Taking more time over food allows the brain to catch up and prevents spikes in blood sugarÂ
In an era of TV dinners, fast food and on-the-go snacking, the pleasure of languidly savouring a meal has become a luxury largely consigned to special occasions.
But a new study suggests that taking the time to stop and enjoy each mouthful could be the secret of a healthy heart, and a slimmer waistline.
Research by Japanese scientists has found that people who eat slowly and mindfully are less likely to pile on the pounds or develop metabolic syndrome - the name for a cluster of dangerous health problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity which can damage the heart.
For the new study, researchers followed more than 1,000 middle-aged men and women for five years, monitoring their eating speed, and health.
They found that just 2.3 per cent of the slow eaters developed metabolic syndrome over the study period, compared with 6.5 per cent of medium speed eaters, and 11.6 per cent of the fast eaters.
It means that fast eaters who gobbled down their food were five times more likely to develop symptoms which raised their risk of a heart attack, diabetes and stroke. The faster eaters were also more than three times more likely to have gained three stone in weight.Taking time over food could help prevent obesityÂ Credit: Getty
Scientists believe that eating too quickly prevents the brain from noticing when the body has taken in too many calories. When the body cannot use up calories it stores them as fat, placing pressure on the heart. Eating too fast also appears to cause spikes of blood sugar, which can stop insulin working effectively.
"Eating more slowly may be a crucial lifestyle change to help prevent metabolic syndrome," said Dr Takayuki Yamaji, study author and cardiologist at Hiroshima University in Japan.
"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.
Metabolic syndrome affects one in four adults in Britain. On their own diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity can damage blood vessels, but having all three together is particularly dangerous.
Heart charities said the study showed that taking time for meals, rather than eating at a desk or grabbing a snack on the way home, could help people stay healthy.Healthy chicken Caesar salad with Parmesan and mustard dressing 01:18
âIf anything, itâs a reminder that many of us have hectic lifestyles which may include eating quickly at the desk over lunchtime, or in a rush commuting home,â said Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation.
âWhen doing this, itâs important that people take the time to choose healthy balanced options, rather than just reaching for ready meals or takeaways.â
Esmee Russell, Head of Prevention and Campaigns at the Stroke Association added: âObesity is a huge health challenge, and it can be the reason behind a devastating stroke. Being overweight increases your risk of ischaemic stroke by 22 per cent, and if you are obese, the risk increases by 64 per cent Â so tackling obesity is crucial.
âThere are a number of simple steps we can all take to lower our risk of stroke, including eating a balanced diet, taking regular exercise and having a regular blood pressure check. Anyone with any concerns should have a chat with their GP.â
The research was presented at the American Heart Associationâs Scientific Sessions 2017.