Frugivorous ancestry of humans


“Anthropoids, including all great apes, take most of their diet from plants, and there is general consensus that humans come from a strongly herbivorous ancestry” [7]. Bonobos, “humans’ closest relatives in the animal kingdom” [10], “eat mainly ripe fruit, supplemented with herbaceous terrestrial plants” [11].

“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)” [6]. In fact, “Humans are ancestrally derived from frugivorous primates” [3].



“Study of the diet of frugivorous human ancestors is accordingly of relevance to understanding the nutritional requirements of modern humans” [8]. A frugivorous dietary heritage of humans is frequently posited [1][2][3][4]. The molar morphology of the earliest hominins implies “a fairly frugivorous diet” [5]. “Comparative data suggests that human nutrient requirements and most features of human digestive morphology and physiology are conservative in nature and probably were little affected by the hunter-gatherer phase of human existence” [6].

“We were not biologically selected by the evolution process to eat the way we do today” [9]. “The widespread prevalence of diet-related health problems, particularly in highly industrialized nations, suggests that many humans are not eating in a manner compatible with their biology.” Consumption of “more fresh fruits and vegetables in greater variety” is recommended [7].


[1] “Fruits, fingers, and fermentation: The sensory cues available to foraging primates”, Dominy NJ, Integrative and Comparative Biol, 44 (4): 295-303, 2004.

[2] “Ferment in the family tree: Does a frugivorous dietary heritage influence contemporary patterns of human ethanol use?”, Milton K, Integrative and Comparative Biol, 44 (4): 304-314, 2004.

[3] “Ethanol, fruit ripening, and the historical origins of human alcoholism in primate frugivory”, Dadley R, Integrative and Comparative Biol, 44 (4): 315-323, 2004.

[4] “Evolutionary origins of human alcoholism in primate frugivory”, Dadley R, Q Rev Biol, 75(1):3-15, 2000.

[5] “Origin of Human Bipedalism: The Knuckle-Walking Hypothesis Revisited”, Richmond BG, Begun DR, Strait DS; Yearbook of Physical Anthropology, 44:70-105, 2001.

[6] “Back to basics: why foods of wild primates have relevance for modern human health”, Milton K, Nutrition, 16(7):480-483, 2000.

[7] “Nutritional characteristics of wild primate foods: do the diets of our closest living relatives have lessons for us?”, Milton K, Nutrition, 15(6):488-498, 1999.

[8] “The Comparative Biology of Ethanol Consumption: An Introduction to the Symposium”, Dudley R, Dickinson M, Integrative and Comparative Biology, 44(4):267-268, 2004.

[9] “Similarities of prostate and breast cancer: Evolution, diet, and estrogens”, Coffey DS, Urology, 57(4 Suppl 1):31-8, 2001.

[10] “Divergence of T2R chemosensory receptor families in humans, bonobos, and chimpanzees”, Parry CM, Erkner A, le Coutre J, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 101 (41): 14830-14834 OCT 12 2004.

[11] “The social behavior of chimpanzees and bonobos – empirical evidence and shifting assumptions”, Stanford CB, Current Anthropology, 39 (4): 399-420 AUG-OCT 1998.