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The many benefits of eating slowly

Daniel Couglin / 22 February 2018 ( 12 January 2022 )

Always wolfing down your meals? Find out why people who eat at a leisurely pace tend to weigh less.

Eat slowly
Find out how eating less quickly can help you lose excess weight.

Researchers at Japan’s Kyushu University tracked the eating habits of 60,000 people with type 2 diabetes over a six-year period, and discovered that participants who chewed their food for longer and paused between bites had healthier body mass indexes (BMIs) and leaner waistlines.

The findings are backed up by a growing body of research, which suggests that people who eat slower basically eat less. “Studies consistently show that a slower eating rate leads to a reduced energy intake at the meal,” says Susan Jebb, Professor of Diet and Population Health at Oxford University.

We take a look at how eating less quickly can help you lose excess weight, and reveal the other myriad health benefits of slow eating.

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Speed-eating society

The fast pace of life these days means we don’t always have time to sit down at the dinner table and enjoy a relaxed, unhurried meal.

In fact, surveys show the average Briton eats breakfast in under six minutes, lunch in eight minutes, and dinner in just 10 minutes. Back in the 1960s when obesity rates in the UK were 20% lower, the typical family spent around half an hour eating their evening meal.

20-minute rule

It takes 20 minutes from the moment you begin eating for your stomach to signal to your brain that it's satiated. “When we eat too fast we don’t give our brains enough time to realise we’re full and usually end up eating way more than we need in the process,” says top nutritionist Dr Michelle Storfer.

Devoting at least 20 minutes to your mealtimes could work wonders on your waistline, particularly if your eyes are prone to being too big for your belly, and you have a tendency to go overboard.

Chewing slowly

Slow eating is all about chewing food thoroughly, but few of us actually do. A 2010 survey by the fast food chain Subway showed the average person in Britain chews their food just six times before swallowing it.

Ideally, you should chew soft foods around seven or eight times, and denser or harder foods such as meats and raw vegetables up to 30 times according to researchers in the US.

Dropping pounds

In addition to taking your time to eat, chewing your food for longer can help you lose weight. A study conducted in 2011 by researchers at Harbin Medical University in China reported that slimmers who chewed each mouthful of food 40 times ate significantly less and dropped more pounds that participants who masticated each mouthful only 15 times.

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Choking risk

Far more importantly, chewing your food properly will reduce your risk of choking. Worrying figures issued by the Office for National Statistics showed that choking deaths in the UK surged by 17%  in 2016.

As many as 85% of the deaths were caused by choking on food. The over-60s made up three-quarters of choking deaths in 2016, with men more at risk than women.

Learn more about dysphagia

Digestive health

Failing to chew food well can cause indigestion and constipation.

Devouring meals at breakneck speed and failing to chew each mouthful thoroughly won't do your digestion any favours at all. “Eating too quickly, overeating and not chewing your food properly can contribute to digestive health problems,” says leading gastroenterologist Dr Anton Emmanuel.

Chewing breaks down large chunks of food into smaller particles, as do the enzymes in your saliva, which puts less stress on the stomach. Failing to chew food well can cause indigestion and constipation, particularly in people with digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and eating too fast can cause you to swallow air excessively, leading to belching and bloating.

10 foods that are easy to digest

Absorbing nutrients

The stomach and small intestine struggle to absorb nutrients from foods that haven't been broken down properly.

Rushing mealtimes may also lead to nutritional deficiencies in some people. The stomach and small intestine struggle to absorb nutrients from foods that haven't been broken down properly.

These foods simply pass out of the digestive system pretty much intact and their nutrients get flushed down the toilet. Chewing each mouthful properly will ensure your body absorbs optimal nutrients from the food you eat, another good reason to slow things down.

Food poisoning

Your body has powerful defences to protect against dangerous pathogens, and believe it or not, saliva, which has antibacterial properties, is among the most potent. The more you chew your food, the more saliva the glands in your mouth pump out, reducing your risk of contracting food poisoning.

It is the enzymes in the saliva that kill bacteria. They reduce the bacterial load on the stomach, which produces pathogen-killing gastric acid to finish the job, and cut the overall chance of food-borne illness.

How to spot the symptoms of food poisoning

Oral health

Saliva also plays an important role in oral health by killing bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum disease. As eating slowly and chewing food stimulate the production of saliva, taking your time over breakfast, lunch and dinner can make for improved oral health.

On top of that, the act of chewing strengthens the jaw, plus chewing on fibrous foods mimics brushing by scraping away plaque and food particles from the teeth, bolstering teeth and gum health.

Oral health: how it affects both body and mind

Mindful eating

Given the many benefits of slow eating, it's no wonder more and more people are getting into so-called mindful eating, which involves taking your time, paying attention to what you eat and how if makes you feel, and savouring every single bite.

Whether you embrace mindful eating or just make a point of spending more time to chew your food before it goes down the hatch, your health and wellbeing are likely to benefit, so do try to take it nice and slowly next time you dine.

A quick guide to mindfulness

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.