In my last post, I talked about the diet of the Family Hominidae and how all the species within this family is designed to eat a diet of fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds for optimal health and wellness.
Today’s post is part two of my previous one, discussing the myth that we are different “because we ate meat!” Because I don’t think so.
Until very recently, archeologists, paleothoogists, and evolutionary biologists thought that the emergence of Homo Sapiens is highly attributable to the consumption of meat: that all those protein & fat was essential for the development of our brain.
Although I am not an expert or professional scientist of any sort, with just a little bit of critical thinking, anyone can notice that there are few things a little ‘off’ about this theory.
First of all, just like the clip I’ve inserted in my last post, chimpanzees and other primates are pretty damn smart as well. Here’s an additional clip showing that we are not the only smart ‘primates.’
In fact, the woman in this video actually says “humans diverged not only from language, but clearly from their ability to make fire” (or smth like that).
Secondly, if proteins & fats were THAT important for the development of our brains, how come animals like the Felidae, which are carnivores, are not as smart as us? Of course, some smart creatures like dolphins eat lots of fish and squid. But they are not even living on earth, are they? For instance, bears, who eat tons of omega-3-fatty acids throughout the year never developed such intelligent brains, did they?
Thirdly, in our last post, we saw that chimpanzees hunted for social reasons (not for the nutritional value of meat). They did not even really eat the flesh & important parts of the meat, but rather just sucked it and threw the rest away. In fact, a lot of them were indigested. Looking at this, it seems humans learned how to eat meat AFTER their brains developed enough. The early primate species (let’s say something like chimpanzees) would have had to be smart enough to hunt effectively, and smart enough to realize that this toxic, harmful meat has to be COOKED before it is eaten. It’s just strange to think that humans ate meat and THEN got smarter. Because they couldn’t have digested meat in the first place.
Now then, where does that lead us to? That meat was NOT really the critical factor to the emergence of the homo sapiens.
Let’s start with the Australopithecus.
We know that this species existed about 2 million years ago, and is possibly the earliest form of bipedal primates. Meaning, they were walking on two feat.
Now let’s ask ourselves: why did these fruit & branch loving animals start to walk on the ground? It must have been dangerous! The most obvious answer is this: that they found a food source on the ground. They didn’t have to rely on the fruits from the trees; they have found ROOTS under the ground.
In a 1979 preliminary microwear study of Australopithecus fossil teeth, anthropologist Alan Walker theorized that robust australopiths were largely frugivorous.Australopithecus mainly ate fruit, vegetables, and tubers. (from wikipedia)
Of course, it is unreasonable to think that these awkwardly walking creatures (since their hipbones were still not as straight as ours) would have ran around with spears and stones to hunt down animals.
These animals have found something valuable called “tubers” – storage organs of plants under ground. However, the Australopithecus ate these tubers raw. Have you ever tried eating raw roots from the ground? They are hard. No wonder they ate protrusive mouth and hard teeth.
Then there is the Homo Erectus.
The species that scientists know as the first to use fire. Interestingly, these species had a bigger brain, and smaller jaw.
And it’s pretty easy to guess where this came from:
Smaller Jaw = soft, cooked foods. Potatoes are 100 times easier to chew and digest when cooked.
Bigger Brain = More fuel for the brain = more available carbohydrates /glucose for the brain.
H. erectus had a cranial capacity greater than that of Homo habilis (although the Dmanisi specimens have distinctively small crania): the earliest remains show a cranial capacity of 850 cm³, while the latest Javan specimens measure up to 1100 cm³, overlapping that of H. sapiens.; the frontal bone is less sloped and the dental arcade smaller than the australopithecines‘; the face is more orthognatic (less protrusive) than either the australopithecines’ or H. habilis’s, with large brow-ridges and less prominent zygomata (cheekbones). These early hominins stood about 1.79 m (5 ft 10 in), and were more robust than modern humans.
I (and many others) don’t think it was the meat. It was the STARCH & FIRE that really got us going to where we are now.
Here are some articles that propose this theory.
…unlike our fellow primates, modern humans have many copies of a gene that makes a protein in our saliva that is crucial for breaking down starch into glucose. Our brains run on glucose. DNA and saliva samples taken from populations all over the world — from locals in Arizona and Japan to the Hadza, hunter-gatherers in Tanzania, and the Yakut, Siberian animal herders and fishermen — showed that if you have more copies of the gene amylase 1, you have more of the protein. (first link)
At some point in the distant past, there was a dramatic increase in brain size in our hominid ancestors. From approximately 2 million years ago, to the present day, brain volume in the hominid lineage has increased by a factor of 3.5: the brain of Homo erectus had a volume of about 400 milliliters, while that of modern humans is roughly 1,400 ml.
The size of the human brain cannot be accounted for merely by an increase in body size, because Homo erectus was similar in size to modern humans, so the driving for this increase in brain size (or “encephalization”) is still a topic of debate among anthropologists, evolutionary biologists and neuroscientists.
Traditionally, it was believed that our ancestors evolved a large brain to accomodate language and tool use. But in recent years, a number of theories have focused on the role of diet in human brain evolution. During the course of human evolution, changes in diet were brought about by the control of fire, the domestication of plants and animals, and the development and mastery of stone tool technology….
And now, a study published in Nature Genetics adds starchy tubers to the smorgasbord of foodstuffs that may have contributed to the expansion of the human brain….
The brain of modern humans is an energy-hungry organ. At rest, it consumes about one quarter of the body’s energy, despite comprising only 2% of the total body mass. (In comparison, the brains of apes about 8% of the body’s energy.) However, the calorific intake of humans is similar to that of other similar-sized mammals with smaller brains.
In the new study, which was led by George Perry of Arizona State University and Nathaniel Dominy of the University of California, Santa Cruz, a human gene called AMY1 was investigated. This gene encodes an enzyme called salivary amylase, which breaks down starch into glucose, which is the only energy source for nerve cells. (second link)
In conclusion, here’s what have allowed us to develop into who we are today.
3. Use of tools
Because these would have actually made calories more available, fuel the brain, and enlarge it. Meat wouldn’t have done it – or it was a very very insignificant factor.
So are you still digging the Atkins Diet, or the Paleo Diet? Think again; and let’s dig up the ground, shall we?
(MORE about Starch eating on my previous post here)
Thanks for reading!