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I have a confession to make. When I sat down to write the healthy habits I presented in my recent Optimize Your Digestion workshop I realized that I too had been slacking on a few of them – particularly the habit that topped the list: CHEWING!

While it seems obvious that we need to chew our food, the fact of the matter is many of us aren’t doing as much chewing as we should be. When life gets busy finding even just a few minutes to eat can feel like a triumph and the thought of taking a full hour break to relax, enjoy and savour our food seems like a luxury. But how you eat is just as important as what you are eating, especially when it comes to chewing.

Digestion begins in our mouths. When we take a bite of food we use our teeth to mechanically break it down into smaller parts. The saliva produced by our salivary glands acts as a solvent and enzymes are released to start breaking down carbohydrates. Swallowing large chunks of food means more work for our stomach, which will need to do more churning, and use more stomach acid and enzymes to digest before moving the food along to our small intestines. Not chewing our food completely could mean low stomach acid, depleted enzymes, developing allergies and nutrient malabsorption… just to name a few side effects.

The good news is we all learned how to chew when we were little, so it’s an easy habit to improve upon! The trick is bringing a little mindfulness to how much we are chewing each bite. Here are a few tips that you can employ the next time you eat that will help you chew and instantly improve your digestion!

Sit down to eat: Even if it’s just 10 minutes, taking dedicated time to eat meals and snacks free of distractions will allow you to pay attention to how you are eating. And no, sitting in the car doesn’t count!

Don’t bite off more than you can chew: Avoid shovelling food into your mouth; you don’t want to bite off so much your cheeks are puffed up like a chipmunk. If you feel like you have to push your food down with liquids, it’s a sure sign you’re taking in too much at one time and you need to chew that food more!

Put your fork down: Once the food is in your mouth, put that fork or spoon down!

Chew 40-50 times. That’s per bite, not meal! By the time you’re ready to swallow your food should be almost liquid.

If you didn’t get a chance to join me and Debra Black at our workshop, we’ll be running it again in Toronto this June! Sign up for my mailing list to make sure you don’t miss out on early bird registration.