NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Your mother was right when she told you to take the time to chew your food. Eating slowly, research suggests, can encourage people to eat less, and enjoy the meal more.

Researchers found that when they had 30 young women eat a lunch of pasta, tomatoes and cheese, the diners consumed an average of 70 fewer calories when they ate the meal slowly and chewed the food thoroughly.

The findings give scientific support to a long recommended weight-control tactic, the researchers report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The theory has been that a leisurely dining pace allows time for the body’s natural fullness signals to kick in, explain Ana M. Andrade and colleagues of the University of Rhode Island in Kingston.

Stomach distension and changes in several appetite-related hormones, for example, alert the body that it’s time to stop eating. But these processes take time, so a rushed meal could theoretically cause overeating.

But there has been little evidence as to whether slow eating really does trim calorie intake.

Andrade’s team tested the idea by having 30 women eat the same pasta meal on two separate occasions. On one day, the women were told to eat the meal as fast as they comfortably could, with no pauses between bites.

On the other day, they were instructed to take small bites, put their spoons down between bites and chew each mouthful 20 to 30 times.

On average, the researchers found, the women ate nearly 70 fewer calories when they slowed down. They also felt fuller and more satisfied after the meal.

There are several potential reasons for the findings, according to Andrade and her colleagues. Besides allowing more time for the body’s fullness signals to start working, savoring a meal’s flavors, textures and aromas may help people feel more satisfied with fewer calories.

Similar studies are needed in men and obese adults to see if the current findings hold true for them as well, the researchers note.

SOURCE: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, July 2008.