It seems that our ancestors may have been ahead of their time. No, I’m not talking about our great grandparents or even great-great grandparents, but rather those other ones – our primate ancestors: apes.
Turns out they knew a thing or two about healthy eating. So much so in fact that researchers out of the University of Toronto have developed a diet based on the eating habits of these tree-climbing mammals.
The premise of this diet is that a diet high in soluble fibre (found in oats and barley), vegetable proteins (found in soy) and plant sterols (found in green leafy vegetables, vegetable oils and nuts) can help protect against heart disease by lowering cholesterol levels. Elements of this diet, primarily the focus on plant-based foods, closely resembles the diets of primates, hence its name, the ‘Ape Diet’.
To test their hypothesis, researchers divided subjects into three different test groups. One group followed a standard low fat diet; the second group followed the same low fat diet and also took a cholesterol-lowering drug called lovastatin; the third group followed the Ape Diet and took no cholesterol-lowering medication.
The results showed that the group on a standard low fat diet had an eight per cent decrease in cholesterol levels, those on the Ape Diet had a 28.6 per cent reduction in cholesterol levels and those in the group taking the cholesterol-lowering medication had a 30.9 per cent reduction in cholesterol levels.
These are surprising results: the Ape Diet had nearly the same effect as the cholesterol-lowering medication.
We need to keep in mind the limitations of this diet, however. The Ape Diet is very rigid and requires a lot of careful planning and preparation and, with a fibre content of over 100 grams, compliancy to this diet is extremely difficult.
So, while we shouldn’t throw out our medications and we should continue listening to our doctor’s advice, we can heed some important lessons from this research to help improve our heart health through the reduction of cholesterol levels.
Soy, green leafy vegetables and vegetable oil, nuts, oats and barley need to become a regular part of what we eat. Get back in touch with your roots and look to our primate relatives for the answers to a heart healthy life.
Tips for incorporating the Ape Diet into your life
• 10 almonds and a piece of fruit make a great snack
• Have oatmeal and fruit for a hearty breakfast
• Try using tofu instead of chicken in stir-fry; tofu will take on the flavour of the other spices and foods in stir-fry
• Instead of iceberg lettuce, try kale, bok choy or Swiss chard
• Buy a plant sterol fortified margarine the next time you go shopping
• Add sliced almonds to casseroles and rice dishes
• Try almond butter on crackers or whole grain toast