My grandma used to say, “Eat slowly, with small bites, so that you digest your food.” She was partly right.
Unfortunately, we humans are quite efficient at digesting our food regardless of how quickly we eat it. Whether we chew well or not, our bodies will still extract nutrients from the food further down our intestinal tract. Had hasty eating been detrimental to digestion, we’d be a very thin nation.
But Grandma was oh so right about the other part: Eat slowly does make a difference. There’s evidence that the speed with which we eat can have an impact on the amount of calories we consume and how quickly we feel full.
Researchers are trying to get to the bottom of the satiety phenomenon, understand its underlying mechanism and how it relates to the consistency of food, rate of intake and the oral pleasure food gives us.
A new neat study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looks at the effect of bite size and the time that a food morsel spends in the mouth on food intake. The Dutch group, led by Cees de Graff, tested 22 healthy, normal-weight volunteers seven separate times under different conditions to see how much chocolate custard they could eat until they were full.
Each subject ate first with a “free” bite size—a portion size that they determined—and swallowed that bite at any pace they wanted. The group then went through other variations: a free bite size with three seconds in the mouth before swallowing, a free bite size with nine seconds in the mouth before swallowing, a measured small bite size (five grams or roughly a teaspoon) with three seconds in the mouth before swallowing, a small bite size with nine seconds in the mouth before swallowing, a measured large bite size (15 grams, resembling a soup spoon) with three seconds in the mouth before swallowing and large bite size with nine seconds in the mouth before swallowing.
All sessions were conducted at lunchtime or dinnertime, on a fairly empty stomach with at least three hours of no food before the test, and tests were separated with at least one day of non-testing between them.
The results were very clear: a smaller bite size led to lower intake. Details:
• Mean intake in the small bite experiment was 381 grams for the three-second mouth-transit time and 313 grams for the nine-second mouth-transit time.
• Mean intake in the large bite experiment was 476 grams for the three-second mouth-transit time and 432 grams for the nine-second mouth-transit time.
Large bites prompted the volunteers to eat about 100 gram more (or about extra 100 calories in chocolate custard) before satiety set in.
The results clearly show the time the food spent in the volunteers’ mouth also made a difference; they ate more when the oral exposure was three seconds rather than nine seconds.
These results should of course be taken in context: the volunteers ate under experimental conditions, using only one food item that was semi-solid, but there are other studies to support the advice to eat with small bites, slowly, with as much oral sensory exposure in order to feel more satisfied with less food. You can read more on eating quickly and the risk of obesity here.
Your moment of Zen
Health and weight reasons aside, eating slowly and leisurely can be a reprieve from our rushed lives, and can have a profound effect on our well-being.
Carlo Petrini the founder of the International Slow Food Movement famously said: “The quest for slowness, which begins as a simple rebellion against the impoverishment of taste in our lives, makes it possible to rediscover taste.”
I think there’s nothing like a family meal to get all members of the family to eat slower. Eventually. When my kids were very small, our family meals weren’t leisurely at all for us parents. By the time I got to my own plate, the babies were not interested in sitting for much longer, and I found that I ate so fast that at times I hardly felt the taste of the food.
But as the kids grew up they got accustomed to what a meal should be like, and since they had a notion that mid-week meals will take at least 30 minutes, and weekend ones much longer, they stopped asking to be excused and learned to make the most out of it. They began to enjoy the food and each other’s company.
Any advice on how to eat more leisurely? Please share.