Don’t Dig Your Grave with Your Teeth

What a strange comment above…‘dig your grave with your teeth?’ I remember reading this comment in an article written by the great health educator Mr K. S. Jaffrey ND DC, he was a strong proponent for the practice of thorough mastication, that is chewing your food properly. You see this simple and often neglected process can mean the difference between a healthy digestive process (and tract) and the longevity this affords, or a life of digestive distress and ultimately a shortened life span…yes, that’s how vital chewing is! It’s time we discussed this often ignored process. Not only ignored by those who pay no heed to their health or the content of their diet, but also by those who profess to be health devotees, those who carefully select the highest quality  foods for their diet. The importance of this simple process, mastication,  in building health both digestive and structural, cannot be overstated and you ignore it at your own peril. 

I will keep this discussion in simple terms for ease of understanding. However, I feel the need to digress a little so we can set the scene for best possible understanding. The metabolic functioning (life itself) of the organism includes those functions that deal with Anabolism- the building of cells and tissues, and Catabolism- the breaking down and eliminating of biological waste materials. So today we are going to focus on anabolism. The food that we eat is the substance that we build our cells and tissues out of. We perform healthy anabolism by eating the correct food for the human organism, that’s right we need to eat the ‘Human Diet’ to build a healthy human being. But actually being able to build healthy cells and tissues out of the food we present to the body, requires the digestive tract to perform two vital functions:

  • Digestion
  • Assimilation

Digestion means that our stomach actually competently, thoroughly and in a timely manner, digests the food we present to it.

Assimilation takes place mostly in the small intestine and the success of this function is highly dependent on the quality of the digestion that precedes it in the stomach. Assimilation is the process by which the body transforms the usable substances present in the whole food we have eaten, which have been digested in the stomach, and then absorbs them into the body in order to build new tissue to replace old tissue. The small intestine is supposed to be an organ of absorption, not an organ of contents! The ability of assimilation depends greatly on the efficiency of the preceding stages of digestion. 

The quality of anabolism within the organism hinges upon not only the body being provided the right material but the material being presented to it in a state that it can competently work with. It is a fact that we can shovel any quantity and quality of food into our mouths, but what the body does with it really is a far more important consideration. The food we eat is merely the building blocks of nutrition…nutrition is a functional process of the living body. Never forget that the food (or anything else you swallow for that matter) does not act on the body, the body acts on it! The body is the living, vital being in this equation. So step one of ‘right action’ on the food presented to the body, is chewing it properly.

There is a dialectical law that states ‘Structure Governs Function’. This literally means the structure of a particular thing determines how it is meant to be used. When we look at the structure of a carnivore’s teeth, we can easily see that they have ripping, tearing teeth and thus we see carnivorous animals gulping down their food at a rapid rate. Sitting there chewing the particles of their food is not a necessity for them. The human animal, a plant eating animal, has a mouth full of crushing, grinding teeth. The structure of our teeth governs how we are meant to use them. The entire digestive process, from start to finish, requires thorough mastication for all subsequent stages to progress adequately. Your stomach does not have teeth, it does a poor job of mechanical reduction. 

Let’s have a close up look at what goes on physiologically when we chew. When we put a portion of food into our mouth we immediately begin to chew it. This is pretty much a reflex action, we don’t need to think about it, we just do it…problem is we don’t do it long enough as a general rule! The process of chewing breaks down the solid food into an emulsion. The teeth achieve this mechanically and whilst they are hard at work crushing, grinding and pulverising, the salivary glands kick into action straight away and release saliva into the mouth. Saliva for your information is a chemical solution loaded with digestive enzymes. These digestive enzymes mix with the food as it is being mechanically broken down by the teeth and the enzymes begin the process of chemically breaking down the food as well. So in the mouth your food gets structurally (mechanically) AND chemically broken down. Food should not be swallowed until it has been transformed into this pre-digested emulsion.

Another thing that occurs when we chew, is the brain sends a signal to the stomach advising ‘food is on the way, get ready’! So the stomach prepares for the arrival of this food by releasing gastric enzymes. The gastric enzymes are extremely important if we want to have any hope of actually assimilating the nutriment from the food eaten. If the food has been mechanically broken down into tiny particles in the mouth, then it will be more intimately associated, intermingled with the gastric enzymes that perform gastric digestion and assimilation in the small intestine will proceed much more effectively. It is a well known fact that most people do not get the full nutrient benefit from the foods they eat…this I would suggest is the major reason why. You do not need a supplement, you need to spend more time chewing!!

From the above concise dissertation we can easily see the law of ‘Structure Governs Function’ in action – this being the whole process of mastication and its indispensable action on digestion and assimilation. This then directs us to the fact that it is generally not a good idea to drink your food. The practice of juicing and blending solid foods and reducing them to a liquid form (a drinkable mass), bypasses the mastication process, and has little application in the true practice of building health. In fact anyone with digestive problems should avoid these practices like the plague…for want of a better analogy. 

To conclude I am often asked by my clients, “how many times should I chew each mouthful?” Throughout the Nature Cure literature written over the past few centuries there have been differing opinions on this point, but suffice to say they all agree the mouthful should be reduced to an emulsive state prior to swallowing. Professor Edmond Bordeaux Szekely advises chewing each mouthful 40 times…seems like a lot indeed, but chewing is a habit that you can easily develop. I do not like to give a definitive, prescriptive answer to this as each food really requires a slightly different amount. To thoroughly masticate a piece of ripe, soft mango requires a lot less effort than a piece of hard, crunchy apple. A bowl of fresh salad requires a lot of chewing, as does a piece of whole grain bread (because you wouldn’t be eating white bread now would you?) So in this, as with much else in Nature Cure, I say listen to the Voice of your Organism. Tune into your eating and take note of when the mouthful feels like a fluid emulsion, when there are no large segments left, and then swallow. Let this be your rule of thumb, something I have often said to my 12 year old son over the years and probably will do for many more…if you do not have enough time to thoroughly chew each mouthful, then you do not have enough time to eat it!!!

 Victoria Mohren NCP, BOM Acc, B Bus

Published and Edited by: 

Mohren Pure Naturopathy. 

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The opinions expressed in this article are based on the naturopathic philosophy of health and do not coincide with currently accepted medical theories on health and healing. The publisher does not claim that any advice given represents a “cure” for disease. If the reader has any doubts regarding his or her health, it is the responsibility of that individual to consult a competent health practitioner.