What Dolphins Can Teach Us About Eating for Health

In order to be healthy, we humans need a balance of macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrates), micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, and trace elements), phytochemicals (bioactive compounds in food), and water (to replenish fluids). Unfortunately, much of the food we consume today is deficient in these essential elements. High-quality food provides the necessary energy and nutritional requirements we need to survive, stay healthy, and prevent illness.

Studies with dolphins and whales suggest that, despite their size, the quality, rather than the quantity, of available food is the more important factor in good health.

How High-Quality Foods Help Counteract Contaminants

We've also learned from studying marine animals that consuming high-quality food reduces the concentration of contaminants in our body. Take methylmercury, for example. Methylmercury is a neurotoxin found in all water bodies. It's normally present in tiny amounts, which are not necessarily harmful to humans.

However, according to research from Dartmouth Department of Biological Sciences, a process called biomagnification causes methylmercury (and other contaminants) to accumulate, occurring in higher and higher concentrations in animal tissue as we move up the food chain. High-quality food helps counteract this problem.

In an interview, lead author Roxanne Karimi said when organisms have the optimal combination of nutrients available to them, they are able to gain more weight relative to the amount of toxins they get from their food. This rapid growth helps dilute the toxins.

How to Choose High-Quality Foods

It's not difficult to consume high quality food. Here, six strategies to incorporate into your diet:

  • Choose nutrient dense, water-rich food, such as raw fruits and vegetables, which are low in fat and sugar.
  • Aim for 15 to 20 percent of your diet to be lean protein, 50 to 60 percent slow-release carbohydrates, such as whole grains, and 25 percent health fats from seeds and nuts.
  • Limit sugar, sweets, and soft drinks.
  • Eat a serving of nuts, seeds, or legumes daily.
  • Always include some protein, carbohydrates, and fats with each meal or snack.
  • Chose organic when possible and avoid predator fish at the top of the food chain to limit your exposure to environmental toxins.

Liesa Harte, M.D. reviewed this article.


Spitz, J., Trites, A.W., Becquet, V., Brind'Amour, A., and Cherel, Y., et al. "Cost of Living Dictates what Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises Eat: The Importance of Prey Quality on Predator Foraging Strategies." PLoS ONE 7(11) (2012): e50096. Web. 21 November 2012. http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0050096

Price, Susan, MSc, BSc. " Understanding the Importance To Health of a Balanced Diet." Nursing Times 101(01) (2005): 304. Web. January 2005.  http://www.nursingtimes.net/understanding-the-importance-to-health-of-a-balanced-diet/204052.article

Woods, Margo, DSc, Potts, Emily, MSc, and Connors, Joan, DMin, RD. "Building a High Quality Diet." Tufts University School of Medicine. Web. http://www.tufts.edu/med/nutrition-infection/hiv/health_high_quality_diet.html