“Slow down!” “Chew your food!” Sound familiar? Like most of us, you’ve probably heard these words from your parents or other family members. For a long time, people have advised others to eat slowly and chew their food more thoroughly. However, people rarely understand the benefit to eating slowly, and only see the request as one for better manners, and therefore the advice is often brushed off or completely ignored. Although eating slowly may be proper etiquette, recent studies suggest there is a correlation between eating slowly and life expectancy.
Dating as far back as 3,000 years ago, the system of medicine in India called Ayurveda already promoted the slow and thorough chewing of food. They believe that doing this allows better digestion, as chewing well helps break down food so necessary nutrients are properly-absorbed by the body.
The idea has gotten further studies in more recent times – many nutritional and medical experts have delved into it in various published papers. These studies point to nearly the same thing: eating slowly and chewing food well leaves a bold impact on digestive health.
Does Eating Speed Impact Life Expectancy and Other Factors?
According to data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), people in France often spend the most time eating and drinking in a day (average of 2 hours and 13 minutes); Italy and Spain are not too far behind (averages of 2 hours and 7 minutes, and 2 hours and 6 minutes respectively). These are a stark contrast to the United States (average of 1 hour and 2 minutes).
When comparing the amount of time spent eating to life expectancy data from the World Health Organization (WHO), there seems to be a direct correlation. Those who take their time over meals i.e. eat more slowly have a higher life expectancy.
While the US average life expectancy is around 79 years, there are at least 25 other countries whose life expectancy is 80 years or greater, including the European countries mentioned previously. In addition, the US spends on healthcare 16.9% of the gross domestic product (GDP). Compared to other countries that spend less than 10% on health, the US rank for health expenditures is also disappointingly high.
Several Studies Back This Data
Several studies back up this data, pointing to either better life expectancy, or simply better general health. A study titled “The number of chews and meal duration affect diet‐induced thermogenesis and splanchnic circulation” published in 2014 suggests that chewing slowly to the point of liquefaction helps the body burn more calories during digestion – about 10 additional calories for a 300-calorie meal. Inversely, eating quickly barely burns any calories at all.
A separate study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people with obesity have the tendency to chew their food fewer times compared to lean people, even when both would eat the same thing and bite the same amount of food.
Another 2008 study by Japanese researchers, presented at the American Heart Association’s (AHA) Scientific Sessions, hypothesizes that people who eat more slowly are less likely to become obese or develop metabolic syndrome compared to fast eaters. Tracking peoples’ eating and health over a five-year period, the study found a clear connection between eating habits and the development of metabolic syndrome.
Dr. Nieca Goldberg, AHA spokesperson and cardiologist at New York University Langone Health, stated a possible reason behind it. “You probably do eat more because you’re eating so quickly. You really don’t have any idea of what you’ve eaten,” Goldberg said. “When you eat slowly, you’re much more aware of your eating. You’re chewing your food properly and you’re also slowing down digestion.” She suggested people should only eat in places and situations conducive to eating, such as the dining room, kitchen, or at a restaurant.
While a person’s pace of eating and chewing is not the sole factor for body weight issues or benefits, taking the time to chew food is generally a good idea.
Other Benefits of Eating Slowly
Eating slower is a simple yet powerful act that can create bold impacts on one’s health and lifestyle. Taking smaller bites, chewing each bite longer and more slowly allows a person to experience the following benefits:
- Weight Loss
Several studies, some mentioned above, have confirmed how eating slower means consuming fewer calories. By eating slowly, it sort of “tricks” the brain into registering that the body’s feeling more full – eating slowly allows a person to realize they’re getting filled up so they can stop on time.
- Food Enjoyment
It’s hard to enjoy food if it just passes through the mouth without truly tasting it. Eating food should be enjoyable and eating more slowly allows you to truly taste what you are ingesting. When you taste your food, you may also need less food to feel satisfied.
- Better Digestion
As mentioned previously, chewing food thoroughly leads to better digestion. But digestion does not begin in the stomach – it starts in the mouth. This means the more effort a person exerts in chewing their food, the less the stomach and intestines have to do, thus leading to fewer digestive problems, including less bloating.
- Experience Less Stress
Paying attention to what one eats allows people to live in the moment rather than rushing through the meal. It’s a mindfulness technique, which can lead to less stress rather than a mindless state of ingesting sustenance just because you “have” to eat.
In today’s hectic and fast-paced lives, eating slowly and chewing food well has many benefits above and beyond good table manners. Slow down, enjoy your food and reap the benefits.