When you travel to the nook and crannies of Africa, the Middle East and Asia, you will find one thing in common. You’ll see many people eating with their hands instead of using forks, spoons and knives.
Perhaps to your surprise, it can actually be good for you, despite all the times that your parents told you it was poor manners.
Eating is a sensual and mindful process. Employing all the senses – sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch – can make the whole experience even more fulfilling. Using your hands to eat adds a tactile connection with your food as well as body, mind and soul.
It also softens the formality of fine dining. This is one reason why many restaurants in Western countries are encouraging eating with one’s hands.
While some people find eating with their hands unhygienic and disgusting, it is considered a relaxed and convivial style of dining. Plus, it has many benefits.
Here are some of the benefits of eating with your hands.
1. Makes Eating a Sensory Experience
Eating is a sensory experience that can evoke emotion and passion. According to Ayurveda, each finger of the hands is an extension of the five elements. Specifically:
- The thumb is related to space.
- The forefinger is related to air.
- The middle finger is related to fire.
- The ring finger is related to water.
- The little finger is related to earth.
When you enjoy your food with your hands, the whole process stimulates these five elements and helps energize the food you are about to eat. This is important to keep all the elements in balance and remain healthy.
Also, the senses of touch, smell, hearing, sight and taste become more active. Stimulation of the five senses makes you more conscious of the taste, textures and aroma of the food.
2. Works as a Natural Sensor
When you eat with a spoon or fork and put your food directly in your mouth, your mind cannot sense the temperature or texture of the food ahead of time. This is why you often end up burning your tongue when you put food that is too hot in your mouth.
But when you eat with your hands, the nerve endings in your fingers sense the temperature of the food and effectively prevent you from scalding your tongue.
The nerve endings also send a signal to your brain about what you are going to eat. This triggers the release of the appropriate digestive juices and enzymes to help you taste your food better.
3. Improves Digestion
There are “good” as well as “bad” bacteria present on the palms and fingers of your hands. The good bacteria protect you from many damaging microbes in the environment. When you eat with a spoon and fork, these bacteria do not reach your gut.
On the other hand, when you eat with your hands, the flora from the fingers transfers to the mouth and is swallowed and travels to different body parts. This promotes healthy digestion in the gut and prevents the buildup of harmful bacteria in the intestines.
Plus, when you touch the food with your hands, a signal is sent to the mind for the release of digestive juices and enzymes. Depending on the type of food, the mind arranges for the metabolism to work accordingly, which is needed for better digestion.
A healthy digestive system is important for a healthy body and mind.
4. Reduces Type 2 Diabetes Risk
Using forks and spoons can make eating easier and faster. But this can also lead to blood-sugar imbalances in the body, ultimately putting you at a higher risk of Type 2 diabetes.
A 2012 study published by the European Society of Endocrinology reports that people who wolf down their food are 2.5 times more likely to suffer from Type 2 diabetes than those who take their time.
So eating fast increases diabetes risk, but you can reduce your risk by eating with your hands. When using your hands, you end up putting less food in your mouth in any given time.
Slower eating also leads to better digestion and gives your stomach time to know that it’s full, thus making you eat less.
5. Promotes Mindful Eating
Eating with cutlery is a kind of mechanical process, and you do not pay much attention to what or how much you are eating. Also, you may start multitasking while eating, such as watching TV, checking your mobile phone or reading the newspaper. Not giving your full attention to eating means you may end up eating more.
A 2008 study published in the British Medical Journal reports that eating until full and eating quickly increases a person’s risk of obesity.
However, when you eat with your hands, you pay attention to what you eat and you are more aware of how much you are eating. Also, it’s harder to multitask when your hands are busy, which reduces mindless eating, one of the biggest causes of weight gain.
6. More Hygienic
Though you may think that eating with your hands is an unhygienic way to handle food, in reality it is just the opposite.
People who practice eating with their hands always wash their hands before sitting down to enjoy a meal. Also, we all wash our hands several times a day. Hand hygiene is practiced everywhere.
But when it comes to spoons, forks and other utensils, they are often washed quickly and are not always cleaned thoroughly.
- Before and after eating your food, make sure to wash your hands thoroughly.
- Cut large items into manageable-sized pieces, so that you can pick up the food easily with your hands.
- When eating with your hands, avoid hunching over your plate. Make an effort to sit up straight, and do notrestyour elbows on the table.
- When eating with your hands, take small bites to avoid any excess mess.