Doctor’s Tip: Chew more, weigh less
“The reason Americans are overweight is that they don’t enjoy their food enough.”
— Italian movie actress Sophia Loren
Americans of all ages are experiencing an obesity epidemic, and this is becoming a pandemic as we export our lifestyle throughout the planet. The extent of the obesity epidemic, its causes and health problems associated with it were discussed in last week’s column. Today’s and several future columns will include tips for people who need lose weight.
In modern American life — at least B.C. (before COVID-19) — most people are in a hurry, slamming down a smoothie for breakfast, spending 10 minutes for lunch, and often mindlessly eating dinner in front of the TV or while reading the paper. In his 2020 book “How Not to Diet,” Dr. Michael Greger discusses well-done studies that show that people who chew more and eat their meals over at least 20 minutes have less obesity. There are several reasons for this:
The foods that we have to chew — vegetables, whole grains, fruit, nuts, and seeds — are primarily the ones that contain fiber, and fiber requires chewing.
To attain and maintain ideal body weight (BMI of 20-22), people should eat food with maximum nutrients per calorie — and that would be whole plant food, which again requires chewing.
It takes 20 minutes for the satiety (fullness) signals to get from your GI track to your brain, so if you chew your food well, over at least 20 minutes, you will feel full and will eat fewer calories at that meal as well as during the rest of the day.
We did not evolve to drink our nutrients. One problem with juicing and smoothies is that if people drink them rapidly they can take in a lot of calories without realizing they’re full. Dr. Esselstyn (featured in the “Forks Over Knives” documentary and author of “Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease”) says that what releases nutrients from food so our bodies can use them is the interaction of food with the saliva and bacteria in our mouth through chewing. Furthermore, food in liquid form causes harmful blood sugar and insulin spikes — versus eating the same food in its natural form. If you do drink a smoothie, do it over 30 minutes.
How about soup, though, which can be satiating and result in lower total calorie intake if eaten before a meal? If you eat soup with a teaspoon, which makes you eat it slowly, it does indeed cause satiety and intake of fewer calories. If you eat it rapidly with a larger spoon, however, It’s like drinking a smoothie rapidly.
Refined food such as cookies, cakes, doughnuts, pastries, white flour pizza crust, white flower tortillas, chips and most cereal that comes in a box are a major contributor to the obesity pandemic. The fiber and most of the nutrients have been removed from these foods, and they require minimal to no chewing. They go right through the stomach and directly into the blood stream, where they cause disease-promoting sugar and insulin spikes. In addition, they never reach the part of the intestine where fullness is signaled. So when people eat refined/ultrarefined food, they don’t feel satiated and keep eating more. Finally, food companies usually add addictive salt, sugar and fat (usually in the form of oil) to these products, which makes people overindulge even more.
Here’s the bottom line: Take time each day to feed your body what it needs to stay healthy. To attain and maintain ideal weight, choose food with fiber that requires chewing. Eat your food slowly and mindfully, over at least 20 minutes. Avoid drinking your nutrients. Consider eating with chopsticks.
Greg Feinsinger, M.D., is a retired family physician with a special interest in heart disease and diabetes prevention and reversal, ideally though lifestyle changes. He’s available for free, one-hour consultations — call 970-379-5718.
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