The Importance of Chewing

by Fred Pulver


A cornerstone of Macrobiotic practice is thorough chewing. Mahatma Ghandi condensed all wisdom about health into just one admonition: "Chew your drink, and drink your food." That is, chew your food until it turns to liquid in your mouth.

We have more to fear from imbalanced acid/alkalinity in our blood than we do from environmental pollution, though in acidic individuals, atmospheric and water pollution can hasten cancer development. We have more to gain by restoring alkalinity to our systems by eating correctly than we do by cleaning up the external environment, though, of course, tending to the environment is important, too. However, one study done in Tokyo indicated that people with acidic systems absorbed more pollution than people who had established proper blood alkalinity.

What is so important about chewing foods well? Acid/alkaline (ph) balance is important for normal cell function. Alkaline saliva is needed to make acidic grains become alkaline through chewing (grains are naturally acidic). Excessive acidity or alkalinity makes it difficult for cells to function normally.

Most bacteria thrive in slightly acid conditions. Slightly alkaline blood keeps bacteria from multiplying because it absorbs oxygen better. Oxygen hastens the breakdown of pathogenic bacteria, since most harmful bacteria are anaerobic (cannot tolerate oxygen.

The aerobic cycle is one of oxidation/reduction based on available oxygen in the bloodstream. When blood becomes acidic, less oxygen is absorbed. Cells need oxygen to metabolize food and convert it to energy. If cells do not get enough oxygen, they can no longer function normally - aerobically.

Alkaline blood absorbs oxygen in sufficient quantities to oxidize food, convert it to energy and neutralize acidic waste products, a normal aspect of food metabolism. Body cells switch to anaerobic energy production when they can no longer derive enough oxygen from blood cells.

Blood cells normally attach oxygen to hemoglobin contained in the red blood cells and carry it to all the cells of the body, where it is transferred through the cell walls. The cells then use the oxygen to break down food molecules, and release their stored energy as ATP (adenosene-tri-phosphate). ATP is stored in the Golgi bodies of the mitochondria until it is needed by the cells for their activities. In anaerobic metabolism, a different cycle takes place. Cells normally function in relation to other cells in a manner that supports the organism as a whole. Supplied with balanced nourishment, cells function normally. Given abnormal nourishment, cells grow abnormally. Cancer is a symptom or expression of abnormal cellular metabolism. Abnormal cell growth is called cancer.

Acidic blood cannot absorb oxygen readily. Slight blood alkalinity is critical. Even a slightly acidic system can cause serious problems. After a while, chronically acidic people deprive their systems of adequate oxygen and the aerobic cycle switches to the anaerobic cycle, creating deadly by-products. Instead of the normal waste product of aerobic oxidation, CO2 (carbon dioxide), ketones, aldehydes, and alcohol are produced. Some of these are toxic substances used in paint thinners. After some time, exposure to these toxic by-products of the anaerobic cycle stresses the immune system, making one susceptible to colds, flu, chronic fatigue symptoms and eventually, abnormal cell growth (cancer).

Carbohydrate digestion begins in the mouth. Chewing stimulates the salivary glands to release ptyalin, an alkaline enzyme, which mixes with carbohydrates and begins to break them down into simpler sugars. Digestion of proteins begins in the stomach, where a very strong acid (hydrochloric) dissolves fibers in plant materials and muscle tissues in animal proteins.

Carnivorous animals, and people who eat animal products frequently have a tendency not to chew well, since chewing is not as important for protein metabolism as it is for starch digestion.

If fiber is removed from grains and other carbohydrate foods, the chewing mechanism is no longer stimulated adequately. Because they are easily swallowed, such foods are not held in the mouth long enough to be adequately alkalized and digested.

Thorough chewing, eating properly, getting enough oxygenated air into our lungs through aerobic exercise, work or play are all vital to health maintenance and restoration. Our historically recent carnivorous heritage has resulted in humans becoming more animal-like: carnivorous animals do not chew their food. Carnivorous teeth cut and tear flesh into chunks small enough to be swallowed without choking. No digestion of protein occurs in the mouth.

Carnivorous animals must eat quickly, or lose their prey to other, stronger or swifter competitors. Chewing takes time, a luxury carnivorous animals cannot enjoy. Taking time to chew leaves carnivores vulnerable to attack by other equally hungry species. Nourishment, and hence survival, depends on the ability to devour prey quickly. When was the last time you felt you had to finish a meal before a predator made a meal out of you?

We have built much of modern life upon carnivorous habits - hardly allowing the food we eat to remain in our mouths before we swallow it.

Many modern people have become so acidic even their saliva is no longer alkaline. Consequently, they cannot alkalize grain and other carbohydrate dishes they eat. People faced with this problem may have to eat umeboshi or drink bainiku ekisu (sour plum extract) to alkalize the system and consequently the saliva so they can digest grains. Otherwise, grains could cause heartburn. Goma-sio (roasted and ground sesame seed and sea salt) condiment on rice can also help alkalize the system, as can properly-made miso soup every day. Many vegetables, like carrots and certain leafy-green vegetables can also be alkalizing. It is important to study which foods are acid and which are alkalizing.

Herman Aihara's book Acid and Alkaline explains this topic well.

The grain-eater's lifestyle is based on cultivation of knowledge, patience and perseverence. Knowledge of seasonal, cyclical rhythms, and changing needs of plants which provide sustenance, is required for successful agriculture. The importance of living in harmony with the natural world is impressed deeply upon each generation until it becomes engrained as a core tenet of successful living. Thorough chewing requires patience, but the reward is a spirit at peace with the universe. This spirit is a source of sublime joy. Cultivation of this spirit is a goal of traditional agriculturalists throughout the world. Is it any wonder two opposite viewpoints (materialistic, monopolistic, aggressive versus spiritual, co-operative, pacifist) have grown out of carnivorous and agricultural cultures?

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