Sitting down for slow, relaxed meals while savouring our food is the ideal way to eat. But do we all do this, all of the time? In our busy world, that’s not always possible. Many of us wolf down work lunches while sitting at our desks, grab snacks on the go, or rush our food at home before heading out. These habits lead to us eating our food at an alarming speed. It may have taken 30 minutes to cook, but it’s gone in under 10.
Is eating too fast bad for your health? The answer is a resounding YES!
Digestion doesn’t begin in the stomach; it doesn’t even begin in the mouth – it begins with the three senses: sight, smell, and touch. When we see, smell and touch attractive-looking food, the brain initiates a response by releasing saliva and amylase into the mouth, hydrochloric acid into the stomach, pancreatic enzymes from the pancreas, bile from the liver/gallbladder and speeds up transit time to empty the bowel to make room for what’s coming down.
When the food does make it into your mouth, chewing is extremely important. I always tell people that the stomach doesn’t have teeth, so don’t send large clumps of food into the stomach – chew it so that it’s like a paste first. Chewing is particularly important if you take antacids, as this means that you are already low in stomach acid.
Saliva contains enzymes that break down starches and fats, so not chewing your food for long enough means you’re missing out on part of the first digestive process.
Fast eating is linked to several digestive health issues, such as acid reflux, bloating, and abdominal cramps. The stomach cannot cope with large chunks of food, so it doesn’t get digested properly, and when we gobble up our food too fast, or if we eat in a stressed state, we take in more air, which produces more gas, causing bloating.
As well as digestive discomfort, failing to chew your food properly may mean you’re not making the most of whatever you’ve consumed. Once swallowed, food moves to the gut, where digestive juices and enzymes break it down further, and if food hasn’t been broken down sufficiently by chewing, then these steps are under pressure and fewer nutrients may be extracted. Symptoms of nutrient deficiency can include unexplained fatigue, hair loss, weight loss, dry mouth, and increased bruising.
Speed eating makes it harder to recognise feeling full. The brain needs time to receive messages from the stomach about how full it is and eating fast can interfere with that messaging system. You’re less likely to eat intuitively if you can’t tell how full or hungry you are.
It takes a full 20 minutes for the stomach to register fullness and suppress the hunger hormone ghrelin.
If we eat too fast, the brain also becomes less accurate at measuring what we’ve eaten previously that day, so we’re more likely to overeat at the next meal. Over time, our body forgets the true sensations of fullness, sending inaccurate messages to the brain instead. This all sounds very complicated, I know, but the essence of what I’m trying to get across, is the importance of chewing. Don’t neglect it. The simple action of chewing properly brings about fundamental improvements in overall health.
A little helping hand
Sometimes, however slowly and carefully we chew our food, we can still feel a little bit gassy or bloated after eating, particularly when we have overindulged or eaten rich foods or just something different to usual. That’s why I always recommend having some of my Digestive Enzymes tablets on hand. Take one before lunch and one before dinner to help with the digestion and absorption of nutrients.
Eating more mindfully
Mindful eating involves creating a relaxing atmosphere to eat meals in – this can be as simple as clearing clutter and taking a few deep breaths before digging in, to let our body know that it’s time to enter digestion mode. It’s then important to chew properly and savour each bite, which allows you to fully appreciate your food. Stress can negatively impact digestion, so taking time to chill out before each meal will have a positive effect on your gut.
I learned these eight rules for eating right when I was training at the Viva Mayr clinic in Austria, and they have held true ever since:
- Take enough time, at least half an hour!
- Serve foods attractively
- Eat slowly, in comfort and leisure
- Take small bites
- Chew carefully and mix every bite with saliva. Food chewed well is food half digested.
- Savour every bite
- Concentrate on eating
- Free yourself from distractions and disturbances (newspapers, conversation, television/screens = poison!)
- Make sure the bite of false teeth is aligned. Good dentures are better than your own bad teeth!
If you have any questions about a digestive and gut issue, please get in touch.