The secret to healthy eating can be found in the animal world
Biologists David Raubenheimer and Stephen J Simpson believe that looking to other humans for diet advice may be where we’ve been going wrong! Their book Eat Like The Animals shares what creatures can teach us about our own eating habits.
Like most animal species, humans have different appetites for different nutrients, such as proteins, fats and carbohydrates.
“These appetites are the body’s means of telling the brain exactly which nutrients and nutrient combinations it needs at a given time,”
David explains. “The big question is, if we humans have this wonderfully effective biological machinery for selecting a balanced diet, why don’t we use it?”
Stephen adds, “As it happens, it’s precisely because of our wonderful appetite systems that we’re prone to eat too much and suffer obesity and disease.”
One of the many naughty habits humans have developed is called “protein leveraging”. This is based on the theory that we naturally prioritise eating protein above other nutrients, regardless of where it’s coming from.
“In humans, like many other species, the appetites for protein are stronger than those for fats and carbs,” says Stephen. “This means that if we dilute our diets with fats and carbs, we must eat more of them get our fill of protein – a process called protein leverage.”
“Diluting our diet with fats and carbs is exactly what we’ve done as a species, through stacking supermarket shelves with all those highly processed foods that are cheap, rich in carbs and fat, and low in protein,” David continues. “If we reach for them when we’re hungry, as people all-too-often do, we will overeat fats and carbs in order to get our fill of protein.”
David and Stephen note that our eating habits are very similar to orangutans – we both have strong appetites for protein, are prone to overeating and accumulate body fat from carb-rich and fat-rich foods. But the difference between us and them is our environment.
“In orangutan forest habitats, there are long periods when fruits are scarce, and in those periods
they burn the fat they had previously stored,” says David. “However, we are exposed constantly to highly processed foods.”
The way we can ensure we’re eating well is to create healthy food environments that work with our appetites. This can be done by stocking the kitchen with fruits, vegetables, grains and lean m meat so we’re not constantly snacking on sugary and fatty foods. “Remember there are endless ways to achieve a nutritionally balanced d diet,” Stephen adds. “Unless there are specific me medical reasons, you don’t nee need to cut out any food grou group or eat things you don don’t like, or that are not appropriate to your food culture,” he says.
Eat Like The Animals (Harpercollins Australia, $35)