As you well know, human beings are omnivore, meaning they can eat pretty much everything, and for that purpose they have three types of teeth: incisors to cut, canines to tear and pre-molars and molars to grind their food. Chewing is the first step in our digestion and it is a very important one that we often neglect. It is also the only one we can control voluntarily. Not only does it allows us to break down food into smaller parts and soften it into a “paste” that we can swallow (called bolus), but chewing also brings food to the same temperature as our body. This facilitates digestion. The other crucial function chewing performs is to put the food in contact with saliva. This humidifies it and makes it softer. It also starts the digestion process that will be completed in the stomach. Our saliva contains an enzyme (amylase) that is able to break down starch into simpler sugars that are easily absorbed. I remember a very basic experiment that we did in biology class in Junior High: we had to chew a piece of bread for several minutes until it became sweet. Good chewing habits will also minimize the quantity of air you swallow, therefore reducing bloating. So you see, the more you chew your food the easier the last part of the digestion will be. Big pieces will stay longer in your digestive tract and delay the digestion process. There is even a relationship between losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight and chewing well. I am sure you have experienced eating too quickly and swallowing air and large pieces of food, having meals interrupted by phone calls, etc… this is not satisfying. It seems to be the way “modern” life often goes, but every time you can, try to set aside 20 minutes of uninterrupted time to eat your meal. And if you do get that fast food, at least chew it well instead of gulping it down with soda! It is not easy to change a habit, but you will see a change. Another trick I use when I have issues slowing down is putting down my fork after each bite and I do not prepare the next bite until I am done with this one.
As a side note, keep in mind that chewing food that has some consistency (not too soft) is also important for your teeth: you are giving them a mini work-out so they stay in shape.