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Are Humans Meat Eaters? PDF Print E-mail

When it comes to the topic of whether humans are inherently meat-eaters or not the camps are definitely divided. Perhaps the best way to answer this question is to start with the physiology of the human being versus those of pure carnivores like lions, herbivores like cows, omnivores like bears and frugivores like gorillas.

Teeth

Humans : All our teeth are mostly the same height, our canines are projected only a small amount and our molars are broad topped.

Carnivores: Their teeth are nothing like those found in humans. They have large canines for hooking into and seizing prey, pointed incisors for stripping meat from bones and molars and premolars that have cusps for shredding muscle fibre. The teeth of the upper jaw slide past the potside of the lower jaw so that prey is caught in a vice-like grip. Carnivores don’t chew their food; they tear off hunks of meat and swallow it whole.

Herbivores: Have sharp, chisel-shaped incisors for cutting (no upper incisors in some cases), and small incisor-like canines. Their diastema molars and premolars are flattened with ridges. Their teeth and upper jaw meet the lower jaw so that lateral movement of the lower jaw produces the grinding actions to break down plant material. In herbivores the incisors are dominant , the canines usually recessed and the molars broad-topped.

Omnivores: Have sharp canines of the carnivores AND the pronounced incisor of the herbivore. They also have molars that are BOTH pointed and broad-topped. Frugivores: All the teeth are nearly of the same height. The canines are a little projected and the molrs are broad-topped. The jaw of a frugivore is laterally mobile to allow chewing (unlike that of a carnivore which is vertically mobile).

Stomach

Humans: The stomach is slightly elongated approximating the shape of a kidney bean.

Carnivores: The stomach is a round, sack shaped simple structure with a high concentration of acid salts for digesting muscle and bone. Food usually reamins in their stomach for days at a time while it is digested. A large part of this digestion occurs through a process called autolytic digestion where the enzymes in RAW meat digests itself. In addition carnivores are adapted to process huge amounts of meat at a time (up to 25% of their body weight) and then do not eat anything for days.

Herbivores: For the digestion of plant matter, ruminant stomachs have more than one chamber. When a ruminant chews up and swallows grass, leaves, and other material, it goes into the first chamber of its stomach, where it sits and softens. There, specialized bacteria break down the food. When the material is soft enough, the animal regurgitates the food and chews it again. This helps break down the plant matter. This partially digested food is called cud. The animal then swallows the cud, and it goes into a second chamber of the stomach. Chemicals in the second chamber digest the plant material further, and it goes into the third chamber. Finally, the digested food goes to the fourth chamber, which is similar to a human stomach. Sheep, buck, giraffes, camels, and cattle are all ruminants.

Frugivore: It is typically long and extended – a complex structure- containing 1/10 of the acid salts and pepsin present in the carnivore’s stomach.

Digestive tract

Humans: The average adult has a digestive tract of about 10 meters long (measured from mouth to anus). The ratio of the of the length of a person’s digestive tract compared to their height is 10 – 12 times the length of their body.

Carnivores: They have a short bowel (relative to the length of their body) for fast transit of waste out of the body. The ratio of the of the length of a carnivore’s digestive tract compared to their height is 3– 5 times the length of their body which is less than half that found in humans.

Herbivores: The ratio of the of the length of a herbivore’s digestive tract compared to their height is 20– 28 times the length of their body. Unlike meat, plant matter is not subject to putrefaction and therefore do not need the fast elimination times of the carnivores. Frugivore: The ratio of the of the length of a frugivore’s digestive tract compared to their height is 10 – 12 times the length of their body, the same as that found in humans. So what does this all mean? Based on the above it would seem that we are more closely related to the frugivores than to the carnivore or herbivore.

Does this mean that we should only eat fruits and nuts?

No. In fact the frugivore we most closely resemble, the chimpanzee, does eat insects and raw meat. However they are mainly fruit/tuber eaters and only 3% of their diet consists of raw meat.

To eat meat or not to eat meat? The bottom line is that eating small amounts of organic meat, chicken or fish is most certainly not harmful. As long as the amount does not exceed 100g per day it would seem not to create any significant health problems provided that:

• Heavy consumption of meat significantly compromises beneficial bacteria in the colon resulting in an overgrowth of harmful bacteria and a concomitant 90% decrease in the levels of the beneficial bacteria as measured in faecal matter.

• High consumption of meat also tends to push the body’s pH levels into the acidic range which can cause serious health problems.

• Research conducted at Harvard Medical School have shown that “Men who eat red meat as a main dish five or more times a week have four times the risk of developing colon cancer than men who eat read meat less than once a momth. They are also more than twice as likely to develop prostate cancer”.

• If you choose to eat meat buy only organic, pasture raised meat to avoid exposure to antibiotics, growth hormones, chemicals and parasites in chicken, pork and beef, or the high levels of heavy metals in fish. Furthermore the fatty acid ratio in grass-fed meat vs that of corn-raised beef is a lot healthier.