When it comes to eating, the general advice is that slower is better since eating quickly has been associated with health risks. However, this rule "probably isn't as definitive or universal as it first seems," Katherine Wu writes for The Atlantic, with some experts saying the benefits of eating slowly may be a "half-truth" at best.
Over the last few decades, several studies have found that people who eat quickly are more likely to consume more calories and weigh more than those who eat at a slower pace. Speedy eating has also been associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure and diabetes.
"The data are very robust," said Kathleen Melanson, from the University of Rhode Island. These findings have also held up when researchers analyzed data from participants across age, gender, and geography.
According to health experts, eating more quickly could have negative health impacts because of "the potential mismatch between the rate at which we consume nutrients and the rate at which we perceive and process them," Wu writes.
Generally, our brain needs a series of cues from the digestive tract, including chewing the mouth, swallowing, distention in the stomach, and movement into the small intestine, before it can register fullness. If you eat a lot of food quickly, your body may not be able to process these cues fast enough.
In addition, Michio Shimabukuro, a metabolism researcher at Fukushima Medical University in Japan, said that eating quickly may also significantly raise sugar levels in the blood, which could lead to insulin resistance and then diabetes.
Although there is a "widespread mantra of go slower" when it comes to eating, it "probably isn't as definitive or universal as it first seems," Wu writes.
According to Janine Higgins, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, many of the ideas surrounding the benefits or detriments of certain eating speeds are still theoretical.
Most of the studies on eating speeds are observational rather than clinical trials, so they can only indicate associations rather than definitive cause of certain health risks. There's also no universal definition of what "slow" or "fast" eating is or how to measure it accurately. In general, a person's perception of their eating, as well as how long it takes their body to feel full, will vary depending on several factors.
Even among experts, "there is no consensus about the benefits of eating slow," said Tany Garcidueñas-Fimbres, a nutrition researcher at Universitat Rovira i Virgili in Spain.
Overall, the benefits of eating slowly may be "a half truth" at best, according to Matthew Hayes, a nutritional neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania.
Although there isn't definitive evidence about which eating speed is better for people's health, there are still circumstances where eating more slowly can be beneficial.
Eating slowly can reduce the risk of choking, as well as excess gas. It could also reduce blood-sugar spikes among people who eat large amounts of processed foods. Some studies of people with high BMIs also suggest that eating slower can help with weight loss, though this finding will not necessarily apply to everybody.
In addition, rather than focusing on chewing rates or bite size when it comes to eating slowly, it might be more beneficial to help people eat more mindfully. In many countries, people are often pressured to "be done with lunch really fast," said Herman Pontzer, an anthropologist at Duke University, which often leads to people feeling less satisfied after they eat.
"A lot of us are distracted when we eat," said Fatima Cody Stanford, an obesity medicine physician at Massachusetts General Hospital. "And so we are missing our hunger and satiety cues."
In the end, while "eat slow" can be helpful advice in some cases, it shouldn't be a "blanket command," Wu writes, and people should eat in a way that works best for them. (Wu, The Atlantic, 5/22)
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