By Temitope Obayendo
Did you know that you may need to chew up to between 20 and 40 times in order to derive essential nutrients from a meal?
This is what expert nutritionists and dieticians are advocating following detailed research findings.
They have also cautioned people who consume an assortment of meat in their meals, to desist from doing so, explaining that the stomach will only process protein from one of the meat, while the rest will be pushed into the small intestine.
According to a study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, increasing the number of chews before swallowing reduced food consumption in adults of all body sizes, thereby reducing the undigested substances, which cause toxins in the human system.
The researchers who conducted the study, which was titled, “Chew on this”, separated subjects into two groups: ‘normal weight’ and ‘overweight/obese’. They found that both groups consumed fewer calories during the meal when they ate slowly; but for the normal weight group, the difference was greater. The normal weight group consumed 88 fewer calories during the slow meal, and the overweight group consumed 58 fewer calories.
However, the researchers were still examining the difference between the two groups, wondering whether the overweight participants might have eaten less than usual because they felt ‘self-conscious’ during the study.
Corroborating the view of the researchers, Chief Medical Director of Medical Art Centre & Mart Medicare, Professor Oladapo Ashiru stressed that food must be chewed up to 30 times, noting that whatever is swallowed must have been chewed enough to form a paste.
According to him, “That food you have swallowed without proper chewing is just expanding your oesophagus, when it gets into the intestine, it will block the pipe of the intestines to cause an obstruction. Thus, the next food of the next day meets the stocked food in the pipe, and if it continues like that for 30 days, it will start fermenting and decaying with bad odour, thereby generating toxins that could cause destruction of other organs.”
Explaining the nitty-gritty of the human digestive system, Professor Ashiru said biological digestion of food substances proceeds along two lines: the mechanical and the enzymatic.
According to him, the mechanical aspect of digestion takes place simultaneously for all food items and begins in the mouth. It entails the breakdown of food items into smaller particles and ultimately into chyme in the stomach in readiness for the enzymatic digestion.
“Now, enzymatic digestion of different classes of food takes place at different points along the digestive tract,” he explained. “The digestion of carbohydrate for instance, begins in the mouth where some digestive enzymes in the saliva begin to work on the chewed food even before swallowing. This is not so for proteins, whose enzymatic digestion begins in the stomach, with the stomach acid and pepsin, and continues in the intestines. Fat digestion begins in the small intestine where pancreatic lipase works on it. So digestion is both a simultaneous and concurrent process when considered for distinct classes of food.”
Asked about what becomes of undigested food in the stomach, he explained that the challenge occurs when a person eats different kinds of food belonging to the same class. Digestion is consequently haphazard.
“If a person eats egg (animal protein) and beans (plant protein), even though the same enzymes are released for their digestion, and the digestive end product is the same; the intervening substrate being acted upon is different. Transition time for these food items are different, and this affects the proper breakdown and metabolism of each item, such that improperly digested foods end up in the large intestine and is eventually lost in excretion,” he stressed.
Explaining further, he said that improper digestion increases the transit time of food in the GIT (gastrointestinal tract) and this aids fermentation and putrescence by intestinal bacteria.
“More importantly are those who will eat assorted meat containing chicken, snail, goat meat and more. The stomach will only process one of the meat proteins while the rest will be pushed into the small intestine,” Prof. Ashiru noted.
On the average number of chewing required for food, the foremost physician said it depends on what is being consumed.
“You may chew it 10 to 20 times, depending on what you are eating. If you are eating meat, may be you need to chew it 30 to 60 times”.
Continuing, he said: “All foods, solid, semi-solid or even liquid, need to be mixed well with saliva and broken down to smaller pieces as much as possible before swallowing. This is not to say solid foods are out of bounds, but they must be well-chewed and not swallowed in their solid form. Once the first step of digestion is disrupted (i.e. chewing in the mouth) and foods are swallowed whole, there is no way their digestion would be optimal. When solid foods get into the stomach they are pushed into the small intestine without complete digestion. This is the basis of intestinal auto-intoxification, whereby the undigested food stagnates along the intestine, lasting for up to 200hours and gets fermented and putrid. Most of the food would eventually become toxic poison to the body or be lost in excretion, and all nutritional values of eating such foods lost”.
Prof Ashiru, also advised that water intake should be limited while eating, stressing that drinking water during meals not only fills up the abdomen to mimic satiety, but also dilutes the digestive enzymes, considerably slowing down the process of food metabolism.
“This means food processing along the digestive tract then takes a longer time than it normally would, extending bacterial action, encouraging fermentation and the production of harmful toxins that encourage auto-intoxification,” he said.
In his own contribution, Dr Augustine Agu of the Department of Anatomy, College of Medicine, University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus, consented that proper chewing allows better mixing of food with salivary enzymes and enhances digestion.
Scientists have however called for more research on the issue, for the establishment of concrete findings.