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What Smoothies and Chewing Gum Have in Common

Wellness

October 18, 2017

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Answer: They both impact digestion.

But probably not how you think.

The act of chewing stimulates digestion. It’s your body’s way of telling the rest of your body, “Hey, get ready down there! Food is coming!”

This triggers the release of hormones and digestive secretions that will help you break down whatever food that is about to pass through your esophagus. I want to emphasize hormones here. Many times we don’t think of digestive implications when we think of hormone imbalance. But have you heard of the hormone insulin? Or ghrelin or leptin (both of which help control our hunger/satiety)? When these hormones are released in anticipation without food actually coming, then that’s where things can go awry.

Chewing gum stimulates this process, and can actually cause you to swallow air, causing pain, bloating, and other digestive issues. Also, chewing gum can cause tooth decay and can release mercury from amalgam fillings. For this reason, pregnant women especially, should avoid chewing gum if they having silver fillings. Even chewing gums that contain artificial sugars are worrisome because of their impact on the gut flora. (source) So in the case of chewing gum, you’re tricking your body to thinking there’s food coming that actually isn’t.

On the flip side, we have smoothies and shakes. Remember that the act of chewing prompts the digestive tract to be on alert. When we drink our meals, we tend not to digest them well since digestion may still be, uh, sleeping on the job. (read more) To compound on this, we typically are drinking these beverages on the go, which puts us in to a sympathetic (i.e. “fight or flight”) state. If you’ve been around here long enough, you’ve heard me talk about the importance of being in a parasympathetic state (the “rest and digest” state) when we eat to support adequate digestion. (Read more about it here.) We should be in a parasympatetic state about 80% of the time, however most of us are in inverted, and are sympathetically-dominate. To put it simply, if we’re driving, standing up at the counter, eating while working, etc… our mind/body is more concerned about other things than breaking down our food, which will negatively impact digestion and can even feed the wrong bacteria in our guts.

smoothie bowl

The right way to do smoothies would be to focus on balancing protein, fat, and carbohydrates and focus on whole-food ingredients. Smoothie bowls are a great idea because instead of slurping them through a straw, they require use of a spoon causing us to eat them more slowly. Often, they have nuts, fruit, or other toppings which we have to chew, prompting digestion. While well-balanced smoothies and shakes can be healthy on occasion and while practicing mindful eating, we must be careful not to overly rely on them. For more information, read my follow-up post on building a better smoothie.

So there you have it! Chewing gum and smoothies both impact the digestive system through slightly different mechanisms. If you have any digestive complaints such as indigestion, heartburn, bloating, cramping, gas, leaky gut, food sensitivities, then you may need to consider if either of these habits may be affecting your digestive system.

If you’re ready to optimize digestion and heal your gut, let’s chat for a free 30-minute meet-and-greet appointment to see if we’re a great fit! Schedule your meeting here.

  1. kelly says:

    Love it! Thank you! I feel like I KNEW this but didn’t put it together so thank you for making me think! The chewing gum and cueing digestion got me all jazzed and excited to implement this. Curious if you suggest a good clean gum. I had heard when using xylitol in toothpaste it’s best to have several touches on the teeth throughout the day, so a clean gum or mint would be good? How do you feel about xylitol and teeth and is it really gut safe in your opinion? And how young do you let your littles do it because I sure do love the benefits mentioned (even if not a xylitol). I’m sure the discipline and surety that they won’t swallow, but even if you know they won’t swallow, is there a certain vague age appropiate-ness for it?

    • Amy Gonzalez says:

      Hi Kelly! While I know there are some arguements for chewing gum’s benefits for dental health, I don’t recommend it for regular use. However, I can see benefits for it if strategically using before meals to stimulate digestion. Xylitol can be derived from GMO corn and can cause stomach aches and diarrhea, so I’d just be on the lookout for any digestive changes if offering to kids. I’d look for one that is derived from real birch. I’ve heard good things about the Glee brand. As far as what age to introduce… I can’t speak from experience — my six year old still hasn’t had any. But I suspect that it would vary by maturity level… one they understand not to swallow. If you’re not sure they’re ready for chewing gum, you could also look in to digestive enzymes (there are chewable ones for kids like Klaire Labs) or an alcohol-free digestive bitter that would also work. Hope this helps!

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