Slow Food

By Parul Kharod

In this era of fast paced lives, we want everything to be quick. Everyone is busy and no one has time. Our calendars are packed with activities. In fact, people are so busy that they either have no time to eat or they shove food into their mouths whenever they can spare a few minutes here and there through the day. While your busy schedule may make you feel very accomplished, have you ever considered what it does to your body?

Studies have shown that eating too fast can lead to a variety of health risks including indigestion and upset stomach, acid reflux, loss of natural hunger and satiety cues, and longer-term problems such as weight gain, poor blood sugar control which may increase risk of diabetes, and increased risk of heart disease.

Therefore, we need to start paying attention to not only what type of food we eat but also the speed with which we eat.

Slow Eating - Benefits of Chewing Slowly

According to Ayurveda, we should be chewing every bite 32 times! While that may not seem entirely practical, it does help to be mindful of how fast you are eating. When we start chewing, there are digestive enzymes released in the mouth.

When food is not chewed well, it does not have the opportunity to mix with the facultative anaerobic bacteria that live in our mouth and on the tongue. These bacteria can reduce the nitrates in food to nitrites in the mouth. When the nitrites are swallowed, they are further reduced by gastric acid to nitric oxide. Nitric Oxide is one of the most important molecules for blood vessel health. It's a vasodilator, meaning it relaxes the inner muscles of your blood vessels, causing the vessels to widen. In this way, nitric oxide increases blood flow and lowers blood pressure. Thus, prolonged chewing has a direct impact on heart health.

When food is chewed, the absorption is safe and slow. This prevents blood sugar fluctuations which can improve hormone balance. It helps with satiety and prevents acid reflux.

When we eat fast, it also messes up the hunger and satiety signals. The brain and stomach are directly connected. Signals flow from our brain to stomach and vice versa. When the stomach gets empty, it triggers a hormone called Ghrelin. This hormone travels to the brain and makes us aware that we need to eat. This is what we know as hunger. When our stomach starts getting fuller, it releases another hormone called Leptin.

Now the signal to the brain is to let us know that we can stop eating. When we are born, we have a very acute sense of these hunger-satiety signals, which is why babies will refuse to drink even one extra drop of milk once they are full. As we grow older, we slowly become less attuned to these signals. It takes about 20 minutes for these signals to travel from the stomach to the brain. So, if you eat too fast, you may not realize you are full, and eat a larger portion. This can lead to weight gain.

How to Slow Down while Eating

• Eat sitting down, without distractions. Do not eat in your car or while standing up. Instead, sit down at the table and try to eat mindfully.
• Take small bites and chew thoroughly. Avoid putting another bite of food in your mouth while still chewing the prior bite. Take a few seconds between bites.
• Eat at the table with your family. Have conversations while eating. If you are eating alone, put on some music and enjoy your food.

Slow Food Movement

Over the past few decades, there has been more research about how we grow food and the industrialization of food. The global food production system is based on intensive agriculture, which relies on synthetic pesticides and fertilizers to produce highly processed, calorie-dense foods packed with additives, preservatives, sugars, and saturated fats. This is creating imbalances in environmental, economic, and social dynamics, particularly in more vulnerable countries, generating many public health problems like obesity and malnutrition. The fast foods created with artificial chemicals, artificial colors, and artificial sweeteners are destroying our health as well as the health of our planet.

The Slow Food Movement is working to promote production, processing, and consumption models that are as sustainable and healthy as possible for both individuals and the planet. For more information, visit Slowfood.com.

April 22 is celebrated annually as Earth Day. This Earth Day, take a pledge to eat responsibly to improve your own health, reduce waste, and lower your carbon footprint. Try to move toward a plant-based diet, cook your own meals, and slow down!

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Parul Kharod, MS, RD, LDN is a registered dietitian and licensed nutritionist and works as a Clinical Dietitian with Outpatient Nutrition Services at WakeMed Hospital in Cary and Raleigh. She can be reached at parulkharod@gmail.com