This common behavior can lead to heart disease, according to science

Alistair Gardiner | June 09, 2021

Some of us savor our food, while others wolf down a meal in no time. According to studies, those who fall into the latter camp may be increasing their risks of adverse health outcomes, including obesity and other cardiovascular (CVD) risk factors.

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Busy man eating on the go

We know that what we eat can affect heart health, but did you know how fast you eat can also make a difference?

CVD remains the leading cause of death in the United States, for both men and women, according to the CDC. The disease is underpinned by conditions including hypertension, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and metabolic syndrome—many of which can be addressed through modifiable lifestyle factors.

Avoiding heart disease starts with following common health advice like limiting sedentary behavior, quitting smoking, and following a healthful diet. But when it comes to your diet and CVD prevention, it’s not just what you eat, but also the way you eat, that counts.

Here’s how eating too fast can affect your health, according to studies and health experts.  

Eating speed and obesity

Research illustrates an association between eating quickly and an increased BMI, as well as higher risks of obesity. One such study, published this year in Nutrients, used three experiments to investigate the relationship between eating speed and BMI scores among a couple of cohorts of high school students in Sweden and Greece.

Researchers looked at two cohorts, which together totaled nearly 2,000 students, analyzing their objective eating speed, how they perceived their eating speed, the quantity of food they consumed, and their BMIs.

Overall, the study found that those who ate faster tended to have higher BMI scores and a greater risk of developing obesity. It also found that fast eaters tended to eat roughly twice as much food (an average of 247 g more) compared with slower eaters—a finding that corroborated past research. 

Previous studies have been unsuccessful in confirming a mechanism behind this, but researchers hypothesize that eating a lot over a short period of time may interfere with satiety signals and could have a negative effect on metabolism.

Fast eating and CVD risk factors

Obesity isn’t the only risk tied to speedy eating. A study published in Nutrients concluded that people who eat quickly are also at a higher risk of developing hypertriglyceridemia, a condition that can lead to coronary heart disease.

The study involved a cohort of 792 adults, aged 55-80, with no previous history of CVD—but all of whom had either type 2 diabetes or several current risk factors of CVD. Participants were asked to complete questionnaires of their diet and other lifestyle choices, including one on how they perceived the speed of their eating. Researchers additionally measured blood pressure, weight, and waist circumference, as well as levels of plasma glucose, serum HDL-c, and triglyceride in blood samples.

Those who self-reported eating quickly did not appear to have a statistically higher prevalence of obesity or metabolic syndrome, but they did have far higher rates of hypertriglyceridemia, even after findings were adjusted for potential confounders. 

While the study did not discern the mechanisms linking fast eating and hypertriglyceridemia, researchers posited that it may be due to more sustained peaks in plasma glucose and insulin that can occur following the intake of a high amount of energy over a short period of time.

The study didn’t find associations between eating quickly and any other CVD risk factors, but its authors cited previous research that did, including data presented at an American Heart Association conference in 2017.

That study’s authors concluded that slower eaters are less likely to develop metabolic syndrome, compared with those who eat quickly. The study involved a cohort of 1,083 individuals with an average age of 51.2 years, none of whom had metabolic syndrome when the study began in 2008. Researchers monitored their health, and the speed at which they ate, over a 5-year period. 

Fast eaters were 11.6% more likely to develop metabolic syndrome than those who ate slower. Additionally, those who ate quickly were more likely to have gained weight, to have higher blood glucose levels, and to have a larger waistline. 

People who eat fast are more likely to overeat, and can cause fluctuations in blood glucose levels which can lead to insulin resistance, the authors wrote.

The benefits of slowing down

Findings of another study, published in Nutrients, further illustrate the upsides of eating at a slower pace: The habit can be an “effective strategy for reducing food intake.”

Researchers looked at how eating speed affected 21 subjects, with an average age of 23, with a healthy BMI. Members were randomly assigned to eat a standard meal of 600 kcal at either a normal pace (6 minutes) or a slow pace (24 minutes). Researchers then monitored their satiety levels for 3 hours after the meal.

They found that those who ate at a slower rate reported feeling more full 2 hours after the meal, and had a more accurate memory of the portion size they were served. Three hours after the meal, researchers found that the slower eating group consumed roughly 25% fewer snacks than the normal speed group. 

Bottom line? Slow and steady wins the race. According to the evidence, taking your time to enjoy the food you eat means you’ll likely eat less, feel more full, and could be lowering your risks of developing CVD risk factors.

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