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Micronutrient intakes of wild primates: are humans different?

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Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, Division Insect Biology, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-3112, USA.


Low micronutrient intake is implicated in a diversity of human health problems, ranging from problems associated with food insufficiency to those associated with food over-consumption. Humans are members of the order primates, suborder anthropoidea, and are most closely related to the great apes. Humans and apes are remarkably similar biologically. In the wild, apes and monkeys consume diets composed largely of plant foods, primarily the fruits and leaves of tropical forest trees and vines. Considerable evidence indicates that the ancestral line giving rise to humans (Homo spp.) was likewise strongly herbivorous (plant-eating). The wild plant parts consumed by apes and monkeys show moderate to high levels of many minerals and vitamins. The estimated daily intake of specific minerals, vitamin C and some other vitamins by wild primates is often quite high in comparison to intake levels of these same micronutrients recommended for humans. Are the high micronutrient intakes of wild primates simply a non-functional, unavoidable by-product of their strongly plant-based diets or might they actually be serving important as yet undetermined immunological or other beneficial functions? A better understanding of the basis for this apparent difference between humans and wild primates could help to clarify the range and proportions of micronutrients best suited for optimal human development, health and longevity.

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