Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Eat slowly, eat well, with friends and\or family

In our fast paced world eating has taken on a utilitarian aspect that is not doing us any good at all. We read the labels for nutrients, we pop pills for health, we eat on the run, we avoid unhealthy foods, we have turned eating into a chore when it should be a pleasure.

Even supermarkets are now selling various supplements, foods are fortified with this and that, purportedly claiming superior health from eating these fortified foods. The evidence for this is scant. What epidemiological studies show is that you don't need a "scientifically" determined eating plan but rather observing some simple rules for eating healthily.

The French Paradox remains unresolved. Basically it goes like this: the French eat a great many unhealthy foods yet have markedly lower rates of the types of diseases that pervade many Western countries. The French enjoy their food, eat as a social event not as an intrusion on a busy life. They take time to enjoy their food, eat much more slowly than us, and enjoy their meals.

Now consider how many of us eat: we agonise of the right balance of foods to optimise health, we eat lunch quickly so that we have more time to enjoy our lunch break before going back to the grind, we get home from work and are so tired we slap dash something together and gulp it down while watching TV or on the internet instead of using meal time as a chance to socialise and unwind.

This latest study from the BMJ highlights a problem with our eating style. It found that eating quickly and until we are full is a risk factor for obesity. No surprises there. The feeling of being full arises when food reaches the stomach, hormones are released which signal that we have had enough to eat. However if we eat quickly the hormonal message doesn't begin to function until we have over eating. This is because it takes time for food to reach the stomach. The other problem with eating quickly is that we tend to insufficiently chew our food. This prevents nutrient absorption.

We need to change our eating habits. We need to return to the habits of enjoying eating rather than treating it as a scientific exercise. We need to eat with others, take our time, enjoy our meals, and stop obsessing about food and nutrients.

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