Going bananas about monkey health

Musical funnyman Weird Al Yankovic performs a memorable song titled “Everything You Know is Wrong.” The chorus goes in part, “Everything you know is wrong. Black is white, up is down and short is long; and everything you thought was just so important doesn’t matter.”

According to a study presented by a zoo in Devon England, they may have just unearthed just such a moment of incorrect knowledge. As reported by CNN, zookeepers in Devon have determined that eating commercially grown bananas is actually bad for monkeys.

What’s next? Somebody will figure out that Columbus didn’t “discover” America… That Marie Antoinette didn’t say, “Let them eat cake?”… That tigers don’t come from Africa…

Well as it turns out, Columbus didn’t. Marie Antoinette didn’t and tigers don’t. More to the current point, it also turns out that bananas (commercially grown ones anyway) are in fact not a great thing to feed monkeys.

As zookeepers at Paignton Zoo conclude, the high calorie and sugar content of bananas grown for human consumption —which are sweeter than those found in the wild — are bad for the monkeys’ health and can rot their teeth.

“Bananas grown for human consumption are full of sugar and calories and bear no relation to fruit grown organically,” said zoo spokesman Philip Knowling.

Since humans tend to brush their teeth more and have the potential for better calorie counting, we can continue our consumption of the fruit.

“Sweet and juicy bananas are good for humans but not for monkeys,” Knowling told CNN. “Animal nutrition has become a problem. Bananas and monkeys is a bit of a cliche, but they’re not a good combination.”

Researchers at the zoo also note that the high sugar content in bananas contributes to higher prevalence of diabetes and gastrointestinal problems in monkeys.

Since making the change in their diet, “We’ve noticed a net improvement in their coat and their fur is thicker and better. Some of the smaller monkeys are less aggressive,” Knowling said.

There’s also another, perhaps more evocative dimension to the monkeys’ dietary change. According to Matthew Webb, senior head keeper of mammals: “Smaller monkeys such as tamarins and marmosets are highly strung animals and live in tight-knit social groups which can be quite aggressive at times. Reducing the sugar in their diets has calmed them down and made their groups more settled.”

This should likely give humans pause for thought about their diets and the behavior changes certain dietary choices may elicit. Considering that we tend to have diets that are extremely high in sugar content — just look at how many food products from peanut butter to soft drinks, contain high fructose corn syrup — one wonders how society might change if we weren’t all on a persistent, often unacknowledged “sugar high.”

According to a study authored by David Hemenway, who directs the Harvard Injury Control Research Center at the Harvard School of Public Health, a connection between sugar consumption and aggression may exist. Hemenway’s team studied 1,878 students at Boston public high schools. In this sample of students, they observed that heavy soda drinkers were much more prone to violent behavior than other teens.

While no one is likely to argue that “the Dr Pepper made me do it,” the other negative health consequences of a high sugar diet certainly lend credence to Hemenway’s research. Even if invalidated as a contributor to violent behavior, the smart money says we’d all do well to reduce our sugar intake.