View Other Topics

The Raw Truth

Jun 27, 2021

Image: Sushi - clipart
Unless you've got an insatiable appetite for sushi or carpaccio, chances are that you eat mostly cooked meat according to And when you think about it, most of your diet is introduced to some form of heat prior to consumption.
In the Kitchen
Even the least exotic meal you can imagine was probably cooked at some point. Ground flour is baked into bread. Potatoes are boiled or fried. Even peanuts are usually roasted before being slathered onto a PB&J. But why?
Essential Cuisine
According to Richard Wrangham, a biological anthropology professor at Harvard, it's this culinary process that defines our species and has allowed humans to flourish. And he theorized that cooking offers more benefits than most of us realize.
The Cooking Advantage
As for those advantages, most of us would immediately jump in and explain that cooking meat kills bacteria and prevent sickness. That's certainly true. But that doesn't capture the full picture.
Human Evolution
Building on Wrangham's work, Karina Fonseca-Azevedo published a paper with her Brazilian colleague Suzana Herculano-Houzel that put forth the daring idea that cooking physically turned our ancestors into human beings! It goes back to a key moment in history.
Nobody knows exactly when or how fire was discovered, but our best estimates indicate that some predecessor of homo sapiens came across this wonder about 2 million years ago. For these primitive creatures, it was a revolutionary development.
Medium Rare
Besides providing warmth, one of the first applications of fire would have been cooking food. It's important to remember that putting a slab of beef on the grill doesn't just heat it up. A drastic chemical reaction takes place.
Cook Me Tender
Cooked meat undergoes a process called denaturation, which is a fancy way of saying the protein fibers force out water and become softer. Plant matter, too, usually softens up when exposed to heat. To the Brazilian scientists, this change means everything.
Hard to Chew
Fonseca-Azevedo and Herculano-Houzel believe that the evolution of human beings came down to chewing time. Cooking, of course, adds an extra step to caloric intake. Because this food is more tender, we can process and digest it much more quickly.
Chewing the Fat
The immediate benefit of that sped-up process would be giving early people time to do other activities — like socialize around the fire, for instance. That opportunity would set us apart from fellow primates, and that's not the only way.
Burning Change
The Brazilian scientists took a look at Professor Wrangham's hypothesis that fire drastically affected human evolution. He argued that the warmth and convenience caused us to become less hairy, walk more upright, and form complex social structures. But they took his ideas a step further.
Monkey Business
Our dietary needs are quite different from that of any other primate. Your typical monkey can afford to nibble on raw food over a long course of time because it doesn't need the same amount of calories. One of our most advanced body parts forced this difference.
Use Your Head
That's the brain. Despite many apes being larger than us, most actually have smaller brains. From an evolutionary perspective, this size difference stems from encephalization, whereby the organ and intelligence grow together. Fonseca-Azevedo and Herculano-Houzel wrote that this process largely depended on our cooked foodstuffs.
Biological Tradeoffs
"In primate evolution, developing a very large body and a very large brain have been mutually excluding strategies," their paper explained. So in subsisting on super-efficient cooked food, early humans gave their brains the chance to develop. And as for other primates?
Trust Your Gut
You might notice that, compared to us, gorillas have incredibly large abdomens. According to the theories of the aforementioned scientists, they grew these big bellies to adjust to their raw diet, at the expense of their brain development.
Diet Trends
Of course, many modern-day nutrition gurus will be quick to jump in and point out the benefits of a raw diet. There's no doubting that the trendy meal plan has helped many of us lose weight, but lighter doesn't necessarily mean healthier.
Just Not Enough
The bare truth is that raw foods alone don't give us the full caloric intake we need. In response, the human body begins consuming its own fat reserves. That's why it's an effective weight loss plan, though there is a way to eat only raw without wasting away.
How Many Hours?
Suzana Herculano-Houzel crunched the numbers and found that to properly survive on a raw diet, humans would need to spend nine hours out of the day eating. Maybe that sounds like a fun life plan at first, but it would quickly become a real chore.
Master Chefs
In that case, just keep on cooking. That flame-broiled meal is what separates us from the cavemen, after all. 

Share This Blog with Friends!

  • Starz Radio
  • Blog
  • Yahoo!
  • Google Groups
  • Starz Youtube