Gorillas Have Model Diet (Sort of), Hunter Professor Finds

June 3, 2011 | Hunter College

Will the next big thing be the Gorilla Diet? Not really, but research conducted by Hunter Professor of Anthropology Jessica M. Rothman has produced intriguing new findings about the eating patterns of wild gorillas. Dr. Rothman is the head of the Primate Nutrition Lab and spends three months a year carrying out fieldstudies in Uganda. Her latest results, which have been published by the Royal Society of London, shows that at times the gorillas’ menu looks a lot like a human weight-loss diet and at other times meets the recommendations of the American Heart Association.

According to Dr. Rothman, “A major tenet in ecology is that terrestrial animals areseverely limited by nitrogen in the environment, so they must actively seek out high-protein foods to meet their requirements.” Sure enough, when protein-rich leaves are the chief food that’s available, the gorillas load up on them, giving them a diet that is similar to “high-protein weight loss diets consumed by humans.” Fruit is lower in protein, but when it’s abundant the gorillas favor it over leaves, and that’s when their diet meets the heart-healthy recommendations. For scientists, Dr. Rothman’s findings call into question prevailing assumptions about nitrogen limitation in terrestrial herbivores. For non-scientists, they produce interesting comparisons between humans and their distant gorilla cousins.