Eating quickly increases risk of fatal cardiovascular problems, study finds

By Jenny Cook

Are you guilty of wolfing down your food at lighting speed? Perhaps you’re trying to get lunch in before a meeting, or maybe you’re just keen to get a second helping during a family meal – either way, new research suggests that eating too fast can have a negative impact on your health.

Not only will eating quickly play havoc with digestion, but it could also raise your risk of conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and stroke – stats that have us questioning whether that last roast potato really is worth it. Here’s what you need to know.

The study

Scientists in Japan examined more than 1,000 participants over the course of five years, focussing on the relationship between eating speed and the incidence of metabolic syndrome – the collective name given to five risk factors (such as high blood pressure or increased levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol) for serious cardiometabolic conditions.

Each volunteer was categorised into one of three groups: ‘Slow’, ‘normal’ or ‘fast’ eaters. Overall, higher eating speed correlated with greater weight gain, higher blood sugar, higher levels of “bad” cholesterol and a larger waistline. Specifically, 11.6% of those in the ‘fast’ group went on to develop metabolic syndrome, compared to just 6.5% of normal eaters and 2.3% of slow eaters.

The report reads: “Eating speed was associated with obesity and future prevalence of metabolic syndrome. Eating slowly may therefore […] be a crucial lifestyle factor for preventing metabolic syndrome.”

Lead researcher Dr Takayuki Yamaji, from Hiroshima University in Japan, 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.”

Getty Michael Berman

Commenting on the research, several charities have highlighted the importance of taking time over meals – rather than eating at your desk or on-the-go – as a way of promoting good health. Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, said:

“If anything, [this is] 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… When doing this, it’s important that people take the time to choose healthy balanced options, rather than just reaching for ready meals or takeaways.”

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Adding to this was Esmee Russell, Head of Prevention and Campaigns at the Stroke Association. She said:

“Obesity 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%, and if you are obese, the risk increases by 64%, so tackling obesity is crucial… There 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.”

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