There is a very good reason the Mormon crickets of western North America keep advancing, like a well-rehearsed marching band, across the landscape. These crop-eating insects are driven by a need to consume a fixed amount of protein. And the best source is the cricket in front of them. "Stop, and you get eaten," says Professor Stephen Simpson, a Federation Fellow at the University of Sydney. Cannibalistic crickets may appear to have little to do with the world's obesity epidemic. But Simpson's research on these pests, as well as on locusts, cockroaches, rats, minks - and human volunteers kept in a Swiss chalet for almost a week - suggests people have a similar need for protein.
Ballooning waistlines are the result of consuming too much low-protein, high-energy, processed foods in a bid to get our daily dose, he says. Simpson's research on caterpillars, on the other hand, shows that today's high-fat, high-carbohydrate diet may not always make us overweight. Our species could eventually evolve, like the caterpillars in the lab, to become less prone to obesity. This would occur if those with a propensity for stacking on the kilograms cannot reproduce or they have less healthy children, while the lean survive to pass on their skinniness genes.
Signs of this are emerging. Children are developing type 2 diabetes. Overweight women are having difficulty conceiving. "For the first time we are seeing obesity-related health problems affecting significant numbers of reproductive aged and pre-reproductive aged humans," Simpson says. Fat people now outnumber the world's starving. Studying why insects, with brains the size of a pinhead, are better than humans at balancing their food intake has given Simpson a fresh perspective on the issue.
He hit on the importance of protein after finding that insects given a diet low in protein but high in carbohydrates gorged themselves until they reached their protein target. With colleague Professor David Raubenheimer, of the University of Auckland, he devised an experiment to find out if humans did the same. "We incarcerated 10 people in a chalet for six days." For the first two days they could eat what they wanted from a buffet. For the next two days, one group was restricted to high-protein foods, such as chicken and meat, the other to fatty, sugary, low-protein foods, such as croissants. The first group consumed exactly the same amount of protein as on the first two days. "The second group went way off the mark and just kept on eating until eventually, through their over-consumption of carbohydrate-rich foods, they managed to fill their protein intake."
Source. For more on the wicked Atkins, see here.
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