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What if we ate like our cousin the ape?

Published on October 21, 2014 at 14:41 / Updated on July 19, 2019 at 19:21

We are constantly told that our diets are too rich in calories, saturated fats and salt. So it is not terribly surprising to learn that obesity and cardiovascular disease are wreaking havoc on our population. If we were to adopt a diet resembling that of our ancestor the ape, would we see an improvement in our health? The answer will surprise you!

A British television station, without a doubt looking to increase their ratings, put together a spectacular scheme to evaluate the impact diet has on our health. The producers put nine volunteers in an enclosed space at the zoo, right beside the ape house. These people consumed up to five kilos of raw fruits and vegetables per day for a period of twelve days, with the goal of reducing their blood pressures and blood cholesterol levels.

A nutritionist devised a diet essentially made up of fruits, vegetables, nuts and honey. Her inspiration came from what apes regularly eat in nature, and from studies that proved the benefits associated with eating certain foods. The menu was safe to eat raw, met the daily nutritional requirements for a healthy adult, and volunteers were allowed to drink water. During the second week of the experiment, they were also given portions of cooked fatty fish, bringing the diet closer to that of a hunter-gatherer.

Contrary to what the producers were anticipating, the volunteers did not experience mood swings or loss of energy throughout the experiment, nor did they go hungry. In fact, most participants were unable to finish their daily rations. However, it was a little more difficult to ignore the stinky side effects of a diet suddenly rich in fibres …

On average, the cholesterol levels of the participants plummeted by 23%, a decrease generally achieved by taking a cholesterol-lowering medication. Their blood pressure went from 140/83 mmHg to 122/76 mmHg. They lost 9.7 lbs on average, even though the diet was not chosen for its weight lowering properties. Their salt intake also spectacularly dropped, from 12 grams at the beginning of the experiment, to approximately 1 gram per day after 12 days.

However unrealistic this experiment may be in our daily lives, the participants confirm taking valuable lessons from their stay at the zoo. They introduced more fruits and vegetables to their diets, reduced their salt intake and cut saturated fats, while eating more soluble fibres that bind cholesterol in the intestines. Some actually admit to eating only when they are hungry, not when it is “time to eat”.

People often wrongly assume they are going to “starve to death” if they eat more fruits and vegetables and less meat. This experiment proves the exact opposite!

So don’t hesitate to let the little monkey in you choose when you plan your meals!

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