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Crunch! Chew Your Way to Healthier Eating

How chewing more can help you eat less
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

You've heard the advice over and over again: making small changes to your diet and lifestyle can add up to weight loss and improved health. But did you ever think one of those changes could be something as simple as chewing more -- that is, choosing foods that require lots of jaw action, along with chewing gum?

Believe it or not, the simple act of chewing can reduce your calorie intake. It works by increasing the satisfaction you get from meals, thus helping to tide you over between meals.

Of course, chewing is also the essential first step of digestion. Food must be chewed so it can be swallowed easily and, when it arrives into the stomach, be properly digested. Chewing leaves food small enough for the gastric juices in the stomach to further degrade it and reduce it to microscopic size. This allows the nutrients and fluids to be absorbed into your gastrointestinal tract.

Food and Appetite Connection

Appetite is complex, and many factors affect which foods we choose and how much we eat. While eating is a necessity, pleasure generally rules when we select which foods to eat.

The first few bites of any food are really the best, from a sensory perspective. The pleasure we get from food slowly decreases during the meal. This phenomenon is called the "satiety cascade," and it influences how much you eat at a meal and when you'll eat your next meal. Understanding what influences the satiety cascade can help us identify what triggers overeating.

One such influence is "mindful eating," or focusing on the food you're eating. Enjoy the aroma, savor every bite, eat slowly, and chew each mouthful thoroughly for maximum pleasure. Slow eating releases more flavors from food and extends the time the food lingers in your mouth. And because the food is in contact with your taste buds longer, it boosts your feelings of fullness and satisfaction (sometimes called satiety).

Mindful eating can help reduce the total amount you eat at any meal. For example, when you eat in front of the television, your attention is diverted from the food. That can result in "unconscious" overeating.

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