How Cooked Meat May Have Helped Our Brains Evolve
Human kind has been eating cooked meat for a long time. You could pretty accurately say that we love meat, and it turns out that meat may love us too. Many scientists have wondered exactly how the human brain evolved into such a powerhouse, while some of our closest relatives' got left behind.
How It May Have Worked:
In the animal kingdom, there is a clear pattern of larger animals having larger brains. There is one big exception though: human beings. By all accounts, we should have much smaller brains than one of our closest cousins, the gorilla. This has puzzled the scientific community for quite a while, but a popular theory is gaining traction. In summary, that theory states that the introduction to a cooked diet may be to blame.
To quote the scientists, "the energetic cost of the brain is a linear function of its numbers of neurons." In layman's terms, that just means that the more neurons the brain has, the more energy that it requires to function. It is certainly one of our more energy consumptive organs.
Human brains are big; they are so big, in fact, that an estimated 20% of all of the energy that we consume goes directly to them, even though it only makes up about 2% of our total body weight.
Before their brains grew, most of our primate ancestors' lives were filled with constant grazing just to meet the energy requirements for their small brains. Their brains grew as much as their energy intake allowed.
So what is it about cooked food that gave us more energy? Well, first of all, for many foods, cooking increases the calories available. On top of that, it can often be more productive to hunt and cook an animal than to spend eight or more hours a day looking for edible vegetation. This may not only have increased the amount of calories we ingested compared to the time spent searching for them, but it may have given us more "time around the fire" to commingle and make use of the bigger brains we were developing. As if a cooked diet couldn't have helped us any more, the ease with which cooked food is eaten also probably affected how much time we had to search for more food.
If all this makes sense to you, it does to many neuroscientists around the world as well. So the next time you fire up that grill, grab a cold beer (alcohol consumption being another common correlation to higher brain function in the animal kingdom), and thank your ancestors for putting hot to haunch so you can enjoy your dinner with clarity.
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