Three research studies from the last few years have explored an interesting tool that could potentially be used to combat the obesity epidemic in our culture. Not unknown in other parts of the world, the idea of addressing the first step to food digestion and an important factor in reducing excess body weight, mastication -- or, simply put, chewing -- has a significant effect on the hormones of our gut, which in turn affects energy intake, metabolic caloric use and overall body weight. The studies support the practice of mindful, conscious eating and the physiological and biochemical improvements to nutrition and wellbeing when a moderate rather than a "grab and go" eating lifestyle is followed.
The various studies focused on multiple objectives. One study examined how chewing was different between lean and obese subjects. Another was to evaluate if eating the same meal at varying speeds of mastication would result in a different postprandial (after eating) gut peptide responses. The third study's objective focused on how staggered or non-staggered meals affected hormone and appetite dynamics, food pleasure and the resulting energy intake.
The three studies utilized volunteer subjects and were conducted at clinical research facilities. The first study was published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, Jan. 1, 2010. The study subjects were 17 healthy adult males who were evaluated on the varying lengths of time they took to consume a meal. The first meal was consumed in five minutes and the second meal in 30 minutes. After each meal, the levels of gut hormones were assessed in the subjects to measure the results for each of the meal durations. The conclusion of this study was that eating at a moderate rate produces an increased anorexigenic gut peptide response, compared to eating at a rapid rate. This resulted in a loss or decrease of appetite compared to the subjects who ate more quickly.
This is probably not a surprise to mindfull eaters who, in many ways, eat their food as a form of meditation, chewing much slower than the majority of us do. They not only tend to enjoy their food more, but also decrease their appetites and moderate their body weight. The second study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in September 2011. This study contained 16 lean and 14 obese young Chinese men who were the subjects of the study. There were two components to this particular study. The first component observed and investigated whether the obese subjects displayed different chewing patterns and factors than the lean subjects. The second component explored how the number of chews per mouthful of a meal affected the subject's energy intake. Two sittings of the same meals were consumed by each of the study subjects throughout the course of the day. The study used two specific amounts of chews per swallow. Each subject chewed one mouthful of food 15 times before swallowing, and then during the second meal of the same food, each subject chewed one mouthful of food 40 times before swallowing.
The outcomes of this study were as follows: Regardless of whether their body mass was lean or obese, the subjects had ingested almost 12 percent less food (11.9 percent) intake after the 40 chews per mouthful meal than after the 15 chews per mouthful meal. This registered trial study concluded that using improved meal chewing interventions could prove to be a useful tool in reducing and combating obesity.
Much has been written about lower body weight and the French diet, as well as the eating habits of other countries and cultures compared to our American "grab and go" fast food lifestyle. These studies indicate something that has been apparent to other cultures, and even in earlier decades in the U.S. The third study was of 38 young adults, and was published in the Journal of Nutrition March 1, 2011. The study suggested that staggered meals -- where there were pauses in between the total consumption of the entire meal -- resulted in a decrease of hunger, an increase in food reward and greater satiety compared to meals that were consumed without pause and at a faster rate of speed.
Our focus today in the U.S. is on reducing obesity in both children and adults, as well as addressing the growing epidemic of Type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome, with their resultant increase in adult pathologies. Each of these conditions is directly linked to the overconsumption of food. These studies are an invitation to our national culture to reassess our fast-paced lifestyle as a means to reducing the leading health issues of our day. If simply by slowing down how quickly we put food into our bodies, we can save ourselves from individual and collective suffering, it would make sense for someone to start a campaign to ensure more time for kids and adults to eat a good breakfast, take a longer lunch and enjoy a more leisurely dinner.
It is usually the simple things in life that bring the greatest rewards. Rather than worrying about the number of calories we are putting into our bodies, it might be refreshing to shift our attention to our chewing habits, which these studies indicate may help people to reduce food intake by up to 11.9 percent, decrease caloric uptake, improve one's food satisfaction and enhance greater satiety. A lot of reward -- for not a lot of effort.
 Alexander Kokkinos, Carel W. le Roux, Kleopatra Alexiadou, Nicholas Tentolouris, Royce P. Vincent, Despoina Kyriaki, Despoina Perrea, Mohammad A. Ghatei, Stephen R. Bloom and Nicholas Katsilambros. "Eating Slowly Increases the Postprandial Response of the Anorexigenic Gut Hormones, Peptide YY and Glucagon-Like Peptide-1." Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. January 1, 2010. Vol.95; no. 1, 333-337.
 Jie Li, Na Zhang, Lizhen Hu, Ze Li, Rui Li, Cong Li, and Shuran Wang. "Improvement in chewing activity reduces energy intake in one meal and modulates plasma gut hormone concentrations in obese and lean young Chinese men." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. September, 2011. Vol.94; no. 3, 709-716.
 Sofie G. Lemmens, Eveline A. Martens, Jurriaan M. Born, Mieke J. Martens, and Margriet S. Westerterp-Plantenga. "Staggered Meal Consumption Facilitates Appetite Control without Affecting Postprandial Energy Intake." Journal of Nutrition, March 1, 2011. Vol. 141; no. 3, 482-488.
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