Childhood Obesity: Another Point for the Crackpots


Yesterday we outlined the beliefs of Horace Fletcher, whose system of chewing food until it was liquified, known as fletcherizing, transformed his own life and, reportedly, the lives of those who followed his ideas. The U.S. Government flirted with the notion of feeding the troops less and ordering them to fletcherize, and when World War I ended, he taught his method to refugees in famine-struck postwar Europe.

Many years later, A.J. Jacobs, author of The Year of Living Biblically, had occasion to remember Fletcher when he read an article in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition about a study where the subjects chewed almonds for different amounts of time.

The basic premises were laid out at the beginning of the report:

Background: Epidemiologic and clinical data indicate that nuts can be incorporated into the diet without compromising body weight. This has been attributed to strong satiety properties, increased resting energy expenditure, and limited lipid bioaccessibility.

Objective: The role of mastication was explored because of evidence that the availability of nut lipids is largely dependent on the mechanical fracture of their cell walls.

The result, as Jacobs reports:

[S]howed that when people chewed almonds at least 25 times, they absorbed more unsaturated fat (the good kind of fat) than those who chewed only 10 times.

Already familiar with Fletcher’s theories, Jacobs knew that the maestro was capable of taking 45 minutes to fletcherize a single apple. Willing to plunge wholeheartedly into the experiment, the author decided to try chewing each of his own bites of food 100 times:

Which quickly turned out to be insane. First, it’s really hard. You have to suppress the urge to swallow. After about seven chews, food really wants to slide down your throat. I watched a how-to-chew YouTube video (yes, there are several) that recommended closing your throat. But I’m not sure how to do that without asphyxiating.

On the second day, I cut down to 50 chews per bite, which is still quite a lot… Chewing more releases extra flavor and allows a heightened sensation of texture, especially in bland foods. […] Before my experiment, I averaged about six or seven chews per mouthful. Now I’m at 15. I may not be a zealot, but I’m a believer.

Jacobs did more research, and discovered that Ellie Krieger, the dietitian who hosts a TV show called “Healthy Appetite,” is also on board with the thorough-chewing regime. The people who promote the macrobiotic diet are also familiar with Fletcher.

A PDF file called “The Art of Chewing” is available, written by Verne Varona, which elucidates a couple of clues about what Fletcher was onto. For starters, the reason why people today are not enthusiastic about fletcherizing might be because there is so much processed food laden with weird filler substances and chemicals. Varona says:

Chewing enables us to distinguish the refined and fake from the real. Real food should become tastier and naturally sweeter the more it is chewed and mixed with saliva… Many people chew with a fixed gaze, chomping up and down. Yet the human jaw is unique in its ability to operate in all directions, especially in a sideways grinding motion.

That second quotation includes the implication that we humans were given this special ability for a reason, and, to our detriment, are under-utilizing it. Fletcher himself was more concerned with extracting all the available nutrients from our food, and only secondarily with weight loss per se. But research from China upholds his weight-loss claims nonetheless.

(To be continued…)

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “An Overachieving Underchewer,”, March 2010
Source: “Mastication of almonds: effects of lipid bioaccessibility, appetite, and hormone response,”, 01/14/09
Image by Liz West.

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