Fast food or slow cooking?
Our gut is becoming underemployed”
so said the lifestyle researcher Charlotte Erlanson-Albertsson after showing us a diagram of how our body controls our appetite.1
The audience listened intently as she explained current research on eating behaviour. For instance: when you eat, there are normally two phases of feeling satisfied, at an early and a later stage. “At first, the stomach wall is being stretched by the food but the sensation of ’being full’ doesn’t last long, maybe 1-2 hours. Then, as the gut goes about its work to digest the food, hormones are released which keep us feeling satiated for several more hours.”2
Fast food’ is an aspect of the way we live now
Fast food is not only quick to eat but is also absorbed quickly – too fast to drive a long late satiation phase. The main reason is that its fibre content is low. The gut doesn’t get enough to work with and sends dissatisfied messages to the brain. So, we feel vaguely hungry again and look for something to eat. Fast food is one product of the contemporary trend that values self-realisation and instant satisfaction.3 Besides, high-calorie food has never been as easy to come by as now. Consumption of meat, bread and sugary foods has increased sharply during the last 30 years, perhaps especially in the form of fast food: think of pizzas, filled sandwiches, fizzy drinks and sweets.
It was different in the past
This state of affairs is new and quite the opposite to the past, when food was scarce for all except the wealthiest. The body’s hunger messaging system is very powerful and drives us to eat for fear that we would starve. Food intake activates reward systems in the brain. Fats and sugar, together or alone, interfere with the brain’s responses to the hormones that regulate appetite, such as insulin and leptin. These foodstuffs also stimulate the output of substances called the endocannabinoids, which have a strong reward effect.
How to achieve more healthy way of eating?
It is very hard to control our inherited reward systems but, with only small changes to our habits, we can live much better while also satisfying the powerful urge to feel full. Fibre-rich food has been shown to be very useful.4 Fibre is present in products such as green and root vegetables, fruits and whole-meal breads. Eating these things stimulates the gut to work and trigger a lasting sensation of having had enough.
The advice we used to get about eating ’little but often’, is actually not so good. Three meals a day is about right. Reasonable periods of fasting can be good for you: inflammatory responses tend to diminish when you fast, and fat is broken down more quickly. On the other hand, frequent meals slow fat metabolism.
But: we should try not be too hungry when we settle down to one of the big meals of the day. Then we run the risk of over-eating. The aim of snacking is to eat just enough to avoid hunger.
Please note: If your medication includes insulin or insulin-release stimulating tablets, you must always watch out: your blood sugar level must not fall too sharply between meals.
Your entire attitude to life matters
It is worthwhile to look up from all the advice you get and think about the way you live, overall. Perhaps you need to rethink what you prioritise in order to have time for better, healthier eating. Doing your own cooking might well make you eat less, because the smell and feel of the food is so rewarding. The same goes for eating slowly and giving yourself time to enjoy the flavours.
Above all: you must find your own way to make your eating habits meaningful and healthy. Eating, like modern life itself, so easily turns into consuming quickly rather than starting to work towards a slower but in the end more satisfying result. The research around control of food intake and appetite will probably stimulate your questions as well as help you to stay satisfied for longer.
Is your life about quick rewards or meaningful slow cooking?
2. Holst, JJ. Incretin hormones and the satiation signal. Int J Obesity, 2013. Sep; 37(9): 1161–1168.
3. Taylor C. Sources of the self. Making of the modern identity. Cambridge University press, 1989
4. Nordic Council of Ministers: Nordic Nutrition recommendations 2012: Integrating Nutrition and Physical Activity. Nord 2014; 002.