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Vegetarians in Paradise
Vegetarianism in the News

June 1, 2007 -- Vegparadise News Bureau

Eat Like an Ape; Watch the Pounds Peel Off
and Your Cholesterol and Blood Pressure Plummet

Leave it to the English. While American networks are busily playing copycat TV, our English cousins are creating unique shows we call The Office, American Idol, and Dancing with the Stars that have been huge hits on both sides of the Atlantic.

This year the BBC debuted a program that will probably not follow in the footsteps of these hits. In an America obsessed with Angus beef, a show that features the Ape Diet is unlikely to reach our shores unless it is translated into a version of Survivor.

Evo Ape Diet Jill Fullerton-Smith, who might be considered a pariah by fast food devotees in the U.S., organized a 12-day trial that included nine volunteers aged 36 to 49 who would eat a diet fit for primates. These nine were housed in a tented enclosure at the Paignton Zoo in Devon, England. Because they were adjacent to the zoo's ape house, their eating regimen during the trial has been nicknamed the Ape Diet.

Fullerton-Smith turned to King's College Hospital and Lynne Garton, a registered dietician and nutritionist, to devise the Evo Diet consisting of the types of foods that humans evolved to eat over thousands of years, a diet that would also lower cholesterol and blood pressure.

Participants sampled ape diet
Garton took her inspiration from a plant-based diet of man's closest relatives, the apes. She devised a program that was made up of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and honey that would be given to the participants on a three-day rotating basis.

The menu had three requirements:

  • It had to be safe eaten raw.
  • It met adult human daily nutritional requirements.
  • It provided 2300 calories--between 2000 recommended for women and 2500 for men

And what did they eat daily? Five kilograms (11 pounds) or 2300 calories of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and honey on a 3-day rotation, typically:

    Broccoli, carrots, radishes
    Cabbage, tomatoes, watercress
    Strawberries, apricots, bananas
    Mangoes, melons, figs, plums
    Satsumas, hazelnuts

The only liquid for the volunteers was plain water.

In the second week the participants were given "standard portions" of cooked oily fish that might have been part of the hunter/gatherer lifestyle.

Anyone facing the task of devouring 2300 calories of raw food daily will soon discover that is an impossible task for most people. Most of the volunteers were unable to finish their daily quota of food. Guards were stationed outside of the tent to keep any members of the group from sneaking off to the local pub for a pint and some chips.

Roughage has side effects
Garton revealed that without caffeinated drinks and some foods in their normal diets, the participants enjoyed good energy levels and did not display "unhappiness and grumpiness." The major side effect was the flatulence from all the newfound roughage they were eating, not a subject discussed in polite English society.

Of course, the human apes were able to derive health benefits from this diet in spite of the oily fish during the second week. The average cholesterol of the group fell 23%, an amount that is usually achieved by prescribing statin drugs to accomplish those dramatic results.

The average blood pressure dropped from 140/83 to 122/76. The experiment was not designed for weight loss, yet the group averaged a 9.7-pound drop.

Commenting on the experiment, Garton said, "The main lesson that they took away was to eat more fruit and vegetables. They also cut salt intake from a group average of 12 grams a day to 1 gram (against a guideline maximum of 6 grams) and reduced saturated fat--which makes cholesterol--from 13% to 5% of calories (recommended 11%)."

One of the participants, Jon Thornton, a 36-year-old driving instructor, was volunteered by his wife. Thornton weighed in at 19-stone (266 pounds) and confessed that he never eats vegetables. What he faced in the tent was quite a change from his usual fare of bacon, sausage, eggs, fish and chips, and Chinese take-out food.

More than he could chew on
He almost quit the experiment on the first day when he opened a cold box and was greeted with raw vegetables, especially the reviled broccoli. After the initial shock, he found himself eating huge portions of fresh fruit and vegetables. At the end of those twelve days he had lost 12.5 pounds, reduced his cholesterol by 20%, and saw his blood pressure drop.

"I don't feel any loss of energy. I didn't feel ill at all," he commented. "It's not a diet you'd recommend as a diet itself, but it worked to bring my cholesterol and blood pressure down." One lasting benefit from his zoo experience--he can return to playing football because his knees no longer hurt from carrying that extra weight, and he now goes cycling frequently.

Another volunteer, 42-year-old David Glew, an insurance broker, lost 12 pounds and experienced a dramatic drop in his cholesterol level. "Every day there was a big box of fruit and veg to munch through and some was unpalatable, like the daily cabbage leaf or bag of tomatoes. I never ate it all--it would take all day," he said.

Commenting on the Evo Diet, Dr. Susan Jebb of the Medical Research Council's human nutrition laboratories in Cambridge said, "A 23% reduction in cholesterol is unachievable for most people over this time period. Diets work if you can stick to them but people find it very difficult to change their eating habits to any great extent."

If an American TV network decided to replicate the Evo Diet in the U.S., broadcasters would have little difficulty finding volunteers for the program. There are thousands of raw foodists who would be delighted to break open that box each day to devour those 2300 calories of living foods, even though most of them do not need to worry about blood pressure and cholesterol.

But don't bother to include the fish during the second week. Without the seafood the American ape dieters might even achieve better cholesterol and blood pressure results than their primate friends in the U.K.

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