For a while now we've been told the importance of mindful eating – savouring our food and eating slowly by paying attention to our levels of hunger and fullness. It's been touted as a form of meditation through food that's good for our minds and bodies.
To some, taking time to appreciate how our food tastes, feels and looks may sound as faddy as the rest of what's been marketed as "wellness". But a new study has highlighted the very real health risks of gulping down our food.
Researchers from Hiroshima University in Japan found that fast eaters are more likely to become obese or develop metabolic syndrome, both of which are closely linked to heart disease, diabetes and stroke. For the research, presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2017 last week, they followed 642 men and 441 women, with an average age of 51.2 years, over five years and classified them as either a slow, normal or fast eater.
Metabolic syndrome is diagnosed when someone shows evidence of three risk factors, which may include abdominal obesity (excess fat around the middle), high fasting blood sugar, high blood pressure, high levels of bad fats (triglycerides) and/or low HDL cholesterol (aka "good cholesterol"), the researchers said.
No participants had metabolic syndrome before the study, but by the end the fast eaters were 11.6% more likely to have developed it than the normal eaters (6.5%) or slow eaters (2.3%). Those who gulped down their food also gained more weight, had higher blood glucose and larger waistlines. Yikes.
"Eating more slowly may be a crucial lifestyle change to help prevent metabolic syndrome," said Takayuki Yamaji, M.D., a cardiologist at Hiroshima University and author of the study. "When people eat fast they tend not to feel full and are more likely to overeat. Eating fast causes bigger glucose fluctuation, which can lead to insulin resistance."
Chewing slowly and more often is the most obvious way to prolong a meal, along with talking between mouthfuls (not during) and not being completely ravenous when you eat. Being distracted during mealtimes – by our phones, the TV, our office computer – also means we can end up paying our food less attention, so perhaps it's time to actually give mindful eating a chance?
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