What do animals eat? (And how does this relate to an optimal human diet?)

(KM) #81

Why do you describe it as sub optimal? All ruminants eat grass, which has an extremely low nutrient content to humans. Some whales subsist almost entirely on plankton. These pieces all fit together, with each species of animal and plant behaving in a way that’s inextricably linked with the others around it so each species relies on and supports the overall matrix / web - the “circle of life” to put it simply. Nature isn’t just a big grocery store. There really isn’t optimal versus suboptimal natural diet for species, any more than there are important and unimportant species themselves. “Sub-optimal” is one species subsisting on another species’ food because it’s all that’s available, which is why introduction of non-native species often leads to ecosystem collapse.

(Bacon is a many-splendoured thing) #82

Also, given that the grasses and the ruminants evolved in tandem, they both need each other for optimal health. The grasses need to be pulled the way a ruminant’s tongue grabs and pulls; they don’t respond nearly as well to mechanical cutting. Moreover, the point of a ruminant’s four stomachs is to allow bacteria to ferment the grass and produce fatty acids which, in combination with the protein in the grasses, are what nourish the animal. Also, the grazing pattern of a herd subject to predatory stress or proper human management only takes the top third of the plants before the animals move on, and this prevents deterioration of the root system, keeping the network of roots, fungi, and microbes intact and healthy, thus allowing the soil to continue to retain water, etc., etc., etc.

This is a system that is optimal all the way down, because it builds the soil, prevents flooding, sequesters tons of carbon from the atmosphere, provides habitats for insects, ground-nesting birds, and many small animals, and so forth.

(Bob M) #83

His book is good too. High carb, though.

(Edith) #84

Yeah, he is not keto, just proper processing for digestibility and decreasing toxins.


No, life isn’t optimal. Animal eats what they can, it’s about survival. Evolution helps whatever available is becoming a good enough food source (well the animals should survive first… but evolution can bring them into other areas) but it doesn’t necessarily become optimal. It happens with other things, I could talk about insane reproduction methods that is crazy and damaging - but doesn’t kill most of the animals, babies still happen so good enough. Human anatomy has plenty of suboptimal parts too, it just stayed so and it cause problems BUT we still can survive and make babies and rause them and only that matters for evolution.

Some animal live in difficult areas, period :slight_smile: Icy worlds, deep sea… Beggars can be choosers. Evolution should help eventually but I imagine there are times when it isn’t so great yet. But enough for survival. Maybe it never will be great and the animals would thrive more in a nutrition richer environment but life didn’t give them that.


Tortoises LOVE their fruit :smiley:


This was also what I originally thought, but Shinita seems convinced otherwise. I could actually now see this one going either way. Until someone can provide some good evidence the its just matter of opinion. Lets hope someone can find something as Id really be interested to know the answer to this one.


I don’t, that was Shintitas assertion. I actually agreed with you originally, but can now see the argument for both sides. I be interested to see if anyone can up with evidence for it either way.


He sounds like a really interesting guy. Glad to have another recommendation for his work. Really looking forward to hearing what hes got to say.


Hi all,
Thanks everyone for all your insights, it’s been a great learning experience for me and I’ve got some great recommendations from you all.
So far I’m pretty satisfied with the topics of which animals consume meats etc, grasses, fruits, berries and milk.
I’ve decided for vegetables, since our versions are highly hybridised and don’t actually exist in the wild, that I’m going to leave that category for now, and come back to later maybe from a different angle.
What I would like to focus the discussion on now if possible would be, what animals eat:
4. Nuts and seeds
5. Fungi
10. Honey

What I would ideally like to find are animals that fit the following criteria:

  1. They eat the food in the wild, as a normal part of their diet, under normal conditions.
  2. It constitutes a large part of their diet, 30% or more.
  3. Ideally widespread throughout the species (but the specialised ones are also interesting).

However I’m interested in all answers, in all circumstances, as this can also be enlightening.
Looking forward to the responses.


I am no scientist, I only was sure in that evolution can’t always make a diet being optimal, just enough for survival of the species.
But I searched a tiny bit and yep, I have found it again as I did in the past, giant pandas can’t digest their food well, they have a carnivorous digestive system and they can’t digest the cellulose-rich bamboo fully or even near that. But I saw some new things like they poop 40-50 times a day to get rid of all the waste… Makes sense, though but it’s quite serious. One site wrote they are able to digest 20% of the bamboo leaves. It doesn’t sound anywhere near optimal to me.
And the animal kingdom is full with suboptimal things. If optimal means that best fitted for the animal, who knows what definions other have. Evolution doesn’t drive things being optimal, just good enough. They two can go hand in hand but not always, there are plenty of suboptimal remnaints of things that doesn’t bother survival and reproduction so they stay. And food scarcity can emerge way quicker than mutations could handle it. Or evolution doesn’t care as it’s good enough. And sometimes there isn’t nutrition for everyone but survival is still possible for the ecosystem with the numbers of the species they have. For survival, animals eat suboptimal food too, to some extent. Some lower-ranking animals in groups only eat scraps, I consider that less than optimal too but it’s another thing, I just got reminded of lower-ranked Tasmanian devils and hyenas, they have a tough life.

Oh and giant pandas apparently eat meat too. I didn’t know that but it is not surprising at all. Of course it’s a very very tiny part of their diet, poor things.


I doubt (but don’t know, really) there are animals mostly living on honey (except the honey making ones themselves and even that isn’t always the case, it was addressed already) as there isn’t THAT much honey available for bigger animals and a smaller one probably couldn’t easily win over the bees and going for nectar would be much better.
Nectar instead of honey would be easier, there are many nectarivores!

Fungi aren’t so reliable but they are some species apparently living on them. Mushrooms very often have a lot of larvae in them, they probably are specialized and the whole species eat fungi but I never was interested enough to search for this info (not even now). And there are insects on mushrooms too. And snails love their mushrooms but they go for many other things as well, the little opportunistics.

(Edith) #93

That makes sense. As long as the animal can reproduce and live long enough to raise the young, it doesn’t matter if the animal is eating well enough to get to old age.


Wow that’s so interesting Shinita, thanks. It really does seem from your research that the bamboo leaves may really be suboptimal for Pandas. That leads me to two questions:

  1. Are there any ill health effects for the Panda? They look healthy enough from the little I know. I’m thinking of obvious signs like teeth problems, fur and skin problems as well as more serious conditions. I know you mentioned the slow growth of the babies before.

  2. Are their any other animals in this category ie animals that have evolved to eat a sub optimal food for the majority of their diet in their natural habitat under normal conditions ie outside of climatically difficult times (winter, drought etc). I wonder is this is a widespread or more of a niche thing. Geoffrey suggested possibly Koalas before.

Also very interesting about Pandas eating meat occasionally. Really surprising. I thought they had adapted to only eat bamboo. But that fits with other animals, especially the herbivores who eat meat if they can find it. It’s a really surprising revelation to me. One theory I read is that these animals don’t eat meat as a regular part of their diet simply because they are poorly adapted to catch it but if they find it they eat it because it is so nutritious. This really helps reinforce the answer to the question: is meat part of an optimal human diet? If even herbivores eat meat if they can get it then it follows that humans should eat it too.


A very interesting point. The important thing is to reach the end of reproductive age. Reaching old age is probably even a negative thing as it means competition for limited food resources.
However, I seem to remember a study about humans eating sub optimal diets and how human development got worse with each generation after sub optimal food was introduced. I think it took 3 generations for the effects to become very pronounced. I think they studied things like reduction in jaw size and teeth etc. One would think this would hold true for animals too. So eventually one would imagine they would evolve so that their suboptimal diet became optimal or they would die out.

(Bacon is a many-splendoured thing) #96

This is actually up for debate, I understand. I came across a study last year, purporting to show the value of grandmothers in watching and caring for infants. :smile: Don’t recall anything about grandpas, however. :frowning_face:

It is certainly true that archaeologists can tell, just from looking at the skeletons and even before the isotope analysis is done, whether a culture was hunters or farmers. The latter are shorter in stature, show signs of arthritis, have tooth decay and other bone-growth problems. The former are taller, and their skeletons show bone breaks rather than chronic diseases.

(Chuck) #97

I am 76 years old, never been hospitalized, never had a broken bone, never had a surgery, and still have my teeth. I have mostly eaten real food, from the farm I grew up on or from farmers that I have been able to get, produce, meat, dairy, eggs, etc from. I find that on average I eat, some type of meat, vegetables, fruit, nuts, and dairy daily. I have eggs a few times a week. I try to stay away from processed carbs, meats, and other wannabe foods. I stay away from fast food and most of the time anything with wheat. I am not a diabetic and do have a mild issue with blood pressure that I now could with my diet and meditation. Being active is important but that doesn’t necessarily mean ‘exercise’. I have been someone that has never been someone to run but I do love long distance walks. Until lately I had no need for weight lifting due to physical activity, but now I do some resistance band training. I see too many that depend on protein drinks or protein bars and shake my head at how malnutritioned they are.


I saw such ones myself. Definitely for humans but there are quite a few animals where other family members help to raise the babies, they may have this too if the grandparents help too. So sometimes it’s good to live long even without reproduction in the end evolutionally. It’s not very common I suppose but happens and I find it very interesting :slight_smile:


I don’t care about animals here as they are so different from us, even our close relatives, I like to look at the nutritional value. Meat has a lot to do with our needs, it seems to be a quite good food based on it. While some sweet fruits seems a very poor choice - except small amounts can be just fine especially if we need more energy and get the missing essential nutrients from elsewhere. Looking at human history, meat eating is very normal too… Any food group can be omitted from a healthy diet (not for everyone, we are different and one person may not be fine on someone else’s great diet) so meat isn’t mandatory - but very helpful and in many cases, part of the optimal diet. I feel and function best on extreme low non-animal net carbs so I seem to need meat even though I can live without it just fine, I did it for a long time. Not because I couldn’t get the nutrients from elsewhere but because I would get too much problematic carbs in the process. I can survive without meat, even enjoy my diet and function okay - but it’s way better with meat, all my experiences point into that direction. Maybe I could feel similarly fine without meat if I did everything right but that would be quite tricky, not so enjoyable and maybe I still would need to supplement some micronutrients if I wanted to stick to the very low non-animal net carb my body seem to enjoy best.
But see the above and people’s tastes, meat really seems a good food for humans. And it’s easy to eat enough of it. I couldn’t even eat enough eggs to call it a meal and it lacks some essential micronutrients or have too little of them. Meat is the easiest way for me and probably many others to eat plenty of protein without getting too much carbs (or fat in some cases).


I assume youre talking about humans? I was referring to the animal kingdom!!