Chewing Is Not Just Mechanical, It’s Psychological
Chewing Is Not Just Mechanical, It’s Psychological
When any of those fundamentals are skipped, the brain demands more food. Fewer than three generations ago, dinner was eaten between five and 6.30pm, served on a 9” rather than 11” plate. Until the late 1960s there was great importance placed on family sitting together at the dinner table at the same time every night; nobody would ever dare be late. A simple dessert was also often served.
Except under special circumstances (with requested permission) no-one left the table until everyone had eaten, with 40 minutes the average duration of the meal.
The family dinner symbolised security and stability.
Portions were smaller, yet more chewing and more talking were done. (Although definitely never at the same time – oh the horror!) Foods were of course much less pre-prepared, processed or ultra-processed and nobody would ever consider eating in the street, let alone shoving something of a texture that’s almost pre-chewed, into our mouth while we’re driving.
And singing. And dropping fries in our lap.
Ask an ultra-processed food manufacturer whether it’s intentional rather than ironic that one of the side effects of not chewing properly (by not having proper food to chew,) is more hunger.
And not just for food. With that dissatisfaction (being chemical ‘n all) comes a psychological yearning for more in life – because it too begins to feel as unsatisfying as the meals we’re having.
Mastication is not just about food intake and digestion. The oral cavity has many neural connections, not for just the simple mechanics of eating and drinking, but for the much more complex movements of speech. That repetitive physical action of biting, chewing and grinding promotes and maintains general health – which includes cognitive function. As far back as 2013, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and positron emission topography studies showed what mastication does.
Chewing increases blood flow to the brain.
To the somatosensory cortex where touch, pain, temperature and spacial body position are processed. To the striatum, in charge of voluntary movement. Onto the thalamus, the sensory receiver and transmitter of emotions, learning and memory and to the cerebellum – which is important enough to have a multitude of functions and has more than half the neurons of the whole body.
Chewing releases stress. Psychophysiologically, chewing and crunching are innate outlets of aggression. (Ice chewing, anyone?) So linked is food, mastication and the mind, to see what comes up when you are chewing for a long time without swallowing, can be interesting.
Research showed that chewing immediately before performing a cognitive task increases blood oxygen levels in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus – both vitally involved in learning and memory, thereby improving task performance. It may be a simple, drug-free method of diminishing the progression of cognitive dysfunction disorders like senile dementia and trauma-related conditions. Numerous epidemiology studies reveal a decreased number of residual teeth, decreased denture use and a minor maximal biting force are directly related to the development of dementia.
Our parents and teachers were awkwardly misguided. Chewing gum might have made us look stupid – and would have made us much smarter.
The post-war economic boom meant bigger families and gender role diversity. Despite being the largest workforce during WWII, women went back home to housework and the job of putting dinner on the table. Although the 1960s cracked the evolutionary crust of change in the role and lives of women, the daily responsibility for feeding the family remained squarely with three squares.
Families didn’t eat together in the evening until the 1700s. Before that, households would eat in shifts. A small table would be set up outside, in a hallway or by the hearth where food was prepared. The midday meal was the largest one and a smaller supper in the evening until the Industrial Revolution had people working away from home. Those not paid for a break began eating quicker, transportable food at midday and that’s basically how the main meal came to be at the end of the day. Across all socioeconomic levels, evening was the time everyone was back home together, and hungry.
A richer diet began the standardisation and ritual of the family dinner table. Where discussions and sometimes arguments, would be had, all the while chowing down on some mutton, hard cheese or hard bread. Despite changing trends, the tradition of dinner has staying power – as an idea. Very few actually practice it. Very few actually chew.
Maybe the junk food nation that many countries have become, really is dumbing us down. Maybe we’ll become a world of slack-jawed people because we don’t chew enough. We certainly consume more than enough – usually on the run, or in front of screen, wondering why we’re still hungry.
By ignoring the recommended 32-40 chews per mouthful, we’ll never work it out.
Lyndon Johnson maintained that Gerald Ford was “so dumb, he can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.”
Hope he chose the gum.
The content has been made available for informational and educational purposes only. New Gisborne Dental House does not make any representation or warranties with respect to the accuracy, applicability, fitness, or completeness of the content.
The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional personal diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a dental or medical condition. Never disregard professional advice or delay seeking it because of something you have read or seen on the Site.