Some people say that a raw food diet is not right for people. They say we were meant to eat meat; so, we should eat lots of it. Yet, evolutionary biology tells us that we have a lot in common with the great apes. In fact, in a comparison of our DNA, scientists kept finding identical genes again and again. The joke around some labs was that they were going to find out that the only difference between us and the apes were social! Eventually, they did find differences. Yet, we still share about ninety-nine percent similarity with the great apes. So, following a diet similar to what they eat can be quite healthy for us.
With all of the apes – chimps, baboons, orangutans and gorillas, they eat diets rich in raw fruit, raw leaves, and shoots, insects and nuts. The idea of eating cooked foods and lots of different kinds of grains is something unique to people. Many dieticians, doctors, and scientists believe that if we stick to a diet that is more like that of our ape relatives, we would see major benefits to our overall health. After all, they argue, it is the diet we are best adapted to. But, the diet of the great apes does have some important limitations; we need to be mindful of this, and compensate for it.
First off, this type of diet is lacking in a source for B12. Now, the apes compensate for this being eating insects along with the fruits, shoots, leaves and nuts. Chimpanzees love to collect and eat termites, and they are high in B12. Of course, as vegan diets go, insects are definitely not on the menu! Vitamin B12 comes from bacteria, so not having the insects in your diet is not something to worry about. Not that I imagine you’re at all disappointed by that fact! You can simply get B12 from and commercial fortified foods and supplements.
Next, exposure to sunlight is important; as that is a source of vitamin D. modern humans tend to remain indoors a great deal, especially during the winter. So, while our ape “relatives” bask in the African sun, we need to be sure to get our vitamin D from foods fortified with the vegan form (ergocalciferol, D2). Doing so will make up for our limited light exposure. Another means of compensating is to take a trip to a sunnier clime during the winter. That way, you can get more vitamin D naturally. Be sure to keep an eye on infants and small children. As they have a lot of bone growth going on in their bodies, they need plenty of vitamin D. Some advocates for breast feeding say it’s the best way to insure infants get enough vitamin D. But, that only works if the mother has enough vitamin D in her diet.
It’s also said that food processing, including cooking, has led to a big change in how our digestive systems operate as compared to the great apes. Some argue that we’ve adapted to relying on processed foods. In some cases, cooking and other processes are good. They eliminate some toxins, and release some nutrients. What’s truly best is what’s known as conservative cooking: steaming food or boiling it. They improve some nutrients, while do only minimal destruction to others.
One food group to try to avoid are the refined grains. There’s a lot of research to support the assertion that they increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes. On the other hand, whole grains do just the opposite; they reduce that same risk of heart disease and diabetes. Now, this does not mean you should necessarily add whole grains to your diet. Some people are allergic to gluten, which is in many grains. If that is the case for you, consider adding whole grain rice to your diet; it lacks gluten, and is very nutritious.
So, while we may have differences from our ape “cousins”, following a diet similar to theirs can be nutritious, beneficial, and require little to no cooking. Granted, you must insure you get adequate vitamins, and avoid anything you might be allergic to, but the overall long-term health benefits are outstanding.