How you eat matters for your health as much as what you eat

by | Sep 10, 2023 | Nutrition

How we eat can have a greater effect on health than what we eat. Slowly or quickly? Do we savor our food or eat while working? Alone or in company? How we consume food has an impact not only on our enjoyment of the meal but also on our health.

Fast eating leads to digestive problems, overeating, dissatisfaction with food, and overall lower quality of life. Conversely, when we savor food with all our senses, we may experience greater satisfaction with our meals, better digestion, lower weight, and fewer cravings for sweets and binge eating episodes.

Why does how we eat matter?

“How” is not just about the speed of eating; it’s about the circumstances in which we eat. Are we alone or in company? In a pleasant or unpleasant environment? In a hurry or at ease? Eating has always been a social event. We gather for meals and discuss life. In today’s fast-paced world, eating has become a solitary activity. We take food on the go and multitask with messages and calls. We don’t pay attention to the act of eating.
I noticed that when I was in a rush, I would drink 5-6 coffees a day. But when I had time to enjoy my coffee, I was satisfied with just one or two. I noticed that sometimes I didn’t even want coffee.
People often claim, ‘I eat nothing and still gain weight.’ Usually, these are people who graze all day, having a little bit of food here and there.
If you look at their food record, there are only two meals that wouldn’t be enough for a child. Upon closer inspection, you’ll find that between those two meals, they had a cappuccino, juice, two candies, and a handful of peanuts… these small snacks are also energy-dense, so even a small portion contains a relatively large amount of energy.
When we don’t pay attention to food, we tend to forget that we’ve eaten. This happens with small snacks. When we don’t realize that we’re eating, it doesn’t register in our memory. And when we don’t remember, we eat more.

How to eat better:

We can observe that people who eat more often have a higher rate of obesity and related health problems. But while the obesity rate in the USA is 42%, in France, it’s 17%, and in Sweden, it’s 15%. People in all of these countries snack. But there is a difference in how they snack.

Why do nutritionists in France promote snacking on pastries and sweets?

In France, they have ‘le goûter’ (tasting) – a break for a small snack around four in the afternoon. It consists of a drink and a small sweet treat.
For adults, it’s coffee or tea, and for children, it’s juice or milk. Accompanying these beverages are pastries like pancakes, croissants, brioches with jam or Nutella.
French nutritionists invented ‘le goûter’ to combat mindless snacking. The difference lies not only in what they eat but also in how they eat. Most of the foods consumed during ‘le goûter’ are homemade or from a bakery. They focus on quality, and it’s a time of day when they enjoy these treats in peace and in good company.

In Sweden, there’s a concept called ‘fika.’

The main concept of ‘fika’ is to take a 10-15 minute break, usually around ten in the morning and around two in the afternoon, for tea or coffee and a small snack without worries in pleasant company. It’s a way to take care of the well-being of colleagues and loved ones.
‘What you eat during fika is not really important. The food is incidental to the companionship, the socializing, and catching up with friends and colleagues. But whatever food you choose for fika, it should be fresh and well-presented. Ideally, it should be homemade.’
This also reflects in the quality of food. They don’t eat chips but carefully prepared homemade pastries.
Currently, much attention is given to how to prolong life and health. One of the most important factors for longevity is not food or exercise but human interaction.

What does physiology say?

Digestion starts outside our bodies. The moment we smell food, digestive enzymes start to be released, and digestive juices begin to flow.
During chewing, we mechanically process the food. Chewing also slows down eating, allowing you to enjoy food more and even feel full sooner.
Saliva contains amylase, an enzyme that breaks down sugars.
Slowing down gives our bodies the time to fully utilize all these processes.

In summary

What we eat is important, but why and how we eat are equally crucial. While mindless eating leads to worse health outcomes, in our fast-paced society, the social aspect of eating is pushed aside in favor of more and harder work or moving on to the next task.
When we eat in a busy environment and don’t pay attention to our food, it’s difficult to listen to our body’s signals, and we resort to calorie counting. But even sticking to a calorie budget is harder when we’re unsatisfied with our meals.
On the contrary, deriving pleasure from food can lead us to be satisfied with smaller portions. Slow, mindful enjoyment of food brings about an improvement in overall quality of life. It helps prevent obesity and allows us to enjoy our meals, even combatting binge eating.

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