Diet blog: fast food

Judith Wills / 29 November 2017

Our diet expert looks at research that shows eating too quickly piles on the pounds.



For years, we’ve been told that eating too much fast food makes you fat and is not good for your health.  But there is another type of fast food that is just as bad for us, but which you may cook yourself at home and could just be packed with good ingredients.

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What I’m talking about is food that you eat too fast.  Nearly ten years ago a major report on a large four-year study was published linking ‘gobbling’ our food with a trebling in risk of being overweight.  And last week out came a new report* on a five-year study of people in middle age that says the risk of obesity, and other health problems such as diabetes and heart disease, is increased by a huge 5.5 times if we eat too quickly.

And another study from the USA found that 'mindful eating' – savouring every mouthful and concentrating on the food to eat more slowly – helped people lose six times as much weight as other slimmers, and the slower eaters kept the weight off for much longer, too.

No calorie counting or worrying about grams of fat or carbs, no avoiding food groups or feeling hungry. All we have to do is sit and eat our food as slowly as we can.

So for people who want to watch their weight and stay health, slow eating could just be the new best thing – no calorie counting or worrying about grams of fat or carbs, no avoiding food groups or feeling hungry.  All we have to do is sit and eat our food as slowly as we can.

But why does it work?  The latest report says eating too fast means that we eat more than we need because we don’t get to feel full in time (an idea that has been around many decades but not properly researched).  It takes about 15 - 20 minutes for the brain to register that you are full, and this feedback (if you’ll forgive the pun) comes from hormones and nerve signals from the stomach.  So if you’re meal is gone in a few minutes you’re still going to feel hungry and be tempted to carry on eating. 

The tips that help us to eat more slowly (see below) may also help the feeling full process in other ways – for example, high-fibre foods are less quickly broken down in the digestive system and thus keep you feeling full for much longer than low-fibre foods.  As a bonus, you should save money on your food bill, as by slow eating you shouldn’t be wanting to return to the stove for seconds (or you can make the recipe a little smaller in the first place!).

My top tips for slow eating

  • Take smaller mouthfuls. 
  • Put your fork/spoon/knife down between each bite. 
  • If you prefer not to use utensils but eat with your hands, reconsider. People who eat from hand to mouth tend to eat much more quickly than those who cut up their food with knife and fork.
  • When you can, choose food that you do need to eat on a plate and with utensils.  So a ready salad rather than a sandwich, for example.
  • Eat highly-textured foods, e.g. wholegrain bread instead of white, crunchy nut and seed muesli rather than cornflakes, to slow down the amount of time it take to empty your mouth at every bite. 
  • Include some raw items on your plate; these take a lot of chewing and will greatly increase the time you take to eat.
  • Eat with other people.  If you sit and chat, laugh, and so on you eat slowly – that’s why a supper party meal can stretch to hours.  Recent research shows that eating alone increases the risk of obesity.
  • Really concentrate on chewing each mouthful thoroughly, and don’t swallow until it is properly chewed. 
  • Have a glass of water with your food.  Take regular sips.
  • Include foods on your plate that need some ‘doctoring’  before you eat them, for example prawns with the shell on, or items that need cutting, such as a steak, rather than mince.
  • Make your meal as flavoursome as you can – enjoying a good flavour will slow you down, too.

*Hiroshima University

How to make a slow-meal pumpkin soup

Husband cooked a pumpkin soup with one of our home-grown pumpkins and the last of our onions.  It was so simple and delicious.  Liquid meals such as soups and stews can be fine on a slow eating regime as all that liquid means the bowl may be more full than with a totally dry meal.  And if you leave a few lumps in your soup rather than fine pureeing it, you can get a bit of chewing in.  As I wasn’t cooking I didn’t dare ask for that but it all worked out fine as we added some superb rye sourdough bread from our local award-winning baker, Alex Gooch.  Full of flavour and chewiness, it was the perfect accompaniment. 

For four servings, you just de-seed and cut up a medium pumpkin (orange-fleshed sort) or very large butternut squash, brush with extra virgin rapeseed oil, season and roast for 30-40 minutes, turning once, then get the flesh off the skin.  Meanwhile saute some onion in more oil over medium heat until tender and just tinged golden, then roughly purée the vegetables in a blender with about a litre of vegetable stock and a cup of milk.  That is the basic recipe – you can add spices or flavourings to your taste but it doesn’t really need them.  We just added some grated Cheddar and a dollop of natural bio yogurt.  Serve with good, crusty proper sourdough bread.

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