Eat like a Primate

Personally, I’m of the belief that humans came from monkeys. In college I took a class called Human Origins which made it pretty evident that modern man evolved from hulking ape-like vegetation-chewing primates. Not the fierce predators some would have you believe.

In fact, when we weren’t busy hanging around in trees munching on copious amounts of leaves and fruits. We were totally preoccupied with not becoming a well-equipped predator’s lunch. In my opinion, it was that constant stress of being hunted that helped us develop higher brains.

But who am I say this? I’m just a writer who happened to take a few electives outside my degree requirements. So how do I know what earlier human beings were eating? And for that matter, how do I know what modern man should be eating now? Well, let’s take a look at a couple recent reports and see if we can figure that out.

Back in November The New York Times examined the diet of the Paranthropus, one of our very early ancestors. And according to research the Paranthropus were rather Fuhrman-friendly, regularly munching on green vegetation, fruits, and nuts. Reporter Henry Fountain explained:
The researchers used a laser to ablate small layers of enamel from the fossilized teeth of a 1.8-million-year-old P. robustus specimen. By analyzing the concentrations of carbon isotopes in the enamel they were able to determine whether P. robustus was eating grasses or the fruits and leaves of trees and bushes. Grasses use a different photosynthetic pathway than trees and bushes and have a higher concentration of carbon-13, which gets incorporated in animal tissue when the foods are eaten.
This makes a lot of sense to me. Back in my Human Origins class I remember the professor passing around skulls of early hominins. The skull structures were very robust, with flat-looking molars, and room for huge chewing muscles. To be honest, they looked a lot like gorilla skulls, and not at all like predator skulls. For anyone who’s ever had to give a cat or a dog pill, you know what I mean, especially when you look at their teeth.

My opinions on human evolution are a big part of the reason why I think Dr. Fuhrman is right on target with his dietary recommendations. If eating hearty amounts of fruits, vegetables, beans, and nuts worked for our ancestors, who are we to muck up millions of years of evolution with lots meat, processed foods, and artificial sweeteners? So this begs the question, how would modern people fair eating a diet that closely resembles that of our primate cousins?

Now, I’ve got to thank Stephen for sending this to me—great catch man! A group of people in the United Kingdom volunteered to eat as monkeys do; lots of raw veggies, fruits, nuts, and small portions of oily fish and honey. The experiment was designed to uncover the health benefits of bringing our diet back to basics. So how’d they do? Claire Heald of BBC News reports:
Overall, the cholesterol levels dropped 23%, an amount usually achieved only through anti-cholesterol drugs statins.

The group's average blood pressure fell from a level of 140/83 - almost hypertensive - to 122/76. Though it was not intended to be a weight loss diet, they dropped 4.4kg (9.7lbs), on average.

The regime provided an education for all, and a permanent change for some.

"The main lesson that they took away was to eat more fruit and veg," says Ms Garton. They also cut salt intake from a group average of 12g a day, to 1g (against a guideline maximum of 6g) and reduced saturated fat - which makes cholesterol - from 13% to 5% of calories (recommended, 11%).
Not only did the volunteers reap these rewards, but they also reported never going hungry and in many cases not being able to finish their daily ration; check out Foods That Make You Thin more on this. Additionally, once they finished withdrawing from things like caffeine, the volunteers enjoyed good energy levels and improved mood. And, on a funny note, the volunteers joked about their newfound gassiness as their bodies adjusted to their healthy diet. Now for more on that, take a look at this post, adeptly named Adjusting to a Healthy Diet:
Don’t forget that when you change your diet to one that is so much lower in salt and higher in nutrients your blood pressure will drop significantly and you will begin a detoxification process that can be compared to stopping additive drugs. You may actually feel worse, not better for a week or two.

During this temporary adjustment period that usually lasts less than a week, and rarely more than two weeks, you might feel fatigue, headaches, gassy, or other mild symptoms as your body withdraws from your prior toxic eating habits. For example, stopping dangerous but stimulating foods, including caffeine, causes temporary fatigue and headaches.
Studies like this make it abundantly clear, even to somebody like me with only a limited understanding of anthropology, that as far as diet goes, humans appear to be better off keeping it simple. Low-carb cookies, low-fat potato chips, grilled chicken, diet-cola, orange drink, salted pork, and free-range beef only seem to complicate things.
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Kyle Key - February 11, 2007 10:51 PM

I've never heard any evolutionary biologist say that we came from monkeys, but rather "a common ancestor."

Mark Levin - March 20, 2007 10:31 AM

A couple of things. One is that while the Paranthropus may have eaten a primarily vegetarian diet, they didn't eat oily fish. Second, while they may be ancestors from 1.8 millions years ago, anthopological evidence from 1 million years ago to 10,000 years ago show man to be a hunter gatherer with animal foods making up the majority of his diet. Finally even chimpanzees (a herbivorus monkey) are estimated to consume approximately 5% of their calories from insects on their food and eating other species of monkeys.

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