Almost everyone knows a healthy diet is high in fruit and vegetables, and low in sugar and deep-fried food. What’s less well known is how often you should eat, and how fast.
“The body’s metabolism can be compared to a fireplace,” says Heiko Griguhn, a nutritionist and alternative medicine practitioner. “It must be regularly replenished to work well.”
He therefore recommends eating frequently – five to seven times a day, if you like. People wanting to lose weight often make the mistake of eating too seldom, he says. After a long interval without food, the body starts trying to conserve energy by reducing the number of calories it burns.
Plus, if you come home from work famished, you’re more likely to eat fast food or sweets. To avoid this blood-sugar low, simply have an afternoon snack, Griguhn advises. Not surprisingly, opinions vary on optimal eating frequency.
Some people swear by intermittent fasting, while others prefer the classic three meals a day. The German Nutrition Society (DGE) doesn’t make any recommendation on the matter, saying studies have been inconclusive.
What’s clear though, is that to maintain a healthy weight, it’s essential not to consume more calories than you burn. Griguhn says it’s important to make wise snack choices: “Small portions of vegetables or other snacks are okay in between breakfast, lunch and dinner.”
Healthy eating involves not only “what” and “how often”, but also “how”. Many of us were told in childhood, “Don’t eat so fast!” Appetite and satiety are regulated by the brain – more precisely, by the pituitary gland at its base, explains nutritionist Birgit Schramm.
The body releases chemical messengers that tell the brain when food intake is sufficient. “Eating slowly makes it easier for the brain to pick up the satiety signal sent by the body,” she points out.
This process is hampered by eating fast, or by “grazing” – eating a lot of snacks between meals. “And chewing is preparation for digestion,” Schramm adds. “The pieces of food have to be broken down by the chemicals in the stomach and small intestine.
“It makes a difference whether you swallow a big chunk of carrot or chew it properly first.”
Experts recommend chewing each mouthful of food 15 to 30 times. To do this, you’ve to allow enough time for meals, of course. Schramm recommends 15 to 20 minutes for a proper lunch, and about five to eight minutes for a sandwich, for instance.
It’s also important to drink plenty of fluids, including at meals. “This simulates the production of digestive juices,” notes nutritionist Manuela Martin. “And food containing dietary fibre can be better digested with sufficient water.”
But don’t swallow bites of food with your drink, otherwise you might not chew them enough, she says. It’s better to stop eating for a moment before you drink, and then resume eating. – dpa