The locust position — why protein can make us thinner - National
The locust position — why protein can make us thinner
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By Graeme O'neill
November 6, 2005
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AN EMINENT Australian scientist has looked at locust behaviour to explain the growing obesity epidemic, leading him to support a high-protein diet as its solution.
Professor Stephen Simpson believes a primal appetite for protein drives the feeding behaviour of all animals, from locusts, beetles and spiders to vertebrates, including humans.
According to their "protein leverage hypothesis", University of Sydney entomologist Professor Simpson and colleague Dr David Raubenheimer at the University of Auckland suggest CSIRO's controversial "Total Wellbeing Diet" — criticised by some nutritionists for its high meat content — is "just about right".
"The fact that people lose weight on the diet and find it relatively easy to comply with is due to the power of protein to drive food intake," Professor Simpson said. "People stop eating when they satisfy their protein requirements."
The former professor of entomology at Oxford University, who returned to Australia last year under the Federal Government's "brain gain" scheme, has strong experimental and epidemiological evidence for his hypothesis, from his research at Oxford on voracious African locusts.
"Nutrition science has been virtually devoid of theory," he said. "Despite all the experimental work, and many hypotheses, a conceptual framework has been singularly lacking."
Professor Simpson's hypothesis explains why radical and yo-yo dieting doesn't work. It also explains why members of former hunter-gatherer cultures such as Australia's Aborigines are susceptible to obesity and type II diabetes after switching to a low-protein Western diet.
His insight came from an experiment in which he starved locusts of protein, instead giving them a high-fat, high-carbohydrate diet. The insects gorged themselves in a vain attempt to satiate their hunger for protein. In another experiment, protein-starved locusts "zeroed in like missiles" on high-protein foods. Simpson said feeding experiments his team conducted on beetles and spiders at Oxford University (published in the journal Science earlier this year) support his idea that the requirement for protein drives and dominates the feeding behaviour of all animals, from lowly nematode worms to insects and vertebrates.