Chew, Chew, Chew: Part Two

Chew, Chew, Chew: Part Two


Think about how our ancestors approached food and chewing. Their first step would be the sniffing and tentative chewing of a small portion of something in order to determine if it is edible, or if it is poisonous.  Since our ancestors were usually near starvation, once something was determined to be safe to eat, the food would be savoured in appreciation of the opportunity to live another day. It would be shared that we all might live to work together, to live another day. This, the social part of eating, is to this day an important part of our lives (if we are lucky), and another reason for eating slowly and deliberately. And, if they were eating in the wild, they would also be fully alert to potential dangers while eating.

Thus, the way we used to eat was important to our survival on many levels, and was inherently “mindful”. But now, for too many of us, food is just “gas for the car”, and eating is just a mindless act of consumption. We have so much food, and it is so plentiful here, that we essentially disrespect both our food and the act of eating it.

At this point I will mention that the staple foods of a culture are usually also intrinsic to their spiritual belief system. This is why, in most cases of colonization by Western nations, the primary food with religious significance is soon destroyed (or at the very least minimized), and is replaced with cash crops.  The colonized are then moved over to a diet similar to that of their conquerors (thus the alcoholism and diabetes that ran rampant in conquered indiginous cultures all over the world). If we wish to destroy the spirit of a people we start with their food and dietary culture (for example, see: Potlatch).  Unfortunately, we were complicit in our own “colonization”, as far as our diet and eating habits go.

A Practical Example

The most practical example of the power of chewing comes from concentration camp survivors. Some survived on very little food by chewing it up to 300 times per bite, while others received the same amount of food yet died of starvation.  Let’s have a look at the story of an Italian man named Antonio Stanchich, and his son Lino.

Antonio was in a German concentration camp from 1943 to 1945, attempting to survive hard labor and cold winters on very little food (a cup of coffee and a slice of bread for breakfast, and a bowl of soup for lunch and dinner).  Out of a crew of 32 men, only Antonio and two others survived, which they credit to chewing each bite of food at least 150 times, and water 50 times. (You may recall from the last newsletter, that I said one did not need to “chew your drink” if it was water. More on this shortly.)

After the war, Antonio explained how he survived to his son, Lino. He told his son that extreme chewing dramatically increased his energy levels, improved his ability to stay warm in the unheated barracks, decreased feelings of hunger, and even gave him an unexpected sense of confidence and courage.  Unfortunately, Lino had a chance to test his father’s hypothesis, when in 1949, at the age of 17, he found himself sentenced to two years in a labor camp. (A result of the section of Italy they lived in falling under the control of communist Yugoslavia, and Lino attempting to escape the country.)

Lino survived the camp by following his father’s chewing regimen, but forgot about it once he was out of the camp. In 1969, finding himself in a state of high stress and poor health, Lino returned to the chewing regime and gained back his health. In 1989, Lino wrote a book, entitled Power Eating Program, narrating his story and expanding upon the basic chewing regime he learned from his father.

One of the recommendations in his book deserves inclusion here: “Eat soup first and throughout the meal, because it stimulates the flow of saliva & enzymes in the mouth. This helps predigest carbohydrates and release the stomach’s digestive juices, including hydrochloric acid which digests protein & fat.”

Also, according to Lino’s book, saliva is alkaline, and so mixing our food thoroughly with saliva will alkalize it, aiding the body in maintaining a proper pH. (Saliva has a pH normal range of 6.2 to 7.6, with 6.7 being the average. In the oral cavity, the pH is maintained near neutrality, 6.7 to 7.3, by saliva.)

This is where I discovered I was mistaken thinking we did not need to work saliva into water. Now, I still believe for those of us in good health, “chewing our drink” is not necessary with water, as there is nothing requiring digestion. But, in the case of our concentration camp prisoners, receiving little food, and that being of poor quality, I can see the advantage of using saliva to make water more alkaline. This would go a long way to maintaining health in those trying to survive under such dire circumstances, and I believe taking this approach would also be of value to those with life-threatening illness.

Weight Loss

Not surprisingly, chewing well has proven to have benefits for those attempting to control their weight.  In one clinical study, it was discovered that lean people tend to chew their food more than those who are classified as obese do. However, when both lean and obese participants in the study were required to chew each mouthful of food 40 times, researchers found that both groups were able to better regulate their hunger and satiety hormones, leading to eating less.

Let’s have a quick look at the conclusion of that study, titled Improvement in chewing activity reduces energy intake in one meal and modulates plasma gut hormone concentrations in obese and lean young Chinese men.

“Regardless of status, the subjects ingested 11.9% less after 40 chews than after 15 chews. Compared with 15 chews, 40 chews resulted in lower energy intake and postprandial ghrelin concentration and higher postprandial glucagon-like peptide 1 and cholecystokinin concentrations in both lean and obese subjects.”


If you are mathematically inclined, you can start with 15 to 20 chews, and work your way up to comfortably chewing 30 to 40 times. For those more intuitive in nature, just chew until the food is liquid before swallowing.

A final item of interest, which I derived from Lino Stanchich: The gland that releases the ptyalin enzyme into saliva (the one that breaks down your food), is only active when you are relaxed. The ensuing maldigestion that would incur following eating while feeling tense, may be one reason that the Macrobiotics believe eating while angry turns food into poison in your body.

Next week there will be one final newsletter on chewing, this one on the surprising benefits to be gained from simply chewing gum.

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