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Med Hypotheses. 2000 Mar;54(3):488-94.

The origins of western obesity: a role for animal protein?

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  • 1Helicon Foundation, San Diego, CA, USA.


A reduced propensity to oxidize fat, as indicated by a relatively high fasting respiratory quotient, is a major risk factor for weight gain. Increased insulin secretion works in various ways to impede fat oxidation and promote fat storage. The substantial 'spontaneous' weight loss often seen with very-low-fat dietary regimens may reflect not only a reduced rate of fat ingestion, but also an improved insulin sensitivity of skeletal muscle that down-regulates insulin secretion. Reduction of diurnal insulin secretion may also play a role in the fat loss often achieved with exercise training, low-glycemic-index diets, supplementation with soluble fiber or chromium, low-carbohydrate regimens, and biguanide therapy. The exceptional leanness of vegan cultures may reflect an additional factor - the absence of animal protein. Although dietary protein by itself provokes relatively little insulin release, it can markedly potentiate the insulin response to co-ingested carbohydrate; Western meals typically unite starchy foods with an animal protein-based main course. Thus, postprandial insulin secretion may be reduced by either avoiding animal protein, or segregating it in low-carbohydrate meals; the latter practice is a feature of fad diets stressing 'food combining'. Vegan diets tend to be relatively low in protein, legume protein may be slowly absorbed, and, as compared to animal protein, isolated soy protein provokes a greater release of glucagon, an enhancer of fat oxidation. The low insulin response to rice may mirror its low protein content. Minimizing diurnal insulin secretion in the context of a low fat intake may represent an effective strategy for achieving and maintaining leanness.

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