During my childhood, chewing gum, or eating food whilst walking down the street, was viewed as rather rude by many people. This was certainly the view of our mother. Few, apparently harmless, habits annoyed her more than the sight, and sound, of the smacking of lips, whilst giving the world and his wife fleeting glimpses of "chewing gum bouncing in their gob”.
And it may be detrimental to our well-being. Putting aside the benefit it can have on our dental health, gum chewing can be a source of gut trouble for some people. The action of chewing produces saliva. Although this has wonderful bacteria-busting properties, excess saliva must be swallowed (the other option would send mother into a red-faced rage), and the more we swallow, the more we are likely to swallow air.
Swallowed air has to go somewhere. A small amount of it may be absorbed into the blood stream, and the rest will be burped (pardon me) or travel south to be expelled (it wasn’t me, honest). Also, swallowed air awaiting its fate, might be a source of discomfort, contributing to other causes of tummy trouble, such as eating a very large meal.
Chewing gum sweetened with sugar alcohol may bring double trouble. Sorbitol, xylitol and mannitol are among the FODMAPs that cannot be digested by our own gut enzymes, which means that these sweeteners end up in the colon where they are fermented by the resident bacteria. Gas is one of the products of colonic fermentation – and the gas, of course, is expelled as wind.
Even if you don’t chew gum, it’s worth paying attention to how you eat. Those who chomp through meals quickly, or eat with their mouth open, are more likely to swallow more air than normal. Carbonated drinks, drinking through a straw, slurping tea and sucking sweets are other ways by which air finds its way into the digestive tract. Also, talking too fast and anxiety can lead to mouth breathing, which makes air swallowing more likely.
So, some gut-friendly habits to adopt: eating at a leisurely pace, whilst keeping the mouth closed and not talking too much (at least not with a mouthful of food!). Addressing sources of anxiety is a positive step for both mind and body well-being, just try to find a way of managing this that doesn’t involve chewing gum!
Tony Hirving, RD