Ever since I was a little kid I have always been fascinated by the great apes; chimpanzees, orangutans and gorillas. As a proponent of an animal based Low Carb High Fat (LCHF) living we have an obvious problem here. For a long time the gorilla has been portrait as the ultimate argument for a vegan lifestyle. If you want to grow strong and vibrant as a gorilla, it seems logical that you should eat a plant-based diet just like the gorilla does.
And that is of course very true…provided you were born as a gorilla. So here comes the really bad news for all you vegans hanging around this web site. If you can actually read this blog, the chances that you were born a gorilla are really low. The gorilla grows strong on a mainly vegan diet but a human does not. Just as your pet rabbit might thrive and grow healthy on a plant based diet, that does not mean your pet cat will be healthy on it. And by the way, I strongly advise against putting your rabbit on an animal based LCHF diet even if that might be the healthiest diet for you.
The thing here is this: In different species the input of food in your mouth is not the same as the output of food nutrients to your body. A cow can eat grass and get a lot of nutrients from it but if a human does the same thing it will pass right through with almost no nutrients being absorbed by the body. It is all about how the gastrointestinal tract is constructed in different species. So that is why a gorilla grows muscular, healthy and vibrant on a plant-based diet but vegan humans trying to do the same trick tend to look weak, skinny and pale. Now most of the vegans give up on the diet in a few years. Only a few persists and can be divided into two major categories :
1)Those who eat whole plant food and stay away from highly processed industrial food. They still look weak and pale but can remain reasonably healthy if they take their vitamin B12 supplement.
2)Those who think Coca Colas, donuts, muffins and other highly processed foods are OK as long as they are based on plants. These vegans might actually, over time develop a waistline somewhat resembling that of a gorilla. Unfortunately, this is not a definite proof that you are a gorilla or that your gastrointestinal tract works anyway like a gorilla’s.
So, back to the gorillas. What do they put in their mouths and what nutritional output does it result in after the food have been processed in their gastrointestinal tract? The gorilla mainly eats highly fibrous leafy vegetables and some wild fruits that are not even closely as sugary as the highly bred fruit you will find in your grocery store. The impressive gorilla waistline is due to them having a far bigger gastrointestinal tract and foremost a greater capacity for fermentation of fibers in their colon. So this is the best guess scientist have of the macro nutrients the gorilla gets out of their food measured as per cent of energy intake:
Carbohydrate 15,8 %
Protein 24,3 %
Fat 2,5 %
SCFA 57,3 %
So, lets see here…15,8 % of energy from carbs. Sounds like a decent low carb diet. 24,3 % from protein also sounds like something from a low carb diet. Fat 2,5 % sounds very low but then comes this astonishing figure of 57,3 % of energy coming from SCFA. So what then is SCFA? It stands for Short Chain Fatty Acids. And guess what – it is short chains of the vilified saturated fats. Actually as long as you are in the macronutrient business, there is no reason at all to make a difference between fat and SCFA:s. They are all fats. So actually the gorilla vegan diet, at the end of the day results in digesting about 60 % fat and the bulk of it from saturated fats.
That is why I call the gorilla my LCHF companion!
Objections, anyone? Yes, free, short chain saturated fatty acids are processed somewhat different in our bodies than the long chain triglycerides of saturated fats we get from animal foods. Free, short chain fatty acids can be used directly by our cells as fuel while triglycerides of fat has a tendency to get stored in our fatty tissues first. However, this is not a problem for a human body that is in energy balance and eats a low carb diet that does not result in the blood sugar roller coaster ride that a high carb diet most often results in. With stable blood sugar levels and above all stable insulin levels in your body, the fat deposited in your fat cells will be available to be used as energy. On a diet high in carbs and with a high glycemic index your body fat will be locked in by the insulin and unavailable to the body. Your body experience starvation even though you have a lot of extra energy reserves in your fat tissue.
By the way, the most saturated fat on this planet happens to be coconut oil. It is mostly medium chain fatty acids and takes yet another route in your body. It goes to the liver and is converted to ketones that can be used as fuel to your cells. But all the fat, no matter if it is short chain, medium chain or long chain will end up as fat in your fat tissues if you lock it in by eating a high carb diet.
So let us once again get back to the gorillas. How do they end up getting 57 % of their energy from saturated fats by eating mostly veggies that most government food authorities around the world recommends just because they are low in fats? The answer is that bacteria in the gorilla colon ferments the fiber in the food and turns it into short chain saturated fatty acids. That is great! Only problem is that they have to spend most of the day chewing leaves. But even that is all OK by me. I would happily accept sitting there in the jungle eating leafs all day long instead of my daytime work answering phone calls and e-mails…at least for a couple or weeks or so. Only problem is that I would not get the same nutritional output of the gorilla diet. Humans can only ferment and retrieve a small fraction of the energy in fibers. I know that the Swedish Food Administration for the next revision of their food database will be counting on that only 1 % of the energy in fibers can be utilized by humans. This is of cause an average number – the amount of fermentation to SCA depends on the type of fiber and the individual gut flora also plays a role. Studies have concluded that the contribution from the human colon is about 2-9 % of our total energy, a lot lower then 57 % of energy suggested for the gorilla.
The reason for this is that our ancestors made an evolutionary trade-off making the gastrointestinal tract shorter in order to afford a bigger brain. Both organs are very expensive in terms of energy consumption so it would be difficult for an animal to have both a big, human-like brain and a big gorilla-like gastrointestinal tract. During the evolution our ancestors went out on the African savannah but gorillas remained in the jungle. For a bipedal creature out on the savannah it is an obvious advantage to have a smaller belly, which makes running and walking long distances a lot easier. To be able to do this evolutionary trade-off our ancestors had to change their diet and make their food intake more nutrient-dense. The first apparent adaption was to increase consumption of animal based food. The next was the invention of cooked food which made nutrients from both animal and plant based food more accessible for digestion.
So the gorilla diet and the human diet has diverged for about 7 million years or so. Still, before the event of agriculture about 10 000 years ago there was still some similarities between gorilla food and human food.
Neither gorillas nor humans ate grains (grass seeds) on a regular basis or in any amount worth mentioning from a nutritional standpoint.
Neither gorillas nor humans ate refined sugar at all. Yes, if we got hold of honey we surely ate it but that did not happen very often. And yes, we ate fruits seasonally but fruits and berries found in nature tend to be a lot less sweet than the fruits you find at the grocery store.
So what happens to human health if you introduce processed grains and sugary food on a massive scale into the diet? We suffer poor health. We get cavities in our teeth. There is a lot of archeological evidence showing that hunter gatherers had better dental health than did populations of early agriculturalists. Recently there was a story of Egyptian mummies showing signs of heart disease. Now it was not the ordinary guy that got mummified. It was the upper class who could hope for this procedure, guaranteeing eternal life with the goods. They had access to the finest milled wheat flour and a lot of honey. And honey, by the way, is from a nutritional standpoint very similar to table sugar or High Fructose Corn Syrup. You could say that the Egyptian upper class was the first ones to eat a western diet and the first ones to suffer from established heart disease.
In the early 20th century finely, steel-milled wheat flour and refined sugar were beginning to be economically accessible to the majority of people in the Western world. Sugar consumption sky rocketed. Some decades later an unprecedented rise in cardiovascular disease happened.
So what then happens to gorilla health if you introduce a lot of finely milled grains and sugar to their diet? This very unethical experiment has actually been carried out in zoo’s around the world. It results in gorillas getting obese. In 2005 a 21-year-old gorilla died of heart failure at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. And the people at the zoo found signs of heart disease in other gorillas as well. So the first response to this was obvious: Put the gorillas on medications! But later on someone came up with the brilliant idea to actually change their very unnatural diet. Animal Planet reports on the story here.
Instead of the high-sugar and high-starch food that zoos have fed gorillas for years, the Cleveland zoo now serves wheelbarrows full of romaine lettuce, dandelion greens, endive, alfalfa and bananas stuffed with multivitamins. And guess what – the gorillas lost weight.
Before that the zoo probably feed the gorillas something called primate chow, dominated by ingredients a gorilla would never or very rarely eat in the wild. Just look at the list of major ingredients in Zupreems brand of primate chow:
Ground corn, Soybean meal, Cracked wheat, Sucrose,Wheat germ meal, Animal fat, Dried whole egg
The list goes on with added vitamins and minerals. Gorillas in the wild never eat corn, soybeans, wheat or sucrose. If they occasionally stumble on an egg they will probably eat it, though. This formula is dominated by starchy foods gorillas never eat. Probably the guy who composed this formula reasoned somewhat like this: Primates eat a lot of carbs in the form of fibrous vegetables and fruit in the wild…and since starch and sucrose are also carbs we might as well use that in our formula. But as we learned fibers are digested in a completely other way then other carbs.
So this food probably effects the gorillas the very same way it would effect humans. The easily accessible carbs in the starchy and sugary food will send their blood sugar on a roller coaster ride making them to get hungry and overeat. The insulin spikes will stop fat from being used as fuel and promote lipogenesis (the making of fat from carbohydrates). Still, according to conventional wisdom the gorillas where given a healthy diet, mainly based on grains and legumes, low in fat and salt.
So based on all this, what would you regard to be the most likely dietary factors responsible for heart disease in humans? I will give you three alternatives:
1.Saturated fat and cholesterol
3.Easily digestible starch and sugars
Did you answer alternative 1 or 2? Congratulations, You are qualified to be a member of the expert committee that will do the revision of the USDA dietary guidelines 2015!