Saliva, the watery liquid produced by glands located under your tongue, is an essential component of the digestive process. Saliva is 98% water, so it moistens your mouth and helps compact food into softened particles for easier swallowing. It is loaded with useful elements like electrolytes, enzymes, mucus, various antibacterial compounds, as well as beneficial bacteria. Saliva is slightly alkaline with high concentrations of calcium and phosphate ions, making it a perfect milieu for your teeth. On the down side, saliva can carry harmful bacteria, so when these levels are high, bad breath and tooth decay could result.

As a lubricant, saliva protects the teeth, tongue, and other mouth tissues during all mouth functions, including talking, eating, and even kissing. Our teeth and tongue work as a food processor, using saliva as the liquid necessary to create a mixture suitable for the stomach.

It’s true that you should chew your food as much as possible, yet most people rush through this very important part of digestion. Slow down, enjoy your meals; you’ll do your body good to take the time right up front. Slowing down also gives the enzymes in saliva time to start the process of breaking down carbohydrates.

Rapidly swallowing food, followed by large quantities of liquids, undermines the function of saliva, so your stomach receives chunks of food rather than smaller particles. By chewing your food thoroughly, you can make sure saliva has a chance to do its job helping the rest of your digestive processes run more smoothly.

First published in the Inside Tract® newsletter issue 166 – March/April 2008