To begin reasoning why we should chew, I must go back 27 years to my first macrobiotic lesson which was to consider our teeth. We have 32 of them – 8 sharp teeth at the front for biting, 4 small canines, 16 molars (molar is a Latin word meaning millstone) which have flattened surfaces suitable for grinding and mashing, and 4 wisdom teeth. We also have a jaw that allows lateral movement for the complete pulping of food.
Lino (the Greek Macrobiotic teacher from Part 1) explains that the process of digestion begins in the mouth. Plant foods need to be chewed well to break down the cellulose that encloses its nutritive value. It is essential to chew grains well. Poorly chewed grains cannot be broken down by our stomach because the nutrients (especially protein and starch) cannot be separated from the fibre. If grains are swallowed without proper chewing, pancreatic enzymes will not be able to break down the food into its basic components. In this case these poorly chewed grains will only be partially absorbed in the intestines.
In his brilliant book Chewing Made Easy, long-time macrobiotic author and educator, Alex Jack, explains the many benefits of good chewing. Chewing stimulates production of saliva from the multiple glands around our mouth. Saliva contains amylase (or Ptyalin) which in an enzyme that digests complex carbohydrates into simpler sugars. Saliva also contains a variety of other compounds which alkalinise, mineralise and energise the food we eat. The endocrine system is directly activated by chewing, which activates the digestive organs to absorb nutrients.
Proper chewing, says Alex Jack, coats the food with enzyme-rich saliva that protects against potentially harmful viruses, bacteria, and other micro-organisms as well as chemicals, radiation, and other toxins contained in food. Saliva has anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties that kill staph, strep, HIV and other harmful microbes. Animals instinctively know of the healing properties of saliva and lick themselves when wounded or injured.
Chew well! Anyone who is sick, or who wants to be beautiful and intelligent, must chew well before anything else. Chewing well not only increases your physical health, but also your related mental and spiritual clarity. Judgement improves. – Herman Aihara
Chewing stimulates the circulatory system. It draws more blood to the muscles and distributes it throughout the body. Hence Lino’s father feeling warmer the more he chewed.
Alex explains that chewing improves intellect and mental health. In traditional oriental medicine, the intestines correspond with the brain – they are connected energetically. Intestinal disorders are commonly mirrored by rigid thinking, scattered mind, memory loss and other mental problems. By strengthening the digestive system, especially the intestines, chewing improves focus and concentration, memory and mental flexibility. Chewing also charges the chakras (wheels of electro-magnetic energy that channel into the meridian system of the body), that are directly associated with the intellect and higher consciousness. Chakras believed to be activated are the solar plexus (3rd chakra which governs reasoning and analysis) and the mid brain (6th chakra which governs higher insight, understanding and intuition). Personally, on a number of occasions after proper chewing of grains of vegetables, solutions to problems arise easily and effortlessly. Intuitive awareness comes alive.
In a great little book titled #7 Diet, author Francoise Riviere – who recovered from a long list of ailments through macrobiotics – says the longer we chew, the greater will be the absorption of our food and we will recover and improve our health more rapidly. Chewing will help us to limit the volume of food needed – we will get as much nutrition from a smaller amount of food. This will minimize the problem of over-eating. She says that chewing will control our voracity by eating calmly and respectfully, without greediness, by realizing what we are doing, and by identifying ourselves with food and the entire universe. She likens the earth to our mother, and grains, when thoroughly chewed, become our earth mother’s milk.
It can be a great advantage to our wellbeing and longevity to use chewing to help control the volume of food we consume. History is full of the advice of wise teachers warning us to eat less to avoid illness and early death. To this end, chewing well increases the feeling of satiation which helps us resist eating too much. We can separate ourselves from the emotion of eating and the habit of taking more and more. We can decide more calmly if more is what we really need. It puts us in a space whereby we can hear the quiet voice of our conscience. And it can strengthen our resolve to act positively on this guidance.
In the next blog post we will continue reading Dean’s article as it focuses on his relationship with Chuya and Chiaki. Thanks to Dean from allowing me to post his article here. Part 3 is coming soon! – Kayu