Are Primates Vegan?

I often hear this argument from my fellow vegans, often using it to prove that humans are herbivores (we are no such thing). But in order to answer this question, some terms need to be defined.

Which primates? For the purpose of this article, I am going to stick mainly to our closest living evolutionary ancestor: the Chimpanzee. While Gorillas and a few other species eat far more vegetables than anything else, Chimps do not. Chimpanzee’s are known to eat animal flesh, fish, insects, honey, and eggs. According to one estimate:

“some years, the 45 chimpanzees of the main study community at Gombe kill and consume more than 1500 pounds of prey animals of all species. This is far more than most previous estimates of the weight of live animals eaten by chimpanzees. A large proportion of this amount is eaten in the dry season months of August and September. In fact, during the peak dry season months, the estimated per capita meat intake is about 65 grams of meat per day for each adult chimpanzee. This approaches the meat intake by the members of some human foraging societies in the lean months of the year.”

Although meat alone is estimated to only account for 3% of the chimps total dietary intake. The biggest percentage of chimpanzee diet consists of fruit, seeds, leaves, etc. But Chimps are mainly considered frugavores due to their dietary staple of fruit, mainly figs. But about 8-10% of their diet at any given time may consist of meat, eggs, honey, fish, or insects.

So are Chimps vegan? Not even close. But are chimp diets healthier? Of course… kinda.

Chimpanzee’s eat a ton of fruit, but they also actively burn off those dense sugar calories throughout the day through hunting and foraging. So people like Freelee the Banana Girl, who vigorously bikes, or highly active Ben from NoMeatAthelete, would have no issue with a high fruit diet, because like Chmpanzee’s, they burn off the calories and excess sugar before it becomes stored as fat.

But what about humans? While it should be obvious to anyone that eating unlimited fruit everyday will result in weight gain, eating a diet up to 75% fruit has more than just a weight gain issue. As long as you stay within your BMR+Activity Level you’re not likely to gain much in weight, but a few other issues pop up:

Tooth Decay

Depending on the type of fruit you eat, and your dental hygene, high fruit diets can be linked to tooth decay. A study done in 2014 actually concluded with fruit smoothies causing significant erosion of tooth enamel. Does this mean not to eat fruit? Of course not! Certainly eat fruit! But for tooth health, it is probably better to reduce fruit intake and focus mainly on other vegetables.

Deficiency

A high fruit diet needs to be heavily supplemented or fortified in order to get the right amount of various vitamins and minerals, especially if the fruit diet is as high as 75% of the diet. Fruit is usually low in Calcium, Iron, Zinc, Selenium, protein, and fat, among others, which have to be made up through supplementation and high bean and legume intake. It’s hard enough to get adequate nutrition on a vegan diet simply by eating a ton of healthy vegetables, beans, and even fortified foods, it’s best not to put that health at risk for a fad diet with no backing.

But I do agree that eating more vegetables and fruit and less meat and processed foods would make for a much better diet. But we can agree with that WITHOUT stomping on zoology and lying about animal diets to do so.

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