Nutritional characteristics of wild primate foods: do the diets of our closest living relatives have lessons for us?

Nutrition. 1999 Jun;15(6):488-98. doi: 10.1016/s0899-9007(99)00078-7.


The widespread prevalence of diet-related health problems, particularly in highly industrialized nations, suggests that many humans are not eating in a manner compatible with their biology. Anthropoids, including all great apes, take most of their diet from plants, and there is general consensus that humans come from a strongly herbivorous ancestry. Though gut proportions differ, overall gut anatomy and the pattern of digestive kinetics of extant apes and humans are very similar. Analysis of tropical forest leaves and fruits routinely consumed by wild primates shows that many of these foods are good sources of hexoses, cellulose, hemicellulose, pectic substances, vitamin C, minerals, essential fatty acids, and protein. In general, relative to body weight, the average wild monkey or ape appears to take in far higher levels of many essential nutrients each day than the average American and such nutrients (as well as other substances) are being consumed together in their natural chemical matrix. The recommendation that Americans consume more fresh fruits and vegetables in greater variety appears well supported by data on the diets of free-ranging monkeys and apes. Such data also suggest that greater attention to features of the diet and digestive physiology of non-human primates could direct attention to important areas for future research on features of human diet and health.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Animals
  • Diet*
  • Dietary Fiber
  • Dietary Proteins
  • Digestive System / anatomy & histology
  • Food*
  • Fruit
  • Humans
  • Minerals
  • Primates*


  • Dietary Fiber
  • Dietary Proteins
  • Minerals