November 8, 2011
Cooked Meat Found To Be An Essential Link In Human Evolution
Researchers at Harvard have discovered that cooked meat produces more energy than raw meat. This finding suggests that humans are biologically programmed to take advantage of cooking, and that cooking played a role in the evolution of man. The research was conducted by Rachel Carmody and described in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
According to Carmody, “The results of this paper are equally relevant to human evolution and to the way we think about food today. It is astonishing that we don´t understand the fundamental properties of the food we eat. All the effort we put into cooking food and presenting it - mashing it up, or cutting it, or slicing or pounding it - we don´t understand what effect that has on the energy we extract from food, and energy is the primary reason we eat in the first place.”To look at the net effect of cooked foods, Carmody conducted the following experiment. She fed two groups of mice, over forty days, a series of diets, consisting of either meat or sweet potatoes prepared four ways - raw and whole, raw and pounded, cooked and whole, and cooked and pounded.
Over the course of the study the scientists observed the changes in the mouse's body mass and how much it used the exercise wheel. Carmody found that the cooked meat provided a greater amount of energy than the raw foods.
The research is important in studying the evolutionary advancements of man. Humans went from a small ape-like creature with a smaller brain to suddenly growing larger bodies and more complex brains. Some scientists have theorized that it was the addition of meat to the diet that caused the evolutionary advancement, but Carmody´s research points to the possibility that man´s learning to cook helped humans evolve.
This new research has implications beyond the evolutionary and into the modern western civilization, providing possible insight into how to tackle the prevalence of obesity in Western societies, and malnutrition in developing nations.
According to Carmody, “As human evolutionary biologists, we think about energetic gain as being something positive, because it allows for growth and reproduction, and it´s a critical component of a species´ evolutionary fitness. But the question in the modern world is: If we now have the problem of excess as opposed to deficit, is that still a positive?”
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