New evidence backs the wisdom of the "slow food" movement, and greater reliance on homemade meals
You’ve probably heard the old saying, “stop and smell the roses”.
That may seem like an archaic bit of advice in today’s absurdly fast-paced world.
It isn’t of course, and its core insight appears to extend to controlling appetite.
Back in the mid-1980s, an Italian Renaissance man named Carlo Petrini started what he called the “slow food” movement, featuring five principles:
- Living a slower and more harmonious rhythm of life
- Stewardship of the land and ecologically sound food production
- Invigoration and proliferation of regional, seasonal culinary traditions
- Creation of a collaborative, ecologically-oriented, and virtuous globalization
- Revival of the kitchen and the table as centers of pleasure, culture, and community
For more on the history and growth of his great idea, see “Slow Food” Movement Gains Momentum.
And, seven years ago, four different scientific teams published papers suggesting that — as the title of our report said — Slow Eating May Prevent Weight Gain.
Now, evidence from a Japanese study suggests that slowing your dining down may help prevent some major chronic conditions.
Study links slow eating to reduce disease risk
Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of risk factors for heart disease, diabetes and stroke.
Metabolic syndrome is defined as having any three out of these six risk factors:
- Elevated blood pressure.
- Pro-inflammatory state (e.g., chronically high CRP levels).
- A “pro-thrombotic” state that promotes dangerous blood clots.
- Abdominal obesity (excessive fat tissue in and around the abdomen).
- Insulin resistance or glucose intolerance (the body can't control blood sugar properly).
- High blood triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol and high LDL cholesterol: a state that fosters plaque buildup in artery walls.
According to the results of the recent clinical study from Japan’s Hiroshima University, eating more slowly may help prevent metabolic syndrome and its resulting disease conditions (Yamaji T et al. 2017).
Nine years ago, the researchers recruited 1,083 healthy participants — 642 men and 441 women (average age 51.2 years), who did not have metabolic syndrome.
Using a self-administered questionnaire, the participants described their lifestyles, eating habits, activity levels, and medical histories.
For the purposes of their study, the Japanese researchers defined “weight gain” as having put on at least 22 pounds since the age of 20.
They then divided the participants into three groups, based on their usual eating speed: slow, normal or fast, and followed them for five years.
At the end of the study, the results linked fast eating to major metabolic problems:
- Greater weight gain, higher blood-sugar levels, and wider waistlines.
- Greater risk (11.6 percent) for developing metabolic syndrome, compared with normal eaters (6.5 percent) or slow eaters (2.3 percent)
As cardiologist and study co-author Takayuki Yamaji, M.D., said, “Eating more slowly may be a crucial lifestyle change to help prevent metabolic syndrome. When people eat fast they tend not to feel full and are more likely to overeat. Eating fast causes bigger glucose fluctuation, which can lead to insulin resistance. We also believe our research would apply to a U.S. population.”
Homemade meals may reduce risk of diabetes
Last year, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health presented intriguing findings that support the salutary effects of homemade meals (Zong G et al. 2016).
They analyzed data collected from nearly 58,000 women in the Nurses' Health Study and more than 41,000 men in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, who were followed for up to 36 years (1986-2012).
None of the participants had diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or cancer at the beginning of the study.
Their results showed that people who ate 11-14 homemade lunches or dinners weekly were 13% less likely to develop diabetes, compared to those who ate less than six per week.
(The Harvard researchers didn't have enough information to evaluate the effects of eating more homemade versus take-out breakfasts.)
Reducing the risk for type 2 diabetes should also reduce the chances of developing heart disease, because diabetes is a major heart-risk factor.
“The trend for eating commercially prepared meals in restaurants or as take-out in the United States has increased significantly over the last 50 years,” said Geng Zong, Ph.D., a research fellow at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “At the same time, Type 2 diabetes rates have also increased.”
Growing evidence links eating out, especially in fast food chain restaurants, with lower diet quality and higher body weight in children and young adults.
In the current study, the researchers demonstrated that eating homemade meals was associated with less weight gain over eight years in these middle-aged and older health professionals. That matters, because being overweight or obese is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
While the researchers didn't say how many homemade meals people should eat, as Dr. Zong said, “more could be better”.
- Yamaji T et al. American Heart Association Scientific Sessions 2017. Abstract 20249: Slow Down, You Eat Too Fast: Fast Eating Associate With Obesity and Future Prevalence of Metabolic Syndrome. Circulation. November 14, 2017, Volume 136, Issue Suppl 1. Accessed at http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/136/Suppl_1/A20249
- Zong G, Eisenberg DM, Hu FB, Sun Q. Consumption of Meals Prepared at Home and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: An Analysis of Two Prospective Cohort Studies. PLoS Med. 2016 Jul 5;13(7):e1002052. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1002052. eCollection 2016 Jul.