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The Magic of the Simian Diet

There’s a diet more powerful than any medical drug, which is literally unknown. And it’s not the raw food diet or the vegan diet, and certainly not the keto diet. It’s the Simian Diet, or the Ape Diet. Simian is an adjective that relates to apes. 

Here’s what it’s all about: 

Dr. David Jenkins, the man who brought us the Glycemic Index, works as a vascular biologist at the University of Toronto. He led a study that tried to recreate an ape diet for humans. 

His team teamed up with the Bronx Zoo in New York and travelled all the way to Africa to study the feeding habits of gorillas. 

What they found is that the equivalent diet of gorillas, when transposed to human dietary needs, translates to over 60 servings of fruits and vegetables per day! 

Curious about what the results would be on humans, he then took a group of 46 people and split them into three groups:

– One following this simian diet

– A second group eating a regular low-fat vegetarian diet

– A third consumed the low fat diet and took a cholesterol lowering drug.

The results were:

The Simian Diet group lowered their LDL cholesterol by nearly 30 percent, almost the same as the statin and low fat group — but without the side effects of the drugs.

The low-fat group lowered their bad cholesterol by only 8%. 

The Magic Behind the Simian Diet: Fiber

Why did people following a low-fat diet did not have as much of a drop as those following a modified vegetarian diet called the “Simian Diet” or monkey diet?

The key difference appears to be the amount of fiber contained in the diet. 

The average fiber intake of Americans seems to be under 15 grams a day. Health authorities urge us to consume at least 25 to 30 grams a day.

But it turns out that even the amounts of fiber recommended are insufficient. 

In rural Uganda, where fiber pioneer Denis Burkitt did a lot of his research, 90% of fiber intake comes from vegetables, and the amount of fiber is around 50 grams per 1000 calories.

The average American consumes 3600 calories a day (on average). That means that to follow Ugandan standards, they should consume over 180 grams of fiber a day!

The Simian diet contains around 50 grams of fiber per 100 calories. 

The conclusion is that eating a vegan, even low-fat vegan diet is not enough. It also must be a very high-fiber diet closer in composition to what our simian ancestors, or rural people in Africa ate.

Total daily fiber intake should be around 80 to 100 grams a day for most people. That’s roughly 5-6 times what most Americans eat.

Benefits include:

– Dramatic reduction in bad cholesterol.

– Elimination of digestive problems such as constipation, hemorrhoids, diverculosis. 

– Increased satiety. Lower caloric intake and easier weight loss and maintenance of ideal weight. 

– Lower blood pressure. 

– Overall improvements in all aspects of health. 

In order to do this, it makes sense to make a table of the amount of fiber contained in 1000 calories of foods. 

Our goal is to consume at least 40 grams of fiber per 1000 calories. That doesn’t mean consuming only foods that contain this much fiber, but to focus on those foods and to avoid low-fiber items is the strategy to follow. 

A few interesting realizations come out of this exercise. 

1) First, we should avoid foods that don’t contain any fiber, such as animal products and oil. 

2) Low fiber foods (under 10 grams per 1000 calories) should be limited.

3) Certain foods don’t contain as much fiber as we’d think, because of their higher caloric density. A few surprises in this category, such as grapes, watermelon, brown rice, and even quinoa (although that one is a close call). 

4) In the category of nuts and seeds, it’s best to eat almonds and flax seeds, and chia seeds. 

5) The best dried fruit to consume is figs, not prunes, as commonly believed.

6) The best grains are the whole grains like wheat berries or whole spelt (farro), barley. Oatmeal is also okay. 

7) Most fruits are very high in fiber, if they are lower in calories per weight. 

8) All beans are extremely high in fiber. 

9) Eating lots of vegetables is a key to feeling full and getting additional fiber.

Again, the goal is not to consume more fiber per se, but to eat a plant-based diet that’s closer to our biological ideal. Fiber is just one of the essential components we’ll get in higher amounts in this simian diet. We’ll also get more micro-nutrients, feel fuller on less and avoid disease-promoting foods. 

No-Fiber Foods

Red meat: 0

Chicken: 0

Eggs: 0

Fish: 0

Cheese: 0 

Daily products: 0

Oil: 0

Low fiber food: 10 grams or under per 1000 calories 

White pasta: 10 grams

White rice: 3.76

Tofu: 3.94

Medium-Low fiber  foods: 10-25 grams of fiber per 1000 calories 

Soy milk: 11.11

Yuka: 11.32

Grapes: 16-20

Watermelon: 13.33

Raisins: 12.37

Brown rice: 16.21

Quinoa: 23.42

Almonds: 20.83

Cashews: 5.96

Walnuts: 10.70

Sunflower seeds: 15.41

High Fiber Foods: 25-39 grams of fiber per 1000 calories

Whole wheat pasta: 26.2

White potatoes: 28.57

Sweet potatoes: 34.83

Bananas: 29.21

Mango: 26.66

Peach: 38.46

Cantaloupe: 26.47

Cherry: 32

Prunes: 29.16

Dried figs: 39.35

Corn tortillas: 33.33

Oatmeal, quick cook: 25

Oatmeal, steel cut: 28.57

Whole wheat berries: 36.69

Super High-Fiber Foods: Over 40 grams of fiber per 1000 calories

Apples: 46.5

Papaya: 41.66

Persimmon: 50.84

Pear: 54.38

Orange: 51.05

Strawberry: 60.60

Raspberry: 131.07

Blackberry: 116

Fresh fig: 40.54

Chickpeas: 46.70

Black beans: 47.19

Red kidney beans: 75.07

White kidney beans: 41.23

Green lentils: 65.21

Red lentil: 68.96

Whole Barley: 48

Farro (whole spelt): 50

Spinach: 92.13

Lettuce: 86.66

Mushrooms: 45.45

Tomatoes: 62.5

Cucumbers (with peel): 244.44

Bell Peppers: 85

Cabbage: 100

Flax seeds: 50.56

Chia seeds: 79.13

Key Observations

Eating a vegan diet doesn’t guarantee health. If you want above average results, you need to try something radically different. In addition to eliminating animal foods, one must also eliminate salt, oil, and limit fatty foods (nuts, avocados, etc.) to a minimum, while ALSO prioritizing high-fiber food.

If you go from a low-fiber diet to a high-fiber diet, you can expect digestive disturbances. So it’s best to go progressively, adding 10 grams of fiber per 1-2 weeks to your diet. This is done by eliminating some foods and replacing them with others.

You don’t need to eliminate low-fiber foods completely. In the Simian Diet experiment, the participants ate some tofu. But it’s the total amount of fiber in the diet that made a difference, and this was done by eating a lot of vegetables!

Frederic Patenaude
Frederic Patenaude
Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998, first by being the editor of Just Eat an Apple magazine. He is the author of over 20 books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies. Since 2013 he’s been the Editor-in-Chief of Renegade Health.

Frederic loves to relentlessly debunk nutritional myths. He advocates a low-fat, plant-based diet and has had over 10 years of experience with raw vegan diets. He lives in Montreal, Canada.