Slow Eating

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In diabetes-oriented and even general health publications, it is common to read about the importance of eating foods that are digested and metabolized slowly. One measure of this is the glycemic index, which indicates how much or how little a carbohydrate-containing food is likely to raise your blood glucose level. But it turns out that while digestion and metabolism are important, how quickly you chew and swallow may also have a significant impact on your health.

According to a study presented at this year’s International Congress of Endocrinology (held May 5–9 in Florence, Italy), eating more quickly may be a factor in the development of Type 2 diabetes. The study, conducted in Lithuania, examined 234 adults with Type 2 diabetes and 468 without diabetes. According to a Daily Mail (UK) article on the study, each participant was given a questionnaire that covered a variety of topics including diet, exercise, and smoking status. One question asked simply whether participants ate more slowly, more quickly, or at about the same speed as other people. Those who indicated a faster eating speed were two-and-a-half times likelier to have diabetes than those who indicated an average or slower eating speed.

There are, of course, limitations to a study of this size and type, since it both relies on questionnaires for its key data and is not randomized in any way. Even a study with a more scientific mechanism for measuring eating speed — say, one in which participants are given standard meals and observed — could not determine a causal link between eating quickly and developing diabetes: It could be that some underlying trait, such as some hormonal effect, for instance, leads independently to both a ravenous appetite and diabetes. But given what is known about the importance of slow digestion and metabolism of food in regulating blood glucose levels, it seems logical that the speed of eating could play a role, as well.

So how can you eat more slowly? Some writers suggest simply slowing down and taking more bites. Choosing foods that are more difficult to chew and swallow — such as granola over instant oatmeal — may also help slow down eating. Foods that are harder to chew and swallow are often less processed and thus may also have a better nutrient profile — and possibly a lower glycemic index — than easy-to-chew foods.

Have you paid attention to how quickly you eat, compared with those around you? If so, have you made an effort to slow down? Did you succeed at maintaining a slower pace? What kinds of food do you personally find lead to faster, or slower, eating? Leave a comment below!

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