Eating involves the use of all of our senses. We can hear the sounds while food is getting ready, we are visually attracted by the colors and the appearance of food. We smell the food, taste it, and feel the textures in our mouth. If we pay attention to all these details, we can have a full sensory experience with every meal. Paying attention while eating help us prevent and correct dysfunctional oral patterns that could result in dental misalignment, facial asymmetry and/or digestive problems. We recommend parents to observe their children while eating to detect any problems and to report their concerns. Here are some recommendations for mindful eating habits:
- A rainbow of whole foods - Food is important to get all the essential nutrients that we need for growth, development, and optimal body function. Food must be attractive to our senses. The best way to ensure this is by including a wide variety of colorful vegetables and fruits every day in every meal.
- Food textures variety - Solid fibrous textures help stimulate chewing. Cooked and processed food is mostly softer, and do not need much chewing. Chewing is essential to stimulate the growth and function of the jawbones. The best way to get adequate food texture is to consume at least 50% of the vegetables and fruits in their raw state or just slightly cooked. Another good option is to include seeds and nuts in the diet. For infants, we recommend introducing solid foods gradually as soon as they have some teeth. Starting with soft vegetables like avocado or cooked squash pieces and gradually introducing firmer textures to help stimulate chewing, jaw development and teeth eruption.
- Sitting down to eat - To best enjoy food and to ensure we pay attention to the experience, the best is to be seated with no other distractions than just good company.
- Eating a bite size or the amount of food that fits on the tongue - Putting too much food in the mouth when eating, makes chewing very difficult and induces premature and incorrect (reverse) swallowing.
- Chewing with the mouth closed - Chronic mouth breathers have difficulties keeping the mouth closed when eating. It is important to address mouth breathing first to help correct this issue.
- Chewing until food is liquified - Chewing stimulates salivation, and the digestive enzymes released in the saliva are essential starters of digestion. Food is easier to swallow when it is completely liquified with saliva. A liquified bolus is then easily dissolved by the digestive juices with added enzymes in the stomach. The digestion process continues smoothly with the absorption of nutrients through the intestines ending with the elimination of what is not been needed. Swallowing large fragments of food can make digestion very difficult. Thorough chewing of the food is extremely important for a healthy digestion and proper absorption of nutrients. However, chewing can be difficult and not efficient if teeth and jaws are misaligned or if any other dental issue is present. Addressing dental malocclusion or other dental problems is essential for functional chewing.
- Swallowing awareness - The force that the tongue exerts is much greater than the force needed to move the teeth. If the tongue continuously moves against or between the teeth in every swallow, it will eventually alter the normal position of the teeth. The correct resting position of the tip of the tongue is on a spot on the palate immediately behind the upper anterior teeth and the rest of the tongue should be in full contact with the rest of the surface of the palate. A functional swallowing occurs in the same way. Dysfunctional swallowing patterns could be corrected with adequate learning and practice, but existing orthodontic problems like severe narrow dental arches or deep overbites for example, interfere with the correct function of the tongue. It is recommended to address dental arch development first to help achieve a functional swallowing.
Lastly, it is great to enjoy food with family and friends. In fact, for human beings, eating is more than a basic need. Eating is also a social activity that connects us with other people, with the earth, and with other species in nature. Eating together cultivate good relationships and strong bonds within a family. Mood and emotions can affect the way the body processes food, as well as some food can affect mood and emotions. May each meal be a peaceful and pleasant time for everyone! ¡Buen Provecho!