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What We Can Learn from Elephants: The Low Energy Density Diet

>> Saturday, September 4, 2010



On a safari in Kruger National Park, South Africa, last week, I had an amazing experience learning all about the abundant wildlife we encoutered: giraffes, lions, leopards, zebras, wildebeest, hippos, crocs, and the like. One thing that stands out in my mind is the astounding eating capacity of the elephants: they eat a whopping 250 kilograms of food each day!

For an adult male elephant, weighing about 5500 kg, this equates to 1kg of food per 22kg body weight. The weight of food consumed by a human per day will vary substantially depending on what type of food is consumed, but is considerably less, proportional to body weight, compared to what an elephant consumes to maintain body weight.

So - how do the elephants do it?

The secret is in the low energy density of the food that the elephants are consuming; in other words, the caloric content of their food is very low. Elephants are herbivores, meaning that they eat only vegetation: leaves, grass, twigs, roots, bark, and small amounts of fruit, seeds, and flowers. In addition, only about 40% of their ingested food is actually digested; the remaining 60% is excreted in the stool without absorbing the caloric content. In human terms, this would be equivalent to eating a very, VERY high fiber diet - too high for human physiology - but the principle still applies.

The take home message here is that eating larger amounts of Free Veg (vegetables that have minimal calories - green leafy vegetables especially) and aiming for 25-30 grams of daily dietary fiber can decrease the overall energy density of your diet, allowing you to enjoy a more generous amount of food while maintaining a calorie-controlled diet!


Dr. Sue Pedersen © 2010 www.drsue.ca drsuetalks@gmail.com


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