Chewing Well and Relaxed Meals Essential for Metabolism, Brain Health, and Healthy Poop

July 11, 2022 | Dr. Linda J. Dobberstein, DC, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition

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 Chewing Well and Relaxed Meals Essential for Metabolism, Brain Health, and Healthy Poop
Do you eat quickly or on-the-go? Slowing down at mealtime is critical for healthy digestion and regular bowel movements, especially as we get older.

The process of digestion begins before you gulp down your meal. It’s more than “Watch out stomach! Here it comes!” The moment you begin thinking, seeing, and/or smelling food, numerous signals are released in your brain and digestive tract.

Slow, thorough chewing engages even more signals. Here are a few tips to bring mindfulness to your mealtimes, support a healthier digestive tract, and even help your brain and metabolism.

Engage Your Vagus Nerve and Parasympathetics for Better Digestion

1. Take a time out from tech devices, media/television, strained conversations, and excessive noise when sitting down for your meal. Avoid eating while you are driving as much as possible. These activities release stress chemicals which reduce the natural production of stomach acid essential for digestion. Use your energy for digestion, not distraction.

2. Prior to the first bite of food, take a moment to enjoy the presentation and aroma of your food. This triggers emotional pleasure and release of neurochemicals, saliva, and digestive juices in preparation for your meal.

3. A moment of gratitude and deep belly breathing prior to taking that first bite also engages your parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) and vagus nerve. A home-cooked meal with family members without watching television also provides its own health benefits as it is associated with lower rates of obesity.


Chewing is the first major mechanical step of digestion. Chewing stimulates the production of hydrochloric acid and other digestive juices. This is a fundamental step to healthy digestion, yet many individuals eat quickly and end up with digestive concerns from lack of chewing well.

1. Chew your food until it is liquid in your mouth. Experts recommend chewing a bite of food at least 15 times or more per mouthful. This helps you absorb more nutrients from your food, maintain a healthier weight, and supports satiety. It makes the digestive process more effective and efficient, which helps reduce gas and bloating symptoms.

2. Take one bite at a time with portions no larger than a teaspoon or forkful. Each bite ought to be thoroughly chewed and swallowed before taking another bite.

3. Put your spoon/fork down between bites for a slower meal pace. It helps you be mindful and support your parasympathetic (rest/digest) nervous system.

Stress from Poor Chewing Habits

Chewing too fast or gulping food down allows large food particles to enter your stomach and intestines. Even chugging down a smoothie can stress the digestive tract causing it to work extra hard and contributes to indigestion.

Liquids and smoothies will feel better in your tummy when you take a moment to “chew” the smoothie or chew other food with your meal as chewing preps the stomach for receiving food. When you swallow your food, smoothies, and beverages without adequate chewing, it takes more work to digest. Higher amounts of stomach acid and pancreatic enzymes are required to do the work from inadequate chewing. Over months and years, this takes a toll on your body.

As your stomach becomes less able to handle the demand of breaking up food and moving it down the tract, unhealthy changes occur. Gas, bloating, reflux, indigestion, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, allergies, and yeast and bacteria overgrowth occur due to the fermentation and putrefaction of undigested food. No longer are you able to have the large steak dinner or pizza without feeling nauseous and bloated. Or you may feel nauseous all the time and have little appetite as these concerns increase.

Freezing cold foods and ice water also interfere with digestion, especially if you have weak digestion. Cold temperatures shunt blood away from the digestive tract and slow down release of digestive juices.

More Profound Effects of Chewing

More than a century ago, slow, thorough chewing was recognized for its role in helping with weight loss. Ongoing research has confirmed and expanded on this concept.

A recent 2021 small randomized controlled study in normal weight men showed that the duration of tasting food in the mouth and duration of chewing increased overall energy production and thermogenesis. Slow eating promotes “diet-induced thermogenesis” more so than the bolus of food or liquid that enters the stomach with no-little chewing. The number of calories burned increased by 6-15 kcal over the course of 90-180 minutes.

These few calories burned after every meal add up over the course of a lifetime. There are other benefits too! Other randomized controlled trials show that thoroughly and mindfully chewing your food at a slower pace helped reduce stress eating and cravings, improved satiety, and helped with weight loss.

Chewing your food thoroughly allows saliva and enzymes to mix in with food for better digestion and easier absorption. Saliva production helps the normal bacteria in your mouth, reduces plaque build-up, and supports gum health. Chewing also gives your teeth a workout as it helps strengthen your teeth, gums, and jaw.

Chewing Is a Brain Exercise

Researchers have been exploring the effects of chewing and brain health. The revelations are eye opening and affirming that chewing your food thoroughly is essential to health. Chewing activates several areas of your brain like an intensive exercise.

Jaw muscles, teeth, and the activity of chewing induce neurochemical responses and activate specific parts of the brain. This increases blood flow, engages nerve stimulus and growth, and more sophisticated neuronal activity. It is also surprisingly linked with prevention of amyloid-beta plaque formation.

Chewing Wakes Up Intestinal Function

In another facet related with chewing, the act of chewing gum after surgery has been found to “waken” gut motility. If you have ever had surgery, you know that common questions are – “Have you passed gas yet? Have you had a bowel movement yet?” These things need to happen to avoid a breakdown in health.

Researchers have explored various post-surgical hospital stays, return of bowel function, and chewing gum. They have found that patients who chewed gum after awakening post-surgery experienced a faster return of intestinal function, motility, and reduction in hospital stays. Chewing is important for so many things!

Stomach Hydrochloric Acid

The next major step in digestion involves your stomach. The primary stomach juice produced is hydrochloric acid. With age, stomach acid production declines. It takes high amounts of energy, vitamin B1 (thiamin), zinc, and salt to help make hydrochloric acid in your stomach.

Adequate hydrochloric acid is required to digest your food, especially protein. If the steak, meatloaf, or chicken that you consumed feels like a rock in your stomach with indigestion and burping/belching, then you may benefit from stomach acid support. Stomach acid is also essential for killing germs on foods and beverages.

Pancreatic Enzymes and Bile Acids

As food is released from the stomach into the small intestines and moves downward, enzymes and bile acids are released from the pancreas and gallbladder respectively. If your gallbladder has been removed, bile acids are released from the liver. Pancreatic enzymes and bile acids break down food particles even further. These complex actions rely on healthy digestive mechanics started with chewing and stomach function.

When food is poorly chewed, your pancreas digestive enzymes must work harder at digestion. pH changes in the small intestine are disrupted. Gallbladder bile acids and intestinal mucosal membranes function and structure are challenged. Yeast and bacteria overgrowth, gallbladder stagnation, diarrhea, rapid motility, malabsorption, foul smelling gas and bowel movements are more likely to occur in the small intestine.

Healthy Poop

Once your meal has been digested and nutrients have been absorbed, it is propelled down into the large intestine where the last of the digestive and absorption processes occur and is then ready to be excreted.

In a healthy child or adult, it takes about 18-24 hours for food to go through your entire digestive tract to be eliminated. In nutrition and holistic health care, guidelines for bowel movements are that a healthy adult has 1-3 well formed bowel movements each day. Traditional medical providers may say that a bowel movement once every 1-4 days in adults is normal. Healthy babies poop after every meal.

Healthy bowel movements are 6 inches or more in length and 1-2 inches in width. The stool is brown in color and easy to pass without straining.

An urge to defecate is normal and ought to be without urgency to find the nearest rest room in fear of an accident. Odor is very slight.

Bowel movements at the same time of the day, i.e. first thing in the morning, helps prepare the body for the next meal – breakfast and reflects healthy body clock entrainment.

Effects of Poor Digestion

Patterns outside of these indicate digestive stress. Burping, belching, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, reflux, indigestion, bad/putrid breath, irritable bowel, slow and/or rapid motility, gastric dumping, abdominal pain, yeast and/or bacteria overgrowth in the digestive tract, and so forth may be stressed by poor chewing and changes in the gut.

The consequences of poor digestion go even further by affecting nutrient absorption, immune health, intestinal permeability, hormone detoxification, nutrient absorption, development of anemia, allergies and intolerances, headaches, skin rashes and disorders, brain fog and poor cognitive function, fatigue, mood, poor exercise tolerance, and much more.

Supplements to Get You Back on Track

Digestive Helper: broad spectrum plant-based enzymes to aid the digestion of foods of all types.

d-Limonene: digestive aid for bile acids and moving food down the digestive tract. It may help occasional acid reflux.

Fiber Helper: provides psyllium, oat bran fiber, and arabinogalactan which helps bind toxins, metabolize cholesterol, support healthy gut flora, bowel movement and bulk, and bile acid management.

GI & Muscle Helper: helps strengthen integrity and moisture/lubrication of the gut mucosal barrier. Used especially for increased intestinal permeability.

Super Dophilus: provides probiotic support with six hardy strains of beneficial flora and the prebiotic FOS. Helps reduce gas or bloating and supports bowel motility.

Monolaurin/Lauricidin: supports and helps maintain healthy gut microbiome and immune function.

You may get away with hastily chewing your food and flying out the door to manage schedules in the short term. Take the time though to change your habits. These steps help reduce indigestion but also support a healthier you!

More information may be found in the articles:

Natural Ways to Manage Acid Reflux

How Healthy is Your Gallbladder?

Support The Mighty Vagus Nerve

Healthy Poop: What is Your Digestive Tract Telling You?

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