metabolising enzyme known as lingual lipase as well, so the breakdown of fats also starts in the mouth too.

Now these digestive enzymes only act on the surface area of the food, so you need to make sure you chew your food into tiny pieces—or better yet, into almost a liquid form.

Saliva also contains a substance called epidermal grow factor (EGF), which stimulates growth and repair of tissue. EGF has been used therapeutically to heal the gut (intestines) when inured or inflamed, so chewing well is an absolute must for people who suffer from any inflammatory condition of the bowel including IBS.

But the main point of chewing properly isn’t just to break the food into pieces that are swallowed easily. Good chewing, through some complex reflex mechanisms, also stimulates the increased production of digestive enzymes further down the digestive tract, promoting more efficient processing of your food as it moves through your digestive system.

For this reason, as it weird or silly as it may seem, you should even try to “chew” liquids other than water a few times to initiate the reflex mechanisms. The same goes for food that doesn’t need hardly any or even no chewing—it should be chewed thoroughly.

Chewing also relaxes the lower stomach muscle. At the lower end of your stomach, there is a muscle called the pylorus. This muscle must relax in order for food to leave your stomach and pass into your small intestine. Sufficient saliva from optimal chewing helps relax the pylorus, and in doing so, it helps your food move through your digestive tract.

Chewing has another important advantage. The longer you chew, the less food you eat, and you’ll end up consuming far fewer kilojoules. The reason is that it takes the brain about 15-20 minutes to start signaling a feeling of fullness. Yet today we only about three or four chews in before swallowing, and most of us wolf down a meal in about 6 minutes flat!

In certain countries and cultures, a meal can last for hours. If you double the amount of time it takes you to eat a meal, you’ll experience more of the flavours, textures and smells of the food you eat. Food will begin to taste even better when there is more focus and concentration on the process and act of eating.

So aim to chew each bite until it’s kind of in a puree or in a liquid form. You’ll have to make a conscious effort to slow down though, as most of us are in such a habit of wolfing our food down. 

But how does all this chewing affect your skin? When food isn’t chewed well and the food fragments are too big to be properly broken down, incomplete digestion occurs. All of this basically means that you won’t be able to extract nutrients properly from the food, but this undigested food becomes fodder for bacteria in the colon, which can lead to bacterial overgrowth, flatulence, and other common symptoms of indigestion. Fermentation also results in additional waste and toxins.

If you do not chew your foods sufficiently it can lead to your feeling heavy, uncomfortable, sluggish, irritable and moody as well. Ditto for foods to which you may be allergic or intolerant to.

Also with age, the production of our digestive enzymes dwindles. This can lead to decreased digestion and absorption of nutrients, along with an increased accumulation of toxic by-products and putrefied matter in our digestive system. Undigested food material and metabolic waste can also build up due to sluggish elimination, setting the stage for various health and skin problems.

So often, dysfunction in the digestive tract doesn’t just remain there— it can result in symptoms anywhere in the body, including allergies, intolerance, arthritis, asthma and chronic fatigue.

So chew your food slowly and thoroughly, don’t wolf it down!

Digestive bliss
Unless we’ve got some obvious symptoms like reflux or heartburn, how do you know if you’re digestive system is function in top form?

If your digestion is in fantastic form, you wouldn’t have any upper indigestion or acid reflux (heartburn), you’d virtually have no regular gas, bloating or flatulence, your bowl movement would be well-formed yet soft and you’d go at least once or twice a day. You wouldn’t have any partially digested food or oils in your stools, and no intestinal cramping or pain with foods or when going to the toilet. You wouldn’t have any joint pain or stiffness and nor would you have any skin problems.

Tips for optimal digestion:

* Eat when relaxed. When you’re stressed and race through your meals, or even eat when you’re angry, your nervous system sends out impulses to your extremities, which shunts blood away from your digestive system. If you haven’t got any time to defrag and relax during the day, let your mealtime be your moment of mindful eating!

* Avoid drinking water with meals; it dilutes your digestive juices. Allow at least half an hour before a meal and half an hour after.

* Start a meal with bitter greens, some lemon juice in water, or a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar. It kick-starts your digestive juices.

* Remember that that digestion starts in your mouth, so try and chew each mouthful about twenty-five times. Chewing each bite forces you to slow down, pay more attention to what you are eating, and be in the moment.

*  Eat only until you’re 80 percent full.

* Dinner should be lighter than lunch and should ideally be eaten before 8:00 p.m. Our bodies, including our digestive system, slow down in the evening hours as it gets ready to rest and rejuvenate. Late night meals interfere with sleep and after 10:00 p.m.

* Practice good posture. When you slouch or hunch over, extra pressure is put on the digestive organs. And it’s this extra pressure can cause poor digestion. Try sitting with your shoulders back and your chin tucked in. This will allow more room for the digestive organs, and in doing so will also help improve digestion.

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Lassi recipe to fend off gas and bloating:

* 1 cup water (room temperature)
* 1/4 cup fresh homemade plain yoghurt
* 1 pinch ground ginger
* 1 pinch ground cumin
* 1 pinch ground coriander
* 1 pinch salt

Blend for one minute.

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