chewing foodDo you have trouble controlling your appetite or feeling satisfied after your eat a meal? If the answer is yes, perhaps it is not about how much you ate or what you ate. Maybe it is about how you chew?

Let’s talk about spit. As gross as that may sound I really wonder if people knew what was going on in their saliva, would they be so quick to dismiss it as a topic of discussion.  There is a lot of chemistry happening in your saliva and the more you produce the better it is for you, your ability to digest food and for your body to appreciate the food you have ingested.

Saliva has many functions:

  • Secretes enzymes to begin the digestion of both fat and carbohydrates
  • Plays a key role in the formation of a proper food bolus (mixture of food and salvia), necessary for easy swallowing and to prevent food from getting stuck in your esophagus.
  • Contains bicarbonate to buffer acid that has splashed up into the esophagus, causing heart burn – a common symptom in those who suffer reflux from acid reflux or GERD
  • Contains antibacterial substances such as secretory IgA and Lysozyme (an enzyme that damages the bacterial cell wall lining) and strains of good bacteria which help to keep bad bacteria levels low.
  • Contains key electrolytes calcium, potassium, magnesium and sodium

As impressive as all this sounds, there is more. Salvia plays a role in what we taste as lubrication is the key to activating the taste buds on the tongue so you know what you are eating, providing signals to the body and the brain as to what you ate.

However, here is the best part. Salvia contains the hormones leptin and grehlin. Leptin is involved regulating energy intake and expenditure, appetite and metabolism. Grehlin is involved in the stimulation of the hunger sensation. The two hormones work together to tell us when we need to eat and when we need to stop.

If you look at this in totality, salvia is a key player in your ability to utilize the food you eat and regulate your appetite. So where does “chewing” come into this. The more you chew, the more saliva you will release into your mouth. The more the saliva you have, the more hormones are released and the better your appetite is regulated. If over eating food is your cause for excess weight. Then chewing in an inexpensive way that can help you eat less and feel more satisfied.

We holistic nutritionists talk a lot about chewing. We talk about chewing food to create more surfaces to make it easier for enzymes. We talk about not stuffing so much food into our stomachs too fast as that causes reflux and impedes digestion. And we really talk about chewing the food as a means to slow down the process of eating to help the body and the brain know that we have eaten enough to signal us to stop eating.

Clearly, it is much more complicated and there is much more of the chemical process that helps us regulate what we eat is located in our gastrointestinal system including in our mouth and our saliva. I am sure most people have never given this much thought but they should. We cannot control a lot of functions in our body but we can control how long and how well we chew.

So if you are someone who is having trouble controlling how much you eat, start focusing on your chewing. Chew every bit to a liquid and get as much saliva mixed in as possible. Take time to eat. Do not rush it and focus on the chewing. If you do, you will feel the release saliva into the mouth. Also pay attention to your saliva when you are not eating. When your mouth is dry, can you generate more saliva without taking a drink. If you do take a sip of liquid, let it sit for a minute in your mouth and feel it mix with saliva. Practice chewing with an empty mouth and observe how much saliva fills you mouth. This will help you develop the muscles needed to make this a habit when you eat.

The adage is: “Drink your food and chew your liquids” but all that means is that your food and beverages, especially smoothies and juices since they contain calories just like food, all need to be generously mixed with saliva. Learn to fake chew. Move your mouth and pretend to chew, you will feel the saliva filling the mouth cavity. This is a good thing. Using saliva both as part of eating your food and between meals can aid your ability to make better food choices especially  regarding the amount you eat.


  1. Interactions of the salivary and gastrointestinal systems. I. The role of saliva in digestion.Valdez IH, Fox PC.Clinical Investigations and Patient Care Branch, National Institute of Dental Research, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Md.Dig Dis. 1991;9(3):125-32.
  2. Saliva and gastrointestinal functions of taste, mastication, swallowing and digestion.Pedersen AM, Bardow A, Jensen SB, Nauntofte B.Copenhagen Gerodontological, Oral Health Research Centre, Department of Clinical Oral Physiology, Anatomy, Pathology and Medicine, School of Dentistry, Denmark. Oral Dis. 2002 May;8(3):117-29.
  3. The secretion, components, and properties of saliva.Carpenter GH, King’s College London Dental Institute, London, UK. Annu Rev Food Sci Technol. 2013;4:267-76. doi: 10.1146/annurev-food-030212-182700.
  4. Salivary leptin induces increased expression of growth factors in oral keratinocytes, M Gröschl*,et al doi: 10.1677/jme.1.01658  J Mol Endocrinol April 1, 2005   34  353-366
  5. Circadian rhythmicity of salivary leptin in healthy subjects. Randeva HS, Karteris E, Lewandowski KC, Sailesh S, O’Hare P, Hillhouse EW., Molecular Medicine Research Group, Biomedical Research Institute, University of Warwick, Mol Genet Metab. 2003 Mar;78(3):229-35.