You learned in school, long before you became a retailer or business professional, that there are three different types of diets that occur in the animal world. They are carnivore, herbivore, and omnivore. With the recent proliferation of specialty diets including veganism and vegetarianism, it can be difficult to know where you stand on this scale. This article will introduce you to the animal norms for each of these diets and will help you figure out what human beings should be eating.


Carnivores are animals that get almost all of their nutritional requirements from eating the tissue of other animals. A lion cannot take a taxi to the grocery store to pick up some multivitamins, so it must hunt and kill a buffalo and take what it needs from that animal's flesh. Any plant nutrients needed must be filtered through the bodies of other animals first, because obligate or "true" carnivores lack the digestive capacity to process plant matter. Examples of carnivores include cats (including domestic cats), dogs, seals, sharks, birds of prey, and scavengers like the hyena.


By contrast, herbivores get everything their body needs from plant matter, such as plants, algae, and bacteria. An dentist can immediately tell the difference between a carnivore and a herbivore by its teeth. While carnivores need sharp teeth to tear flesh away, herbivores have broader, flatter teeth for masticating plant matter. Herbivores are the primary consumers on the food chain and are then preyed on by carnivores. Many herbivores focus only on one type of plant, such as fruit bats and the koala's preference for eucalyptus leaves.


Omnivores are animals that get the best of both worlds. Able to digest both plant and animal matter, omnivores are opportunistic eaters who will gobble up whatever is most readily available. This makes them highly adaptable, but they do have their limitations. An omnivore needs nutrients from both plants and animals, and therefore cannot live only off of steak scraps thrown out by a restaurant. Examples of omnivores in the animal kingdom include crows, pigs, squirrels, mice, and chimpanzees.


Officially, human beings are classified as omnivores, as you can see from our teeth, some of which are sharp, and some of which are blunt. Our stomachs have the capacity to digest both meat and certain kinds of plant matter and we require nutrients commonly found in both types of food. However, unlike an animal omnivore, a human is able to exercise choice over his diet. As long as he is careful to eat the proper balance and amounts and supplement his diet with multivitamins, he can survive as a herbivore. It is much more difficult to survive as a carnivore.

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