According to modern evolutionary theory, it’s assumed that humans evolved from primates.
If you look at most species of primates, you’ll see that many of them are frugivores – animals that eat plant-based diets and prefer fruit as their primary source of food. Most people love fruit, but are humans frugivores?
Modern humans are not frugivores. Instead, humans are classified as omnivores – organisms capable of eating meat and plant-based foods alike.
That being said, many scientists and evolutionary biologists believe that humans were once frugivores in our ancestral past.
One of the primary arguments for going vegan or eating a “fruitarian” diet (a fruit-based diet) is that humans were originally meant to eat a plant-based diet.
In today’s post, I’m going to dive into the debate, show you why today’s humans are omnivorous, and explain the pros and cons of a frugivore diet. Let’s take a trip into ancient history, shall we?
As I mentioned, frugivores are creatures that eat a plant-based diet focused on consuming fruit. If you look at primates like chimpanzees and gorillas, you’ll notice that they consume a lot of fruit.
One of the biggest reasons for this is that fruit is easily accessible to them, as they’re a climbing species that spend much of their time in the trees, where they can easily grab a fruit.
That being said, frugivores also consume seeds, roots, and natural vegetables in their environment.
Given that fruit often grows higher in the trees, though, frugivores often prefer the easy-to-reach fruit instead of exposing themselves to dangerous predators on the forest floor.
What about us, though? Are humans frugivores or omnivores?
If you look at our human biology as it stands today, we are without a doubt omnivores. This means that our bodies have evolved to consume both plant-based food and meat.
Although most humans eat fruit, and it’s a healthy part of our diet, we’re not exclusively frugivores.
As early primates, we may have spent our days swinging from trees and eating fruit. Humans today have evolved.
Our biology and nutritional needs are a lot different from what they were at the dawn of our species.
Although early homo sapiens may have followed a primarily vegetarian/frugivore diet, at some point in the genetic chain, things started to change.
Some scientists speculate that the human development of tools (read weapons) could have contributed to this. Others hypothesize that the lack of plants caused by the ice age caused humans to adopt a more carnivorous diet.
Personally, I think that both of these facts contributed to early humans switching from a primarily vegetarian diet.
Honestly, we don’t know much, as there are very few archeological records. These are a few good points to take away, though!
What stands out to me is the fact that humans are very adaptive. As omnivores, we’re capable of surviving on both meat and plant-based diets.
That being said, today’s leading doctors have proven that plant-based diets are far more nutritious and correlate with longer, healthier, disease-free lives.
To prove this, Dr. John Campbell wrote a famous book called The China Study. To create the work, Dr. Campbell worked alongside the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine and surveyed numerous Chinese communities.
He found that communities that followed traditional Chinese diets (lots of rice, plant-based protein, low sugar, and little to no meat) had far lower rates of disease compared to Western nations that have historically consumed diets high in animal fat and protein.
If you want to learn more, see what Dr. Campbell has to say in this interview:
So, although humans are certainly capable of consuming a carnivorous or omnivorous diet, science says that plant-based diets are a lot better for us in the long term.
Besides, most of today’s meat is so processed and pumped full of drugs and hormones that it’s nowhere near as “healthy” as it was hundreds of years ago when meat came from small farms and wild hunting.
“Okay, so if plant-based diets are so healthy, then I should be perfectly fine eating a fruitarian diet, right?”
Not so fast.
Fruit is 100% plant-based and is full of healthy vitamins and minerals. It also contains small doses of sugar and carbohydrates, which are great for providing an energy boost throughout the day.
When consumed as part of a healthy, balanced diet, fruit is incredibly healthy.
However, a strict fruitarian diet is actually unhealthy for humans. It’s unhealthy for several reasons, including:
- Fruit has a lot of sugar, and consuming too much sugar can be a precursor to diabetes.
- Fruit is not a substantial source of protein or fat, two nutrients that are essential for our bodies.
Some people will do short-term “juice detoxes,” where they’ll primarily consume fruit and juice.
These have been shown to be helpful to the body in the short term, but most professionals don’t recommend following these diets for more than a few weeks at a time.
At this point, I realize you all may have a few questions about frugivores, in general. One of the most common questions I’ve seen about frugivorous diets is, “Do frugivores eat vegetables?”
The answer is, Yes – frugivores do eat vegetables.
However, frugivores primarily consume fruits, and around 80% of their diet comes from consuming fruit. The other 20% comes from random vegetables, roots, seeds, or grains that they’re able to forage (at least in the wild).
As I mentioned above, though, a diet that consumes 80% fruit isn’t considered healthy for humans and can lead to long-term problems with sugar consumption and nutrient deficiency.
Although almost all vegans are frugivorous (i.e., we do eat fruit, unlike strict carnivores), we aren’t exclusively frugivores.
As a general rule, frugivores do not consume meat. Most animals that consume a strictly frugivorous diet don’t have the ability to easily digest meat and don’t have the claws and sharp teeth necessary to tear through tough flesh.
There is one exception to the rule, though – some species of primates.
Take chimpanzees for example. Although most of their diet consists of fruit (with a small percentage of vegetables, seeds, and roots), they have been recorded to kill small animals for food.
Often, when one tribe of chimps overtakes another tribe of chimps, they will kill and eat their enemies.
This strange behavior has long baffled biologists, and some believe that it’s a form of “terrorism” used to show dominance.
Yes! Pretty much all recorded species of primates are classified as frugivores, as over 50% of their diet consists of fruit.
Given that evolutionary theory shows we are descended from primates, evolutionary biologists believe that humans were once frugivores as well.
So, how did humans evolve from fruit-eating primates into the complex omnivores we are today? There are a few different theories, including the theories that I mentioned above:
- The global ice age made plant life scarce and forced humans to start seeking other sources of food.
- Homo sapiens developed advanced brains and started making tools, weapons, and traps that made it easier to hunt animals.
Another interesting theory is that humans originally evolved as long-distance runners. Comparative to our weight, humans have long legs and are physically designed to walk and run more than any other activity.
While many people today would tremble at the thought of running more than a couple of miles, early homo sapiens could run for hours on end, without tiring. It was simply what they were raised to do.
As the theory goes, our ability to run at a sustainable pace for long periods of time allowed us to “outrun” our prey. When combined with primitive weapons such as spears, we were a force to be reckoned with.
The theory goes even further… Once humans started consuming animal fat and protein, it gave our brains more fat and B vitamins, two essential nutrients for brain development.
Presumably, this is part of what helped the human race evolve such an advanced consciousness and led to our innate “craving” for savory flavors (like meat, for example).
Since the dawn of the first homo sapiens, our species has evolved in ways that few other living creatures have.
Although we may have once been strict frugivores, today’s humans are omnivorous. Just because we can eat meat, though, doesn’t mean that we have to.
As omnivores, we are just as capable of surviving on a plant-based diet as we are on a meat-based diet. The only difference is that plant-based diets have been scientifically proven to be healthier!
We’re not primitive humans trying to survive an ice age anymore. We’ve evolved and had a choice in what we consume. So, the only question is, what are you consuming?
Still don’t believe that veganism is a great lifestyle?
He’s one of the world’s strongest and most well-regarded athletes and has packed on pounds of natural muscle with a 100% vegan diet.