Many of us have heard the phrase “chew your food” when growing up. I heard it on numerous occasions by parents who were talking to the lot of their kids. For many of those kids who are now well into adulthood, chewing food is something almost never thought about. It’s a rote action.
Thinking about the entire digestion process, how it works, and how it interacts with the respiratory and circulatory systems, can leave one feeling how truly miraculous the human body is. Really, how any living body is. But as humans, we can think about it. What we don’t think about most of the time is chewing, and how that might enhance the process.
Chewing food starts the digestion process. And, it’s an important part that is, mostly, ignored in its importance. The more masticated food is in the mouth, the better the nutrients are absorbed and the less problems un-masticated stuff can cause in the process. But that doesn’t stop many people from stuffing (large amounts) of food in the mouth, chomping a quick few times before another amount is stuffed in — the swallowing action the only blip delay in the continuous chomping process.
Pre-radiation I was certainly no model in the food chewing department. Never the last to finish a meal, I was most of the time on to the next thing. Let’s eat (fast), and move on.
It’s only been since the radiation effects that I’ve been forced to slow down. Given that my tongue is slightly swollen and doesn’t maneuver well, I can’t fit as much into my mouth as I could before. And because my throat is somewhat swollen, I’ve got to make sure that what is going down is well broken down.
Now though, I have the non-pleasure of a problem molar. Last August I had a root canal on said tooth. Since then, it’s been very sensitive. I just had the root canal re-done to make sure there wasn’t anything wrong with it. There wasn’t. The problem, it appears, is that the bone holding the tooth is decaying. When this happens in normal mouths, the periodontist will simply scrape the dead part of the bone away. But in my case, that process is risky and more than likely won’t work.
The good doctors administering radiation neglected to explain prior that the side effects of radiation is killing bone tissue. The good doctors are now telling me that I’ll probably need an extraction, but to do that, I’ll need to go for 30 consecutive days into a hyperbolic diving tank. Getting a tooth pulled post radiation is highly problematic. (But maybe I do remember hearing of people electing to have all their teeth pulled prior to throat radiation. That thought was so absurd at the time I immediately dismissed it. Until now.)
Anyway, over the last six months, chewing has been extra sensitive. It’s already been a challenge and now with the added tooth issue it’s more acute. The result is that I’m even a slower eater than I was before. I’m forced to pick food easy to chew and I’ve just got to take my time when eating.
I’m good when I’m eating alone. I can chew to my time’s content. I don’t need to worry about being in rhythm with someone else. Hacking is not an issue. At times, I choose the pre-mastication method of blending what I’d otherwise chew. But that’s better done in the moment. Once food is broken down, the nutrients start their deterioration process. Which is why pre-cut fruit and vegetables is less desirable. Nutrients have already escaped and been broken down. The vitamin content in fresh juice is not what is was at the time of bottling. Vitamins and minerals just don’t hang around.
Even compressed vitamins and other supplements have expiration dates. Fresh food out of the garden has an expiry date. Our senses tell us what that date is. Most processed food we purchase have “expiration” dates or “best by” dates stamped on them. But these dates don’t mean that from one day to the next the food went bad. Chemical compositions are in a constant state of change. Some molecules breakdown quicker than others. What the “best by” date really means by the packer is ‘we’d be embarrassed to display the nutrient contents of this package after this date.’
All food breaks down over time. Like roasted coffee beans, or flaxseeds, or fruit, once the shell is broken, deterioration is rapid. For that reason, keeping the breakdown as close to consumption as possible is ideal.
Once food interacts with our saliva, the breakdown begins a 10-11 hour process, helped immensely by good mastication. Chewing fast-forwards the breakdown process. On the flip side, if we don’t spend time to chew well, the proteins, carbs, salts and minerals won’t be absorbed optimally. This could cause a delay in the process. Delay causes bacteria and toxins to be manufactured.
I’m not saying by any means that now because I’m a forced slower chewer that I’m better at it. It could be that my chewing now is just not time efficient. A front end delay. When GV and I eat together in the evenings, she is finished before I’m even half way through what is on my plate. She is eating normal pace. We used to finish at about the same time. I’m trying to be efficient and hurry along, but the process is almost tiring.
Eating out with different people presents it’s own challenges. Last week I was invited to lunch by the owner of a textile mill. The immediate question was what to order. In menu language, what sounded soft or easily chewable? The restaurant was a meat place. Meat is just too difficult a chew in public, so that was out of the question. I picked a white fish which indicated it was smothered with sauce. It looked great when it came but there was almost no sauce. The guy who invited me had a large steak. He was finished and I was not even halfway done. I was still hungry and wanted to continue, but we had already spent too much time lunching. I had to give it up. It appeared that I didn’t quite like the food. Truth is, I wanted to hack and continue.
When GV and I were visiting some of her family in Mallorca recently, the times we went out to eat with others was almost comical. In Spain, most times dishes are placed in the center of the table and shared. In the evenings, people don’t eat volumes of food. Hence, for me it became a time issue. Most people eat at normal pace. I’m at 35%. As the dishes get emptied, it’s almost like a competition (for me), to eat at least something before the dishes are emptied at normal pace.
When I sometimes lunch with my partner, I still have plenty of food to consume when he is finished. In all these cases of eating out with others, I’m not inclined to disclose up front that I’m chewing challenged. How boring would that be.
But it has enable me more time to watch other people’s chewing habits. It’s indeed funny to watch those who are readying the next fork full while they still have a mouth full of food. Into their mouths go the next portion along with the still semi-masticated stuff from the last portion. It’s a shoveling effect. Just keep the shovels moving. Then there are others who actually put their silverware down after each portion. The fork or spoon picked up again only after their mouth is empty, ready for next portion. Two completely different forms of beginning the digestion process.
It’s probably a good rule of thumb not to stick more food in the mouth until what is already there has been thoroughly chewed and swallowed. Maybe most of us do that. But for some, the time between swallowing and next portion can be measured in milliseconds.
Regardless, I’d give up something important if I was be able to return to those fast chewing days. At least I’d have the option of wolfing down or slowing down.
As nutritious as it isn’t, not many people gobble down ice cream. Most of us would be better off eating normal food at the pace we would eat ice cream. So the next time you sit down (or stand up) to your next meal, ask yourself whether you are eating to give your body nutrition or if you are just filling up and competing against time. Chew on it. Either way, it’s nothing to stew on.