I ate efficiently (that is…very fast) for years as I tried to balance all the competing child, career, and home demands in my life. I knew it was a good day when I ate only one meal in my car. That all changed when I was diagnosed with ITP.
In my search for a healthier existence, I attended a lecture by Lino Stanchich, the only person I know who has practically devoted his entire life to the study of chewing and its effects on the body. His story piqued my interest in this everyday act.
Like most bodily functions, the seemingly simple effort of chewing food, when examined, is not simple at all. Saliva is made by three major salivary glands and about 500 minor glands throughout the mouth and throat. The largest salivary glands, the parotids, are located just below and in front of each ear. These are the glands that swell when you get mumps. The others are below the tongue and behind the chin.
When you chew, saliva from these glands mixes with the food and begins digesting it before it reaches the stomach. Ptylin (or amylase) breaks down carbohydrates and lipase begins to digest the fats. If complex carbohydrates get just a perfunctory swish and a few taps before being swallowed, they can hit the stomach like rocks, in effect weighing you down. These partially digested carbs, now passing through your stomach to your intestines, have the time, sugar and bacteria to ferment, creating an internal still. The fermentation process gives off gas and that gas has only two places to escape your body, up or down, either direction creating embarrassing social situations.
There can be a lot of nasty substances in food, but nature and saliva come to the rescue. Saliva contains IgA, a type of antibody. It is our first line of defense against viral invaders. Saliva also contains lysozyme. This protein helps prevent bacteria from sticking to the walls of our mouth and kills any leftovers.
There is more good news about saliva. It is alkaline and helps counteract the acids we eat to help keep the blood in its highly regulated and slightly alkaline condition. Too much acid can make you sick.
Thorough chewing could save your life, or at least make you healthier, according to the story Lino told us in the lecture. Lino, tall, fit, trim, bald, explained how Antonio Stanchich, his father, and thiry-one others on the same ship became prisoners of war during World War II. In true concentration camp style, the prisoners were fed very little, just a cup of chicory coffee and a piece of bread for breakfast and soup with a few small potatoes for lunch and dinner. Twice a week beans or a tiny bit of meat were added to the soup.
Since it was winter and bitter cold, to help conserve his body heat Lino’s father tried warming his drinking water by chewing it before he swallowed the liquid. He began chewing his water over and over and to his surprise the water not only warmed him but seemed to give him more energy. He started counting and began chewing each swallow of water 25, 50, then 100 times. The more he chewed, the more energy he seemed to have. Next he began to experiment with counting how many times he chewed his food. Breakfast and lunch breaks were short, but dinner lasted as long as he wanted. In the evening he chewed and chewed each mouthful until he found that 150 was the optimum amount of jaw activity per bite to keep his energy high, became warmer, and feel more sated.
He told several of his fellow inmates of his discovery. Two of them believed him and began chewing their food 150 times and chewing their water as well. Others thought he was a bit daffy and ate and drank as they always did. After Lino’s dad spent two years in the concentration camp the war ended and the Americans liberated the prisoners. Of the 32 men who were captured with Lino’s father only three survived, Lino’s father and his two chewing friends.
It is difficult to say exactly how the concentration camp chewing made all the difference. Perhaps it was the improved digestion and nutrient absorption; perhaps the body used less energy to stay warm; or perhaps the incessant chewing helped the prisoner’s immune system ward off illness. Lino still remembers his father telling him when he was growing up, “If you are ever hungry or if you are ever sick or if are ever cold, chew your food.”
A few years after Lino heard the message, in 1949, Lino himself was arrested by Communists and imprisoned in Yugoslavia on political charges. As he was being put in his cell, he recalled his father’s story and his advice. While other inmates received packages of candy and cigarettes which the guards usually stole, Lino asked his mother to send stale bread, raw onions, and sea salt. Since the guards ignored the contents of his packages, each day Lino had extra food to eat and he chewed it thoroughly. He survived his imprisonment in relative style. He credits chewing for keeping him healthy and energetic throughout the ordeal.
Given his experience it is no surprise that Lino has talked to many people about the benefits of chewing. He found that everyone has a different experience with his chewing method and the payback sometimes does not appear the first day or even the first week. However, some of his students report profound benefits. “I know about a dozen people who have taken chewing seriously and have written to me to report the results. They tell me they have more physical, mental, emotional, and creative energy. They have new insights into life, a new level of consciousness and awareness.”
While he recognizes that chewing each bite 150 times is just not practical at each meal and could cause some stares and lapsed conversations when dining with friends, he thoroughly chews at least one meal a day and suggests others so the same.
As for me, I recovered from my illness with the help of Lino and other teachers like him. In my quest to remain healthy, he gave me one more thing to add to my wellness list, chewing. It is easy, cheap, and has great potential to balance immune function, increase stamina, and generally improve life.
Lino Stanchich is a senior macrobiotic teacher and consultant; licensed nutritionist and body work therapist with over 38 years of experience. He can be reached at (828) 299-8657 or www.greatlifeglobal.com.