Why we get fat, with David Raubenheimer and Stephen Simpson

Sebastian Rushworth David Raubenheimer Stephen Simpson why we get fat eat like the animals

David Raubenheimer and Stephen Simpson are biologists who have dedicated their careers to trying to understand how animals decide how much to eat and what to eat. They started with insects, and then moved on to small mammals, and ended up looking at humans, and they’ve chronicled their research in their book “Eat like the animals”.

What they’ve discovered is that most animals, including humans, have five different appetites – for protein, carbohydrate, fat, sodium, and calcium. One of these five, the appetite for protein, is however dominant, and is the prime determinant of how much we eat.

What that means is that when we’re in a dietary environment where the foods we’re eating are low in protein, then we’ll overeat and consequently gain weight. That is why modern humans, living in a food environment rich in processed foods that are particularly low in protein, are so prone to becoming obese.

In this interview, I talk to David and Stephen about their research findings, and get their opinion on what people should do if they want to lose weight, and also on what societies should do in order to create healthier populations.

The interview is available for free here.

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18 thoughts on “Why we get fat, with David Raubenheimer and Stephen Simpson”

  1. (i) “processed foods that are particularly low in protein”: surely the problem is the “particularly low in protein” rather than the “processed” which seems as much a social as a scientific classification.

    (ii) “especially from the perspective of public health policy” – one feature of the pandemic has been the appallingly worse-than-useless performance of public health agencies, certainly in the US and UK.

    1. Processing alters the food, sometimes usefully so we can digest it or enjoy it, sometimes inserting toxins or unexpected chemicals. The more processing there is, the further it is from food humans evolved with, and the more i think we ought to consider testing it for adverse effects, just like drugs. Don’t nutrients get destroyed during processing?

  2. That is VERY interesting Sebastian.
    I was born 1944, in the U.K. So immediately post war. Food remained rationed for a long time here but that wasn’t really the problem. It has been shown, I believe, that our rationing forced us to eat more healthily. Certainly sweets were the last to come off ration.
    We were a POOR family of four. Mother had very firm ideas about nutrition and on the whole they were sound for those days.
    But understandably, given the circumstances – one absolute rule in that house was that we must not leave any food on the plate !!
    My older brother was a bit of a rebel and broke rules from a young age. He wolfed down every last mouthful of boiled potato, usually ate his cabbage, ate the meat – EXCEPT – he always LEFT ANY MEAT FAT.
    As a child I was very obedient – to a fault – (sensitive). Oh how I HATED that potato but I struggled through it, looking forward to the meat, fattier the better, which I left till last.
    Chocolate was the only sweets I liked and I had no interest when all the other stuff came off ration. I understand that chocolate contains some mood enhancing substance not found elsewhere.
    I would suggest that we do indeed have an innate ability to eat what is good for us but I also believe that we are not all the same in what our body needs.
    Added to which, early training has a large effect on future eating habits for good or ill.

  3. “That is why modern humans, living in a food environment rich in processed foods that are particularly low in protein, are so prone to becoming obese.”

    Processing, which involves heat and chemical treatment, removes a great deal of vitamin content.

    Industrial farming, with its emphasis on speed of production, removes a lot of trace mineral content. E.g., industrialized milk and egg production results in milk and eggs that are low in vitamin K2.

    The dietary “low-fat” foods includes weird lipids our bodies weren’t meant to take in. We weren’t meant to drink skim milk or eat cheese processed to be low-fat.

    Then there’s the whole GMO thing…and the high-antibiotic meat and eggs.

    Our appetites cause us to desire food containing vitamins and minerals that we lack.

    1. “Processing, which involves heat and chemical treatment …”: golly, you make it sound as bad as … cooking!

      ‘The dietary “low-fat” foods includes weird lipids our bodies weren’t meant to take in. We weren’t meant to drink skim milk or eat cheese processed to be low-fat’: well, quite. But does anyone but a few neurotics eat such rubbish?

      1. Cooking fruits and vegetables tends to destroy vitamins. Even minerals can potentially be affected and change ionic states.

        Otoh, you had better be sure to cook elderberries before consuming them!

      2. When we were young and poor (sob!) we used to make elderberry wine. It was rather successful. I recommend it. Even if it’s not up to the standard of your preferred table wine it’s pretty good in stews.

      3. I’ve had Tasmanian Elderberry wine that was indistinguishable from a well made cabernet – or at least I was able to fool a wine connoisseur in a brown bag test.

        There are a lot of different species of elderberry, some more likely to make you ill than others. If you are from the UK then you probably used Sambucus nigra. A few ripe berries are probably okay, but unripe berries and other parts of the plant have toxins, so you need to be careful. I would expect that fermentation degrades the toxins as the recipe I just checked does not recommend boiling them – it does say use only fully ripe berries though.

  4. Thank you again, Dr Rushworth.

    Concerning a plant-based diet, that they talk about and recommend for older people, one must be more active in the choices of what to wat.

    Look at the DIAAS table… Animal based food items score better than plant based food items. Meaning that you need a greater quantity and more diverse set of food items to meet the protein target.

    Eating a well diversified plant based diet is very good for the gut according to Tim Specter of the Zoe study. He recommends to consume 30 different plants during each week and one fermented item each day. With or without animal based items.

    Its a challenge at first but comes naturally after a while.

  5. Very interesting. Thanks, Sebastian, for sharing their knowledge and work. I love explanations that invoke evolutionary processes. Ultimately, it is everything about what we are.

  6. I found the interview not particularly clear. I was preparing breakfast while listening to the program, but I follow along carefully.
    I do understand that protein intake optimum changes with age and that at middle age one should not consume that much protein relatively, compared to old age and youth. I had known from other sources that older people should increase their protein by about 20-25%.
    You, Sebastian, always summarize content that is not clear and complicated. You did try this time too, but I don’t believe you obtained your goal. The interviewees continued to cite experiments and the papers they had written and came across to me as searching for consensus and glory?
    This was for me the interview that I have liked the least amongst all the ones that I have followed before and after having subscribed to your Patreon podcast.
    Kind regards and thanks for your efforts and depth, your seriousness and dedication.

  7. It was an interesting interview and the book (I’m at Chapter 14) is strong at the beginning when they are discussing how locusts and other insects eat for a target protein acquisition. Although they ignored lipids, these results are very convincing.

    I think less so when they moved to mice. For one thing, they seem to think all protein and fat sources are equal (they do recognise differences in carbohydrates). So, using linoleic acid as the only fat source in one study they mentioned seems likely to have given them unreliable results, given the controversy about seed oils.

    Another problem is that they seem to have accepted most of the diet myths out there – on salt being bad for you for example (several commenters on YT found this problematical) and cholesterol etc.

    All in all, though, protein leverage seems a great insight into feeding behaviour and their hypothesis that this underpins overeating of highly processed foods and the obesity epidemic is very interesting.

  8. Please comment on the Pfizer document “5.3.6 CUMULATIVE ANALYSIS OF POST-AUTHORIZATION ADVERSE EVENT REPORTS OF PF-07302048 (BNT162B2) RECEIVED THROUGH 28-FEB-2021 ” that has been talked about by for exampel Dr J Campbell, “The Pfizer documents”. In the description of his video there is a link to the document at phmpt.org
    On page 30 there is a long list of “adverse events of special interests”, with about 9 pages of various diseases and conditions. Are these actual adverse events / reactions that occured during the time period that the document covers? Is there a legal aspect as well? Perhaps Pfizer can’t be sued if they declare the possible adverse events, or I am mistaken? Anyways it would be valuable with your comment on that Pfizer document.

  9. The assumptions & assertions these guys make are amusing. They are claiming that there is a specific hormone control signaling a need for specific nutrients. And how is this behaviorally mediated? They appear to have taken a few interesting observations, extrapolated their own “mechanism,” and then ‘filled in the blanks’ with a theory to sell a book.

    Sebastian, I have been a physician a good bit longer than you, and have seen so many similar ‘flights of fancy’ masquerading as “SCIENCE.” The past two years has demonstrated how few of our medical brethren are capable of critical thinking and are incapable of looking at a paper & quickly identifying the gaps in data, logical fallacies, and unsubstantiated “conclusions.”

    Given the utter corruption of Pharma & government healthcare organizations (there is an oxymoron!), cynicism & rejection of the status quo make sense, but this does render us susceptible to embracing poorly supported but ‘radical’ theories.

    Obesity is multifactorial, it is rather simplistic to state “here is the ANSWER!” Because the ANSWER was “eat low fat” until it wasn’t. Before that it was strict calorie counting (helpful but not sustainable). And so it goes.

    1. Obesity is multi factorial?
      Well maybe but ……..
      Unfortunately Humans are the only truly evil animals on the planet. Everyone trying to get richer, no matter who suffers.
      I only half believe that seeking an appropriate level of protein acts as a natural mechanism to keep animals healthy. But it is not a ‘flight of fancy’.
      You are probably right to scoff at their so called scientific analysis but don’t pooh pooh the whole idea.
      Personally I found a high protein low carbohydrate diet the way to regulate my body mass index or whatever it is called nowadays. Eating animal fats were irrelevant.
      Nowadays bread is puffed up with chemicals and butter is verboten. Couldn’t spread it on that bread anyway.
      The reasons people are fat are, they do sedentary, pointless jobs, eating is their only relief and the food is more like poison than nutrition.
      If I remember rightly the two Australians were making some of the same points.

      1. I agree FULLY with your first point, that is the reality of evil. This is a moral issue, and morality is not in the domain of animals. Watching hyenas attack is horrific, but they are simply using their behavioral repertoire without conscious thought or intent. It is not morally wrong or evil.

        You also note something very important as you comment on increasing protein. This does help some people. Please note the qualifier “some” as what medicine is posing is the individualization of treatment for a given person. People are different & as such, different solutions are needed.

        A high protein diet is definitely not indicated for people with renal disease, too much nitrogenous waste (ammonia) is generated. I note an above article decrying the evil of benzos. This sort of blanket statement is just as bad as saying “everybody needs the jab.” Benzos are absolutely life-saving for a few people, and life enhancing for many. Addiction is actually relatively uncommon compared to preceding drugs such as barbiturates, and far less than opioids. So benzos are good for some, bad for others.

        This requires the individualization of treatment that only comes through the traditional “doctor-patient” relationship which has been thoroughly undermined by “corporate healthcare”.

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