What is our 'Natural' Diet?

There has been much controversy recently over the diet most natural to people. We will
first consider the arguments of those who feel that human beings are not naturally suited
for a diet that includes flesh and other animal products.

The French naturalist Baron Cuvier stated: "Fruits, roots, and the succulent parts
of vegetables appear to be the natural food of man." [1] Geoffrey Hodson quoted the
great Swedish naturalist Linnaeus as follows: "Man's structure, external and
internal, compared with the of other animals, shows that fruit and succulent vegetables
constitute his natural food." [2] The following comparisons support these statements:

1. Our small and large intestines, like those of other primates, are four times longer
than those of carnivores. Because of the long intestines, meat passes very slowly through
the human digestive system; it takes about 4 days during which the disease-causing
products of decaying meat are in constant contact with the digestive organs (vegetarian
food takes only about 1 1/2 days). [4]

2. Our hands are similar to those of apes; they are meant for picking food such as
vegetables, fruits, leaves, flowers, seeds, etc., and not for tearing flesh.

3. Our lower jaw, or mandible, can move both up and down and side to side, like the
primates'; carnivores' jaws move only up and down.

4. Our saliva is alkaline like that of the higher species of apes; it contains ptyalin
to digest carbohydrates. Carnivores' saliva is acidic.

5. Unlike carnivores, we do not have fangs for biting into flesh. Our so-called canine
teeth are not truly canine like the dog's. We are not constituted to prey upon animals,
rip apart their bodies, or bite into their flesh.

6. Although our gastric secretions are acidic like that of carnivores, their stomachs
have four times as much acid; this strong acidic region is necessary to digest their
high-protein flesh diet.

7. Carnivores have proportionally larger kidneys and livers than we have; they need
these larger organs in order to handle the excessive nitrogenous waste of a flesh diet.

8. The carnivores' livers secrete a far greater amount of bile into the gut to deal
with their high-fat meat diet.


Table I (below) indicates that people are closest in structure to animals that
primarily eat fruits.


Structural Comparison of Humans to Animals

 Meat eater  Leaf-grass eater  Fruit eater  Human being
 Has claws No claws No claws No claws
No pores on skin; perspires through tongue to
cool body
Perspires through milions of pores on skin Perspires through milions of pores on skin Perspires through milions of pores on skin
Sharp, pointed front teeth to tear flesh No sharp, pointed front teeth No sharp, pointed front teeth No sharp, pointed front teeth
Small salivary glands in the mouth (not needed to
pre- digest grains and fruits
Well-developed salivary glands needed to pre-digest grains
amd fruits 
Well-developed salivary glands needed to pre-digest grains
amd fruits 
Well-developed salivary glands needed to pre-digest grains
amd fruits
Acid saliva Alkaline saliva  Alkaline saliva  Alkaline saliva 
No flat, back molar teeth to grind food Flat, back molar teeth to grind food Flat, back molar teeth to grind food Flat, back molar teeth to grind food
Much strong hydrochloric acid in stomach to
digest tough animal muscle, bone, etc.
Stomach acid 20 times weaker than meat eaters Stomach acid 20 times weaker than meat eaters  Stomach acid 20 times weaker than meat eaters 
Intestinal tract only 3 times body length Intestinal tract 10 times body length Intestinal tract 10 times body length  Intestinal tract 10 times body length 

SOURCE: Barbara Parham, What's Wrong with
Eating Meat?

Denver Colorado.,Ananda Marga Publications, 1979, pp. 10-11.

Reproduced with permission.


That our natural instinct is not toward flesh food is stated by R. H. Wheldon:

The gorge of a cat, for instance, will rise at the smell of a mouse or a piece of raw
flesh, but not at the aroma of fruit. If a man can take delight in pouncing upon a bird,
tear its still living body apart with his teeth, sucking the warm blood, one might infer
that Nature had provided him with carnivorous instinct, but the very thought of doing such
a thing makes him shudder. On the other hand, a bunch of luscious grapes makes his mouth
water, and even in the absence of hunger, he will eat fruit to gratify taste.[5)]

Some scientists disagree with the above analysis.

They assert that people's natural diet is omnivorous, based on both flesh and
vegetarian foods. They point to the many years that our ancestors have eaten meat and the
fact that primates, the animals whose systems are closest to ours, have been observed to
eat meat.

In response:

1. Certainly people have eaten meat for at least thousands of years. According to the
Bible, after first giving people a vegetarian diet (Genesis 1:29), as a concession to
human weakness, God gave people permission to eat meat in the time of Noah (Genesis 9:3).
Just as an automobile will travel on a fuel which is not most suitable to it, people can
live on a diet that is not ideal. The issue is not what people eat now and have eaten in
the past, but the diet that is healthiest for people and is most consistent with our
anatomy, physiology, and instincts. It should also be noted that a significant portion of
people throughout history either ate no meat at all or ate it only on rare occasions. In
addition, meat contains no essential nutrients that cannot be obtained from plant sources.

(2) With regard to primates eating meat, this issue has been hotly debated. Some
species have never been observed to do so. Jane Goodall's studies of apes showed that meat
eating incidents were extremely rare, and they were unusual and atypical of the species in
general, occurring in un-chimplike surroundings. The staple diet of primates is

(A detailed analysis of this entire issue can be found in chapter 3, "The Aberrant
Ape", in Food for a Future by Jon Wynne-Tyson (Thorsons, 1988).)

Even if people are naturally omnivorous, this means that we have a choice in our diet
in terms of whether or not to eat meat. And it still leaves all the ethical arguments -
compassion for animals, helping the hungry, protecting the environment - on the side of
vegetarianism. Also, if we define our "natural" diet as that which is best for
our health, there is abundant evidence that points to vegetarianism as our natural diet.

After a comprehensive analysis of this issue, a similar conclusion was reached by
Sharon Bloyd-Pleshkin in her article, "In Search of Our Basic Diet". [6]. On the
question of whether or not people are omnivores, she quotes Dr. Neal Barnard, president of
the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine: "That depends on what you mean by
`omnivore`; Does it mean what you tend to eat? Or what diet you do best on?" So, as
Ms. Bloyd-Pleshkin concludes, while human beings are capable of ingesting a wide range of
foods, including meat, and while they have been eating meat for the past 2 million years,
"modern research shows that we do best on a diet with little or no animal protein and
fat." [7]


1. "Facts of Vegetarianism", North American Vegetarian Society pamphlet, (Box
72, Dolgeville, N. Y. 13329), p. 5.

2. Ibid.

3. M. M. Bhamgara, "Yoga and Diet", The Vegetarian Way, Proceedings
of the 24th World Vegetarian Congress,
Madras, India (1977), p. 137.

4. Barbara Parham, What`s Wrong With Eating Meat? (Denver, Colorado: Ananda
Marga Publications, 1979), p. 23.

5. Dr. R. H. Wheldon, No Animal Food (New York: Heath Publishing Co.), p. 50,
quoted by Nathaniel Altman, Eating for Life (Wheaton, Illinois: Theosophical
Publishing House, 1977), p. 17.

6. Sharon Bloyd-Pleshkin, "In Search of Our basic Diet", Vegetarian Times,
Issue 166, (June, 1991), pp. 46-55.

7. Ibid, p. 55.

The Schwartz Collection on Judaism, Vegetarianism, and Animal Rights



this website copyright scars publications and design. All rights reserved. No material may be reprinted without express permission from the author.

this page was downloaded to your computer