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The Salivary Glands Partners
by Kelly Reith, BA, RHN
We all know how to chew our food well and that this
simple act helps digestion. The litre or more of saliva
that our mouths produce every day also aids digestion.
But chewing our food well and allowing it to be coated
with our mouths saliva can lead to digestive magic.
The following words are just a reminder of all that
chewing, saliva, and chewing combined with saliva can
Chewing your food, even without the aid of saliva,
can help your body begin to digest your food.
Here are a few examples:
Chewing well grinds food into
small bits, allowing it to be more easily swallowed.
Ever try swallowing a poorly chewed food? It actually
hurts on the way down the esophagus. You can feel the
food tear and scrape your throat.
Well-chewed bits of food are more
easily coated with digestive juices once in the stomach.
The body uses less of its energy to digest well-chewed
food than hastily chewed and swallowed food.
Chewing well also allows the molecules
of nutrients from the chewed food to be more quickly
released and assimilated.
Keeping a food in the mouth longer
and chewing it well allows the foods flavours
to be recognized by the tongue. When the tongue recognizes
the flavour it sends a message to the brain, which in
turn sends messages to the digestive system resulting
in the release of the correct digestive juices needed
for that food.
Saliva can do a few things on its own as well:
It moistens the molecules of dry
foods so that we can taste the foods when we eat them.
We arent able to distinguish many flavours in
It binds masticated food bits
into a bolus, which we can swallow easily.
It lubricates the esophagus. In
fact, the bolus of masticated food never touches or
damages the walls of the esophagus.
It is important to oral hygiene.
The mouth is almost constantly flushed with saliva,
away food debris and protects your teeth from decay.
Saliva can actually kill some bacteria.
But where does all this saliva
You have 3 pairs of major salivary glands and a few
minor pairs located throughout you mouth. The salivary
glands create saliva, which is then secreted into your
mouth via the salivary ducts. Sounds pretty obvious,
doesnt it? Well here are a few of the less obvious
facts about the three main salivary glands:
The first pair of salivary glands
to be considered here are the Parotid Glands. These
glands, located just under the ears, produce a serous
solution. The oral serous solution is clear and watery,
and contains the digestive enzyme amylase, also known
as ptyalin. It is no wonder that these salivary glands
are the ones most associated with carbohydrate digestion.
The ducts for these glands are near your upper teeth.
The Sublingual glands are located
under the tongue and produce a saliva that is primarily
mucous. Mucous saliva is thick and gluey. It binds the
masticated (chewed) food into a bolus as well as lubricating
the esophagus. The ducts for these glands are located
on the floor of your mouth.
The Submaxillary glands, also
known as the Submandibular glands, are located near
the jawbone, secrete both serous and mucous saliva.
The saliva reaches your oral cavity via ducts located
under your tongue. The Submaxillary glands and the Sublingual
glands also produce salivary amylase.
Partners in Health
You now know what chewing well on its own can accomplish,
what saliva on its own can accomplish, and even a bit
about where that litre (+) of saliva that you produce
every day comes from. Now lets put it all together:
Chewing well combined with
saliva are partners in digestion. We all know that
chewing well and mixing your food bits with saliva leads
to carbohydrate digestion but did you know eating protein-rich
meals actually decreases the amount of salivary amylase
produced? Eating a carbohydrate-rich meal leads to a
slight increase in the amount of salivary amylase produced
in your mouth.
Saliva acts as a first defense
against bacterial infection. By chewing food well
and creating more surface area on which the saliva can
act, more potential food-borne bacteria can be killed.
The bicarbonate in saliva
may activate the enzyme cellulase found in raw vegetables.
The enzyme cellulase digests the fibre cellulose. Together
bicarbonate and cellulase begin to digest the raw vegetables.
Chewing well also helps to break down the cellulose.
However, the combination of the saliva and chewing helps
the body to fully digest raw vegetables and receive
even the most pureed soup or juiced veggies need
to be ensalivated. Swish nutrient-rich liquids around
in your mouth before you swallow. The carbohydrates
present in the soup or juice can be partially digested
by your saliva.
I once read that the mouth doesnt make enough
saliva to initiate carbohydrate digestion so if youre
chewing for that reason, dont bother. Fortunately
that idea has been thoroughly disregarded
by the many who know better.
Chewing well and tasting your food is just plain common
sense. The fact that our body produces a substance (saliva)
that makes chewing, tasting, and swallowing easier is
a bonus to our vitality.
Chewing well and saliva - each have their own merits.
Its when they work together that we can really
appreciate the partnership that nature has created for
- Kelly Reith, BA, RHN is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist
living, working, and chewing in Toronto, Canada. She
can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org