When we humans are hungry, it usually clues us into the fact that it is time to eat. Sometimes, we want to eat a specific thing, like pizza or ice cream, to satisfy our appetites. But how would you eat to satisfy the cravings of five different appetites?
Researchers David Raubenheimer and Stephen Simpson, authors of the new book “Eat Like the Animals: What Nature Teaches Us About the Science of Healthy Eating,” studied a variety of animals, from locusts to baboons, to see how animals eat. Through their research, they found that animals, including humans, have five appetites: protein, carbs, fats, sodium and calcium. Each one of these appetites must be properly satisfied and balanced for proper nutrition. When they're not, we overload on the wrong foods until our needs are met.
Back in the 1990s, Raubenheimer and Simpson began separating and feeding locusts a variety of foods with various balances of protein to carbohydrates. The locusts eating low protein would eat more carbs to get their ideal level of protein, while the high-protein diet locusts ate much less carbohydrates than they needed to. The protein craving would win over the carbs in both scenarios. "That suggested that, more so than carbohydrate, protein has to be carefully calibrated in the diet,” the researchers said in New Scientist.
They also watched Stella, a Cape baboon from the Cape peninsula of South Africa foraging and noticed she ate a wide variety of food, from fruits to leaves, mushrooms to seeds. She would always balance her diet, especially keeping her ratio of protein and carbs consistent, as noted in their study.
The researchers also replicated the locust experiment with humans to bridge the gap in their research. Subjects were given the obviously very difficult task of eating from a buffet in a Swiss chalet for 10 days (science is rough stuff), after which the scientists found the same results as the bugs: Humans would always prioritize protein, eating more carbs if protein was scarce and eating less overall if there were high-protein foods available.
Obviously, Stella’s intuitive eating seems to be an ideal habit for humans to adopt. Our bodies know what they need -- we just need the proper food to “forage” so that we can eat our way to balanced health.
Unfortunately, processed foods muck that up, according to the researchers. When considering processed foods, they always tend to be lower in protein and higher in carbs and fat, so we eat more in our search to fill our protein appetite. Their research proves the need for humans to spend more time eating a variety of whole foods so we can naturally satisfy all five of our appetites. Fancy diets aren’t needed -- our bodies will tell us what we need if we present them with great choices.
So, try stocking your fridge and pantry with low and unprocessed foods that incorporate all the different nutrients we need. Graze like a baboon and you may find that you don’t even want chips and pizza anymore. You have several other appetites to please in the meantime.