Forget the idea of a single drive to eat – you have evolved distinct appetites for various foods. This makes it easier to eat exactly what you need, and helps explain the obesity epidemic
20 May 2020
STELLA lived on the outskirts of Cape Town, South Africa. It was a beautiful, rural setting just below Table Mountain, surrounded by vineyards, trees, wild fynbos heathland and scattered settlements.
In 2010, Caley Johnson, a graduate student of anthropology at City University of New York, arrived to study Stella. For 30 consecutive days she followed her, watching and recording exactly what, and how much, she ate.
Stella’s diet was extremely diverse: almost 90 different foodstuffs over that time. On the surface, she didn’t appear particularly discerning. And indeed, the ratio of fats to carbohydrates in her diet varied widely from day to day.
But when Johnson crunched the numbers, something interesting popped out. When she looked at the ratio of combined daily calories from carbs and fats to calories from protein, she always got close to 4:1. This happened every day, regardless of what Stella ate. Even more interestingly, this ratio was very similar to what is considered nutritionally ideal for a female of Stella’s size. Far from being indiscriminate, Stella was a meticulously healthy eater.
How did she calibrate her diet so precisely? Doing so is difficult, and even professional dieticians have to use computer programs to do it. But Stella didn’t have access to a program because she was a wild Cape baboon.
The Stella study is one of many that we have been involved with over the course of our 30-year scientific collaboration. As a result, we think we have discovered something profoundly important about human nutrition, which changes how we understand appetite, explains the obesity epidemic – and suggests a way of solving it. …