When it comes to increased health, it’s not just what we eat, but how we eat. Digestion actually begins in the mouth, where contact with our teeth and digestive enzymes in our saliva break down food. But these days most of us rush through the whole eating experience, barely acknowledging what we’re putting in our mouths. We eat while distracted — working, reading, talking, and watching television — and swallow our food practically whole. On average we chew each bite only eight times. It’s no wonder that many people have digestive problems.
There are many great reasons to slow down and chew your food. Saliva breaks down food into simple sugars, creating a sweet taste. The more we chew, the sweeter our food becomes, so we don’t crave those after-meal sweets. Chewing reduces digestive distress and improves assimilation, allowing our bodies to absorb maximum nutrition from each bite of food. More chewing produces more endorphins, the brain chemicals responsible for creating good feelings.
It’s also helpful for weight loss, because when we are chewing well, we are more apt to notice when we are full. In fact, chewing can promote healing and circulation, enhance immunity, increase energy and endurance, improve skin health and stabilize weight.
The power of chewing is so great that there are stories of concentration camp survivors who, when others could not, made it through with very little food, by chewing their meager rations up to 300 times per bite of food.
For most of us 300 chews is a daunting and unrealistic goal. However, you can experience the benefits of chewing by increasing to 30 chews per bite. Try it and see how you feel.
Taking time with a meal, beginning with chewing, allows for enjoyment of the whole experience of eating: the smells, flavors and textures. It helps us to give thanks, to show appreciation for the abundance in our lives and to develop patience and self-control. Try eating without the TV, computer, newspaper, or noisy company. Instead just pay attention to the food and to how you are breathing and chewing.
This kind of quiet can be disconcerting at first, since we are used to a steady stream of advertising, news, media, email, and demands from others. But as you create a new habit, you will begin to appreciate eating without rushing. You have to eat every day — why not learn to savor and enjoy it?
Food Focus: Brown Rice
Brown rice, with its sweet nutty flavor, provides four times the amount of insoluble fiber found in white rice, because it is a whole grain that has not been stripped of its natural bran covering.
It contains an impressive number of vitamins and minerals such as concentrated B vitamins (which help nervous systems and mental depression), niacin, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, selenium, and even some vitamin E. This whole grain also contains a small amount of high-quality protein in the form of the amino acid lysine, which helps boost the body’s ability to fight viruses, especially those that cause cold sores.
In each grain of brown rice exists a matrix of whole, unrefined energy and nutrition. It is a complex carbohydrate and therefore burns slowly in the body, providing a steady stream of long lasting energy while increasing the brain’s levels of serotonin, the chemical responsible for the feeling of well-being.
Those who consistently eat brown rice report steady energy and an overall feeling of calm and balance in their daily lives.
For brown rice and whole grains in general, the majority of digestion occurs in the mouth through chewing and exposure to saliva. For optimal nutrition and assimilation, it is vital to chew your rice well and with awareness. A great meditation is to find a calm place, without distractions, to sit down for your meal. Make it a habit to chew each bite 20 times or more. See how this simple practice can help your digestion and overall focus for the rest of your day.
Recipe of the Month
Brown Basmati Pilaf
Prep Time: 3 minutes
Cooking Time: 30-40 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
1 cup brown basmati rice
2 cups of water
1/2 cup of dried cranberries
1/2 cup of walnut pieces
1/4 cup of chopped fresh parsley
pinch of salt
1. Rinse rice in fine mesh strainer until water runs clear.
2. Boil the water and add rice and salt, cover and reduce heat.
3. After 15 minutes add cranberries and walnuts to top, do not stir.
4. Cook 15-25 minutes more, until all the liquid is absorbed.
5. Remove from heat, add parsley and fluff with fork, cover and let set for 3-5 minutes and serve.