Is eating too quickly bad for your health?

Fast food: wolfing it down can lead to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Do you savour mealtimes or do you wolf your food down? Eating at your desk or on the run can mean you can gulp down your breakfast or lunch in less than five minutes. And this means you are more likely to get obese or develop metabolic syndrome, both of which increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke, says research presented at last week’s American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2017.

The researchers from Hiroshima University in Japan followed up 642 men and 441 women over five years, identifying them as either slow, normal or fast eaters. They found that fast eaters were 11.6% more likely to have developed metabolic syndrome – defined as having any of three risk factors out of obesity (around the waistline), high blood pressure, high levels of bad fats (triglycerides) and high blood sugar after a period of fasting.

The solution

The link between eating quickly and becoming unhealthy has been known for a while. When you eat quickly, the body doesn’t get a chance to signal to the brain that you are getting full. Receptors in the stomach that respond to being stretched by food, and the hormones that signal to the brain that partially digested food has made it to the small intestine, can take 15 to 20 minutes to kick in.

A study of more than 3,000 men and women in Japan (where studying the impact of speedy eating is popular) found that those who ate quickly and continued until they were full were three times more likely to be overweight than those who ate more slowly. Faster eaters may also get more acid reflux than slower ones – a study of 10 healthy people asked to eat a 690-calorie meal in either five or 30 minutes found that those who ate faster had 12.5 episodes of reflux compared with 8.5 in those who ate more slowly.

Another study, from China, found that people reduce their calorie intake by more than 10% if they chew their food 40 times compared with 15 times. And a further study, in which 30 young women were given large plates of pasta and asked to eat quickly, showed that while they consumed 649 calories in nine minutes, this fell to 579 when they were told to chew the food up to 20 times.

Chewing more helps to digest your food – your saliva has enzymes that both lubricate and start digesting what you eat – and allows your taste buds to “notice” the meal. To eat more slowly, talk between mouthfuls (not during them), reduce your pace to match the slowest eater at the table and don’t wait to be starving before you get food. You can also sip water.


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