Crunch! Chew Your Way to Healthier Eating

How chewing more can help you eat less

4 min read

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.

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.

Mindful eating is slower eating. And because foods with crunch and texture take longer to eat, they may lead to greater satisfaction than softer foods.

Consider a breakfast of a smoothie compared with a bowl of crunchy cereal with fresh fruit. The drink goes down easily, while the cereal requires lots of chewing. Because the cereal takes longer to eat, it should satisfy you longer. If the smoothie contains satisfying ingredients such as protein and fiber, it, too, can provide good satiety. But because it can be drunk quickly, your brain may not get the "full" signal' and you might end up eating more.

Crunchy foods like pretzels, carrots, apples, and celery also give your mouth and jaw a workout that can be energizing. These snacks fill your belly, and may help you feel more alert during a midday slump.

So the next time you reach for a meal or snack, think crunch -- top yogurt with a handful of nuts or whole-grain cereal, layer sandwiches with sliced vegetables, have a bowl of popcorn -- to help give you the feeling of fullness.

Consumer research has found that people chew gum to freshen their breath, for a healthy mouth, and simply because they like the taste.

Chewing gum, particularly sugar-free gum, provides oral health benefits by increasing saliva and thus helping to cleanse the mouth of bacteria that can cause decay. Saliva production is important for oral health because saliva contains buffers, minerals, and antibacterial agents. Increased saliva flow helps to neutralize acids in the mouth and enhances the re-mineralization of the tooth enamel. It also helps clear the mouth of any food debris that may get caught between teeth.

Emerging research suggests that chewing sugar-free gum might also help with appetite control. Chewing gum may help satisfy the urge for something sweet. Studies have shown that chewing a piece of gum before snacks appears to reduce the desire for, and intake of, sweet snacks throughout the day.

Chewing a piece of gum while cooking can help keep you from sampling the meal. It can also be a diversionary tactic to keep you from impulse snacking when you're bored or tired.

Eating a limited variety of foods at mealtime is another tactic that may help with weight control. It turns out that variety may not be the spice of life if you want to lose weight.

In studies, when people are offered more foods to choose from, they end up eating more than when the selections are limited. We simply end up eating more when the flavors are diverse and keep changing.

So stick with the tried-and-true healthy options -- especially those with plenty of crunch -- on your eating plan, and limit the variety of foods to help control your appetite. Throw in a piece of gum or two throughout the day, and see if these minor tweaks can help you shed more pounds.