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Did meat and cooked food make us smarter?

Posting in Food

Image via Flickr / kevin dooley

Raw vegan diets--or some combination of the two--have gained popularity in recent years and many advocate a nutrition program centered around the food that was available to our ancestors. But research suggests that our consumption of both meat and cooked foods led our brains to evolve faster than those of our fellow primates.

The Washington Post's Christopher Wanjek reports on two recent studies supporting this claim. The first one, from Brazilian researchers at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, found that human brains are disproportionately larger than brains of other primates. The scientists found that the number of calories required to grow the brain to this size would have been impossible to consume by eating raw plant-based products only. "Cooking makes more foods edible year round and releases more nutrients and calories...it was most likely impossible to survive on an exclusively raw diet when our species appeared,” Suzana Herculano-Houzel, lead scientist on the study, told the Post.

Wanjek also draws attention to another study, out of Complutense University in Madrid. This one pointed to an archaeological finding that suggested a young prehuman child had died due to a lack of iron and vitamins found in animal products, implying that such products were crucial to fuel and maintain the brain.

This is not to say that there are not perfectly good justifications for a vegan raw diet from a health standpoint--in fact, many of these schools of thought focus on the elimination of processed foods which were not available to our ancestors. But meat and fire was, and research suggests it played a pivotal role in making our brains what they are today.

[via The Washington Post]

— By on November 29, 2012, 5:15 AM PST

Jenny Wilson

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Jenny Wilson is a freelance journalist based in Chicago. She has written for Time.com and Swimming World Magazine and served stints at The American Prospect and The Atlantic Monthly magazines. She is currently pursuing a degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure