It's not (just) what you eat...

How and when we eat matters almost as much as what we eat. Traditional medicine systems like the Chinese and Ayurvedic disciplines agree that we should eat well at breakfast and lunchtime, and lightly in the evening a few hours before going to bed. The complete opposite, in fact, of a typical Western pattern these days. And eating slowly matters too; more modern approaches like naturopathy and macrobiotics advise chewing each mouthful up to 40 times, and the practice of mindfulness advocates really noticing and savouring what we’re putting into our mouths.

But you can’t do that if you’re eating a sandwich at your desk, bolting your breakfast before rushing out in the morning, or snacking in the afternoon because your blood sugar is low and you won’t have supper before 8pm. Sound familiar? We all do it sometimes, but new studies have shown that if we make a habit of it, we are putting ourselves at risk of becoming overweight, and developing health problems like acid reflux, diabetes, heart disease and strokes. It’s a high price to pay for saving a few minutes here and there.

When we eat more slowly, the signals from our stomachs that tell us we’ve had enough can reach our brains before we’ve already eaten too much. If we chew for longer, the digestive enzymes in our saliva have time to start breaking down the food, so our stomachs don’t have to work so hard. The result is a happy digestive system, especially if we eat while doing something pleasant like socialising, rather than worrying about work. And taking it slowly means that we take in fewer calories without having to deliberately cut down. Really, it’s a win all ways round.

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