Are Humans Frugivores—What Does Science Say About It?
If you’re looking to give your diet an overhaul in favor of eating more whole, plant-based foods, you might be contemplating becoming a frugivore.
But are humans frugivores? And is it safe to become one?
Our ancestral lineage points to humans having descended from frugivores. And while we still have many evolutionary adaptations as frugivores, most scientists and nutritionists agree that modern-day humans are omnivores.
What Is a Frugivore?
A frugivore is a humanoid-like animal that’s half man, half beast that’s thought to be a cousin of the Yetti! Just kidding…it’s an animal or human that primarily or only eats fruit and vegetable-like fruit. Although modern-day humans no longer appear predisposed to living as a frugivore, several animals are.
Frugivores play an essential role in the ecosystem because they help to spread plant seeds. The scientific name for this process is mutualism, which is the practice of both animals and plants benefiting from each other.
There’s a subcategory of frugivory called Granivory. Granivory is when an animal digests the seeds in addition to eating the fruit. However, for a human or animal to be a true frugivore, any seeds they eat must pass through their digestive system without breaking down.
Fruit-bearing plants evolved to attract frugivores. They’ve done this by creating sweet scents and attractive tastes. Furthermore, their seeds developed to withstand long periods in an animal’s stomach before being secreted.
The result is that the plant can spread its seeds over a greater amount of territory.
According to a study on seed germination in almost 200 plant species, about 50% of the plants frugivores eat improved a seed’s germination success rate.
Plants aren’t the only ones that had to adapt for frugivores. Evolution has also caused frugivores to adjust their biological systems to compensate for seed passage so that they don’t damage them.
Much of the adaptions happened in the gut. For example, certain frugivores have shorter-than-average gut retention times, whereas others have shorter intestines. Both of these mechanisms enable seeds to pass through the stomach more quickly.
What Do Frugivores Eat?
Frugivores primarily eat fruit. Some animals eat a diet of 100% fruit, whereas others eat mostly fruit but also incorporate other plant-based foods into their diet.
Examples of other foods that certain frugivores eat aside from fruit include:
In rare cases, animals that scientists classify as frugivores will eat insects or other animal proteins. However, this isn’t common.
Are Humans Frugivores?
Finally, some scientists argue that humans developed hands for picking fruit. The jury is still out on this one, but we know this much is true: Humans don’t have claws for catching prey as carnivorous mammals do.
Nevertheless, just because humans don’t have the traits of a carnivore doesn’t automatically make us a frugivore.
When Did Humans Stop Basing Diet on Fruits?
Humans stopped basing their diet on fruits about two million years ago when Homo habilis started using stone tools.
But if you go back far enough, there’s evidence suggesting that our ancestors ate a primarily plant-based diet without as much fruit. A few million years ago, the Australopithecus species, which humans are related to, ate grass, nuts, seeds, and root vegetables.
Nevertheless, chimpanzees and bonobos are the two modern-day mammals with which humans share a substantial amount of genetic material. These animals are frugivores, suggesting that in the not-so-distant past, humans may have also had a mostly frugivore diet.
Dr. Alan Walker is a scientist who launched the theory that any species before Homo erectus came about was a frugivore. He based his research around hominid teeth, though, so this is far from conclusive evidence.
The reality is that whether or not modern-day humans should eat a primarily frugivorous diet is still inconclusive, as some scientists point towards it being the case while still maintaining some omnivorous eating habits.
Others believe our protein and caloric requirements are too high to thrive as frugivores.
The Modern-day Frugivore
Nowadays, some people choose to eat a primarily fruit-based diet. However, we call such people fruitarians instead of frugivores. That’s because not only do these people eat fruit, but they also incorporate vegetables into their diet.
In other words, fruitarians follow a diet similar to raw vegans.
You might be wondering—won’t eating a lot of fruit raise your blood sugar levels? It turns out a study analyzing overweight participants with type-2 diabetes didn’t achieve lower blood sugar levels by reducing their fruit intake.
So, while you should always consult with your doctor before changing your diet, there’s research pointing to a fruitarian diet being safe for not raising blood sugar levels.
That said, it isn’t all sunshine and roses with a fruitarian diet. Most fruit doesn’t have a high protein concentration, although certain fruits like guava will give you 4.2 grams of it per one-cup serving.
Nevertheless, even eating relatively high-protein fruits isn’t an ideal way to meet your daily protein needs. For this reason, fruitarians often lose muscle mass unless they supplement their diet with seeds and nuts.
Fat is another essential micronutrient for humans, and people following a fruitarian diet struggle to get enough of it. Your body can’t get essential fatty acids on its own, so it relies on outside sources from food.
In addition to cushioning your organs and preventing your skin from drying out, fat helps your body absorb several vitamins. So, should you decide to embark on a fruitarian diet, you should supplement with an omega-3 supplement. You can take one made from algae so that it’s vegan.
What Animals Are Frugivores?
Bats, birds, and monkeys are the most common types of frugivores. Examples of frugivore species include:
- Howler monkey
- Jamaican fruit bat
In rarer cases, fish, lizards, tortoises, and other amphibians are also frugivores.
Other examples of mammals that are frugivores include the field rabbit, opossum, and lemur.
So, are humans frugivores? The answer will vary depending on who you ask.
But overall, the consensus is that although humans have many anatomical and physiological traits as frugivores, an omnivorous diet is best, given our need for protein and fat.
Should you decide to become a fruitarian, the modern-day version of a frugivore, we encourage you to speak with your doctor first to ensure you’re in good enough health to embark on what nutritionists often call an extreme dietary lifestyle.