ebac and Mokolo, two male Western lowland gorillas, live at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. At the time of our story, both Bebac and Mokolo were in their midtwenties, which is relatively young — their breed of gorilla can live up to fifty-four years in captivity. Although they were barely into middle age, the gorillas were overweight and had developed heart disease. They also exhibited abnormal behaviors such as regurgitating and reingesting their food and pulling out their hair and eating it. These behaviors are unheard of in wild gorillas — and so is heart disease.
In the wild, gorillas tend to die from things like human poaching and acute illnesses such as pneumonia and E. coli infection. Chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes are nonexistent in gorillas living freely in the tropical forests of Sub-Saharan Africa. But among captive gorillas, heart disease is the number one cause of death. This discrepancy has perplexed veterinarians for years.
What's That You're Eating? SAD?*
When Bebac and Mokolo developed heart disease and weight problems, veterinarians analyzed all the aspects of their lives. It soon occurred to them that the difference in the gorillas' diet might be part of the problem.
In the wild, gorillas eat leaves and stems of herbs, shrubs, and vines, as well as a wide variety of fruits, nuts, and seeds. Although they are primarily herbivorous, they also end up eating some of the protein-rich bugs, snails, and spiders found on leaves and fruit. New research also discovered the DNA of monkeys and antelope in the waste of gorillas, suggesting the possibility that they occasionally do ingest some meat. An adult male gorilla eats up to 45 pounds of food daily.
Sadly, the diet for most captive gorillas is more like the standard American diet. Instead of dozens of pounds of wild greens, fiber, and high-quality protein, captive gorillas are commonly fed several servings of "nutritional cookies" made from grains, sugar, and starch.
Things changed at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo when they decided to replace the cookies with a more wholesome diet of vegetables, fruits, and leafy greens, such as dandelion greens, romaine lettuce, green beans, endive, and alfalfa hay.
Move It and Lose It, No Matter the Calorie Count!
Along with a new diet came a change in activity for the gorillas. To get the gorillas moving more, zookeepers scattered the food throughout their habitat, ensuring they would have to forage for their meals rather than being presented with cookies they could gobble up quickly. Instead of munching cookies, the gorillas began to spend up to 75 percent of their day foraging and eating — about the same amount of time they would forage in the wild.
The results of the experiment were breathtaking. Although the wild diet was nearly double the calories of the processed cookies, the gorillas lost weight. In one year, the gorillas, who weighed 430 and 460 pounds, each lost about 65 pounds — around 15 percent — of their body weight. And tests showed improvement in heart function for Bebac, and slowing of the progression of heart disease for Mokolo.
The change in diet also ended the gorillas' habit of regurgitating and reingesting their food. Researchers believe they may have done this because the cookies upset their stomach or — even more ominously — that the gorillas regurgitated their food in order to taste the sugar in their cookies again and again. This points to a clear case of sugar addiction, or perhaps an intolerance to foods that are unnatural to gorillas (similar to reactions seen from many processed foods for people). Hair plucking behaviors also became a rare occurrence.
Eat Like a Gorilla for a Healthier Heart & Happier Attitude
Thinking of the dramatic change in the gorillas, I can't help but consider many of the clients I have worked with who suffer from similar behaviors (uncontrolled hair plucking and regurgitating food). I ponder the question of whether the gorillas were really neurotic, or just being poisoned by the unnatural diet of processed food, grains, sugar, and starch. Similar to the gorillas, people have been demonstrating an increase in chronic diseases and certain unnatural behaviors along with the increase in processed food.
One more interesting note: Veterinarians noticed that Bebac and Mokolo were grumpy and unhappy for about a week after having the sugar-filled cookies removed from their diet. But exactly like the people I coach, they soon got over it, lost their cravings, and then started to get healthy. A week of the grouchiness seems like a minor inconvenience for the payoff of a healthier heart and decreased neurotic behavior.
As a result of the dietary experiment with Bebac and Mokolo, many other zoos in the United States and Canada are changing the way they feed gorillas, hoping for a happy, healthy outcome for their captive gorillas.
Are you willing to make a two-week commitment to see these kinds of changes? You may feel a bit grumpy and fatigued for a few days — and think the sugar is calling your name. But like Bebac and Mokolo, you will soon get over it and get healthy!
Embrace Your Inner Beast and Go Wild!
We can learn a lot from gorillas. Humans and gorillas share nearly identical DNA and digestive systems. So it's not surprising that when humans eat like gorillas — wild gorillas, that is — we flourish. A gorilla's wild diet is much healthier for people than the standard American diet, which is full of foods that contribute to obesity, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
Eating like a gorilla is simple. Don't worry — you don't have to spend hours a day searching for food or eating slugs, nor will you start beating your chest upon adopting this new lifestyle. Your diet is similar to a wild gorilla's when 70 percent of your food comes from whole plant foods — freshly prepared vegetables, vegetable juice, a little fruit, nuts, and seeds — and 30 percent of calories comes from high-quality lean protein. Gorillas don't eat legumes or grains! While grains and legumes have become the cornerstone of the American diet, eliminating some of them and using others as a “condiment” is essential for overall health and longevity.
*subtitles by InnerSelf
©2013 by Tana Amen, BSN, RN. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
St. Martin's Press. www.stmartins.com
The Omni Diet: The Revolutionary 70% Plant + 30% Protein Program...
by Tana Amen, B.S.N., R.N.
About the Author
TANA AMEN, BSN, RN, is a nurse, health and fitness expert, and nationally-renowned speaker. Tana is also a nutrition consultant and coach for the wildly popular Daniel Plan, an inspirational health movement. Tana works alongside her husband, New York Times bestselling author and physician, Daniel Amen, MD, offering nutritional guidance and practical support to hundreds of thousands of Amen followers at The Amen Clinics. Visit her website at www.tanaamen.com