Your Grandmother Was Right, But She Didn’t Know Why
Did your grandmother always tell you to chew your food twenty-seven times before swallowing?
Even if you weren’t taught this wisdom in your family of origin, you may have heard references to eating slowly and savouring every mouthful in the context of mindfulness, or weight management, or even spirituality.
Why Do So Many Authorities Agree That You Should Thoroughly Chew Your Food?
Let’s start at the end of the story – the most recent scientific studies of nutrition and digestion.
Scientists have discovered that your mouth contains receptors, which detect what type of food you are chewing. Your stomach begins to adjust its acidity, based on what you are chewing. The longer you chew the food, the more time you give your stomach to prepare for it.
But that really only applies to the first mouthful of each food – and what if you are eating a mixture of foods together?
It turns out that eating starchy carbohydrates, particularly grains, is something that humans have only been doing for ten or twenty thousand years, and our digestive systems weren’t designed to break down grains. When we started eating a lot of grains, most people couldn’t extract much nutrition from them. A few people, though, had an enzyme in their saliva, which broke down the grains and made them easier to digest.
As we moved from a hunter-gatherer to a settled agricultural society, the people with the grain-eating saliva were the ones who survived and thrived, and today, most modern human beings have this enzyme.
Remember though, this enzyme is in your saliva. As soon as you swallow the food, the enzyme is destroyed by the stomach acid. Make sure you chew for long enough to break down the grains (wheat, oats, barley, rye, and so on) in your food, because if they can’t be digested they will ferment, and fermenting grains produce a lot of gas!
And, of course, regardless of the type of food you are eating, if the food is not reduced to small enough particles, it won’t come into contact with the digestive juices properly, and you will miss out on some of the vitamins and minerals from your food.
It is very easy to gulp food down in a trance, especially if you are eating on the run, in front of the television, or while doing something else.
Taking time to chew your food, and to enjoy the tastes and sensations, will lower your stress levels, improving your overall health, your digestion, and your ability to sleep deeply.
There are many misapprehensions and misunderstandings about prana. Even in traditional yogic texts, the word is used in at least three different ways.
For the purposes of explaining why your grandmother was right, we will focus on one of these meanings – your energy body is composed of prana, which is referred to as bioenergy by scientists.
Your energy body usually extends a few centimetres beyond your physical body, unless you are sick.
When you eat food, you are getting the physical components of the food – fats, proteins, carbohydrates, minerals, and so on – but you are also getting some bioenergy, or prana.
Usually, food has the most prana when it has been freshly picked, and is still raw, which is one reason why a raw food diet is a popular spiritual choice. Prana can also be added to food during cooking, though, by slow cooking, by “cooking with love”, and by adding herbs and spices that are very high in prana.
As a very rough rule of thumb, the more flavour a food has, the more prana it contains.
The yogis say that we can only absorb the prana from food through our mouth and nose, so you should chew your food until all the flavour has been extracted, to ensure you have taken in all the prana.
So Grandma has been vindicated – from the ancient yogis to modern food scientists, the experts all agree that you should chew your food thoroughly.
Will Grandma’s twenty-seven times be long enough, though? Will chewing twenty-seven times mix your saliva completely with the grains in your food? Will it be enough to fully extract all the taste and aroma from the food? Will it be enough to give you that much-needed break from your go-go-go lifestyle?
Time for you to do some experiments!