Chew on this

Amanda O'Brien
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Looking to take a bite out of your calorie intake? You may actually want to increase your number of bites, or chews rather, to do this. New research is telling us the more you chew your food, the fewer calories you consume and the more likely you’ll feel full after eating. 

This summer, the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggested that increasing the number of chews taken before swallowing reduces meal size in normal-weight, overweight and obese adults.

After assessing the amount of chews participants normally take, participants were asked to eat pizza for lunch until comfortably full by chewing each portion of food 100 per cent, 150 per cent or 200 per cent of their usual. When foods were chewed 150 per cent and 200 per cent of normal, calories were decreased by nearly 10 per cent and 15 per cent, respectively.

In two additional studies, one from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition back in 2011 and the other from July’s edition of the British Journal of Nutrition, chewing food 40 times before swallowing versus a typical 15 had benefits, too. With the higher amount of chewing, people consumed fewer calories, about 12 per cent less, and had lower levels of hormones that stimulate appetite, and higher levels of a hormone that reduces appetite.

The benefits of extended chewing may even go beyond reducing calorie intake. The British Journal of Nutrition study also showed a reduced preoccupation with food and desire to eat, and beneficial effects on blood sugar absorption with more chews per bite.

Increasing the number of chews doesn’t have effects on just the immediate meal, either.

Increasing the amount you chew your food can help to reduce food intake at subsequent snacks, research suggests.

So if chewing seems to help reduce calorie intake, what is the deal with chewing gum? The science on this is conflicting, but several studies suggest that chomping down on sweetened gum for 15 to 45 minutes suppresses hunger, appetite and cravings for snacks (particularly those for sweets) and promotes fullness.

The idea of increasing the amount you chew sounds simple enough, but it can also be monotonous, especially if you are consciously counting chews per bite in an effort to increase them.

It appears many people must be in this boat, as news headlines last week introduced the Bite Monitor, a pedometer for the mouth, so to speak.

The commercial product is worn on the wrist like a watch, and counts the number of bites you take by measuring subtle wrist motions. It’s expected to be ready for purchase in about a year’s time, and to cost about $200.  

Chewing more to decrease the amount you eat isn’t a new topic. It’s been around for hundreds of years. “Fletcherizing,” or chewing your food 32 times — once for each tooth — is an idea that’s been around since the late 19th century. In addition to chewing, part of this theory was to wait until you were good and hungry before eating.

By fletcherizing, it was believed that people could lose weight or even cure diseases like gout and eczema.

I’m certainly no expert in chewing, but given the fact many people eat too fast and, in doing so, consume additional calories, it makes sense for us to try chewing our food a little more thoroughly.

As for a magical number of chews per bite? There doesn’t appear to be one. That said, chances are it’s probably more than what you are currently chewing.

Amanda O’Brien is a registered dietitian in St. John’s. Contact her through the website:

Organizations: British Journal, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, American Journal

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