At Central Athlete, we maintain a range of clients with a variety of goals. Most of the goals our clients have are directly related to altering their body composition. While the nutritional prescriptions our clients receive are given on an individual level, we consistently recommend certain fundamental nutritional practices regardless of our clients’ goals.
Food Hygiene 101
There are three simple principles of food hygiene that will be discussed in today’s blog:
- Chew your food 20-30 times/bite.
- Eat slowly.
- Try to eat with others when possible.
Maybe Mom was on to something when she told you to “chew your food.” While this advice was probably given to prevent pediatric choking incidents, there is plenty of evidence that suggests how beneficial it is to thoroughly chew your food on a physiological level.
The digestive process starts long before food enters the stomach. When the scent of something appetizing enters the nostrils, the body begins to move into a “rest and digest” parasympathetic state. Pupils dilate, but more importantly, salivation ensues. The body begins to prime the digestive system for its intended purpose.
So why is it important to chew your food so thoroughly? Critical digestive processes actually occur in the mouth. Saliva contains digestive enzymes that begin the breakdown of food before it even travels towards the stomach. Lingual lipase instigates the breakdown of the fats we eat, and salivary amylase aids the breakdown of carbohydrates. In order to allow these enzymes to work effectively, mastication (or chewing) needs to occur. The more broken down the food is before entering the stomach, the less overall stress and strain the digestive system endures.
Thorough chewing also ensures one receives the maximum number of macro and micronutrients from the food consumed.
Chew your food 20-30 times/bite, or until it’s semi-liquified in your mouth. Your digestive system will thank you.
When the body receives signaling that it might be time to eat, it begins to enter into a parasympathetic state. This can be associated with “‘resting and digesting.” The body diverts blood flow from the appendages and reroutes it to the stomach and digestive system in order to support specific digestive tasks.
So why eat slowly? And how should one go about doing so?
By reducing the speed of eating, the body is allowed to stay and operate in a more relaxed state. The digestive system wants the body to stay this way in order to operate most efficiently. The more parasympathetic one is while eating, the more optimally the digestive system performs.
How does one stay parasympathetic while eating?
Begin with three to five deep belly breaths before even taking the first bite. This type of diaphragmatic belly breathing will stimulate the vagus nerve, tone down central nervous system activity, and in turn make the body more parasympathetic. By taking manageable bites of food, thoroughly chewing them, and again taking several deep breaths in between bites, we can ensure our body stays in an optimal state for digestion.
Human beings are tribal creatures. Humans evolved alongside other humans; we also ate meals alongside other humans.
While there is now an overabundance of food available to the human population, there was a time in human history when scarcity was common. Hunter-gatherers would go out in search of the food they would bring home for their community each day. The vast wilderness of the past was the grocery store of today.
These ancient humans also made eating a social event. People congregated and shared the food hunted and gathered, typically creating a relaxed and enjoyable social event.
As civilization and technology advanced, so did the disconnect to our instinctive social dynamics around food. Many individuals find themselves eating alone for a vast majority of their meals. While this isn’t inherently bad, it also isn’t optimal for digestion.
Research suggests that not only does eating with others lead to better, more healthful decisions around nutrition, but it also creates better digestion and mood. The CNS (central nervous system) is again toned down into a parasympathetic state whenever communal eating occurs. “The dining table provides an opportunity for conversation, storytelling, and reconnection. When you bond with others and experience a sense of connection, endogenous opioids and oxytocin are released that stimulate pleasant feelings.” (1)
In short, eat with others when possible. Your brain and digestive system will greatly benefit.
Practicing good food hygiene, albeit simple, is far from easy. Coaches at Central Athlete not only have plenty of experience working with clients on improving their food hygiene practices but also on practicing great food hygiene themselves. If you struggle with your own food hygiene, schedule a FREE strategy session with a Central Athlete coach today and get started on your own journey towards more hygienic nutrition