It’s pretty hard to work out what you can and can’t eat these days…
Which is not a good situation given the alarming rise of obesity and chronic illness in the US and UK.
Can eating like an ape improve your health?
Can natural nutrition reverse the effects of modern diets?
The BBC decided to find out and got some volunteers to go “back to nature”…
The “Evo Diet” experiment
Take one zoo enclosure in Devon, England — only meters away from the great apes. Put in some huts and tents. Add 9 people with dangerously high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Add a dietician prepared ape diet and then simmer for 12 days…
High blood pressure and cholesterol are high risk factors for heart disease and strokes. The program pointed the finger at too much saturated fat in modern diets, which increase bad cholesterol.
This sticks to the walls of arteries and eventually causes blockages, leading to heart attacks and strokes. Was 12 days enough to make any difference to this risky state of affairs?
The diet goes back 6 million years — to when the evolution of man and the great apes diverged. At that time, it’s well accepted that we ate a largely vegetarian diet, pretty much as the great apes do today.
5Kg (11lb) / 2,300 calories per person of raw fruits, vegetables, and nuts / seeds were delivered in cool boxes. A single olive soaked in brine provided the salt allowance for each day.
In the second week, there was a nod to more recent changes in humans diets — from 3.5 million years ago to 350,000 years ago due to stone tools, hunting and fire. Some paleontologists believe that it was meat-eating that increased our brain size and gave us the evolutionary edge.
To put these time-scales in perspective, we saw that farming only occurred within the last 10,000 years and processed foods mainly within the last 100 years.
The volunteers got to go fishing and had a meal of fresh grilled mackerel — just the one meal, then it was back to veggies.
The beauty of a diet plan like this is that you eat it as it comes… no packaging, no preparation, no cooking and all the left-overs are biodegradable.
But do we have all day to munch on raw food? How practical is it in the modern world?
What really surprised me was that there were no symptoms of detoxification, once the initial caffeine withdrawal was over. No moodiness or sickness at all, just lots of giggling going on. They seemed to be in very high spirits.
One side effect of the diet was weight loss. But then they didn’t finish their food, so you’d expect some weight loss. By bedtime on the first day they were still munching away! Other side effects were lots of trips to the bathroom and lots of farting! :-)
The results — staggering — an average of 23% reduction in cholesterol. Blood pressure returned to normal in everybody. And all this without any serious exercise, although we did see them kicking a ball about on one occasion.
One guy — the most worrying case of the group — reported “lots of energy” and “sleeping well.” His insulin level went from 20.7 to 8!
The response in camp to the mackerel was very interesting — they were gagging for it! “Heaven,” “Delicious,” “I’m glad it was cooked, but if it wasn’t I probably would have gone for the raw method.”
Life and death stuff
It’s interesting to note that the volunteers looked healthy enough at the start and yet “their diet could be killing them.” It always pays to look beneath the surface of things, where health is concerned.
The program showed how quickly health can change for the better given the right conditions. And make no mistake — this is life and death stuff we’re talking about.
If these folks hadn’t changed, all the signs showed they were likely to develop life-threatening conditions. Why wait ’til you have high blood pressure and cholesterol?
The program explained…
“Scientists believe that many of our modern health problems stem from a mismatch between what we ate as we evolved and the food we eat now.”
I think it’s fair to say that many do. But this information also eludes many scientists and health professionals who don’t really consider the evolutionary picture, when giving out health advice. This is a really under-studied area of nutrition.
This was a very light hearted look at our ape ancestry, with a serious message. I think many people will have dismissed the program as a stunt and the diet as impractical, but there are many folks following raw vegan “ape” diets such as this.
I’d like to see the actual list of food they ate. And I’d like to see longer term studies — over years, decades, exploring the whole evolutionary idea properly. I’d like studies adding animal foods into a diet like this to see the health impact. This is important stuff!
It’s a shame there wasn’t a real-life application of the ideas behind the diet, we weren’t left with much we could take away apart from “eat lots more fruit and veg.” :-)
But the most important thing about this program was the mainstream exposure. The idea of eating a diet of natural, healthy food, in a way that we evolved to eat, is now in the minds of a lot more people. Hoorah!
It won’t surprise you to learn that the Happy Guide diet is a big step back to eating, natural human food. Plus it has the feel good, convenience and taste factors that will make it work in your real life.