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Cooking: it makes us human?

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  • Cooking: it makes us human?

    Jon Udell's recent blog post turned me onto a very interesting talk by

    Richard Wrangham, author of "Catching fire: how cooking made us human".

    Wrangham talks about how cooking can greatly increase the capability for humans to be able to digest food. For example, eating a raw egg or a raw banana, you may only absorb about 50% of the nutrients. But cook that egg or banana and absorption can go up to 99%. For tests with meat done with pythons, cooked meat increased absorption by 12%, mashed meat increased absorption by 12%, and cooked and mashed meat by 23%.

    I've heard of the expensive tissue hypothesis before (as has Wrangham obviously), where the theory is that by eating meat humans were able to shorten their digestive tracts and have more energy available to increase their brain sizes. But while meat is more nutrient dense than plants, the fact that you can absorb 20-50% more nutrients from cooked/processed food over raw food could well have been the main driving factor in the increase in the humans brain size.

    He also makes the point that this would greatly influence culture, as humans would have more time for other things. You'd think that cooked food wouldn't save too much time on the eating side, but Wrangham makes the point that a chimpanzee will spend 6 hours a day chewing. That's a lot of chewing!

    This would also explains why it's so damn satisfying to just lay around at night an tend a fire when camping!

  • #2

    I think Wrangham has some excellent points. We made two jumps large in brain size. One when they posit we began eating meat, the second when we began cooking it. One other aspect of the campfire is that it engenders communal time and cooperation.

    Start weight: 250 - 06/2009
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    • #3
      Finished this book a few weeks ago.. good read. Casts good light from an evolutionary perspective how cooking increases the bio availability of food, nutrient absorption etc.. Very easy short reading.


      • #4
        Fascinating stuff--I gotta read that book!
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        • #5
 is an excellent post of Dr. Mike Eades' which deals with how animal foods were also a large part of what made us human that you might find interesting.
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          • #6
            Oh that post on Dr. Mike's blog is so good. I read it wen he posted it 6 months ago and it stuck in my brain. I am now reading The Vegetarian Myth (which is AWESOME!) and Lierre also talks about the same idea, that cooked meat made our brains larger because the metabolic energy that the brain uses was made available with the efficient gut.

            I don't get all the raw food and raw paleo groups. Raw meat is for sushi only , sorry. There is a reason why the charred bits on barbecued food tastes so darn good!


            • #7
              Do you think my raw vegan friend would appreciate if I told her that cooked meat would make her more human? lol.

              I've really started to cook more vegetables since becoming primal. For the most part if I crave it raw I'll eat it raw, otherwise it probably needs to get a little bit of processing before I feel like eating it.


              • #8
                I'm not convinced! Maybe I should read the book...
                I always thought a raw salad is more nutritious than cooked vegetables! My experience with eating a lot of raw fruits and vegetables versus cooked vegetables has convinced me that the former makes skin clearer and healthier.
                "The penis is the male animal-flower, a soft-firm dildo, a warm dream."
                -Raymond Peat, PhD


                • #9
                  Cooking does destroy some nutrients, but it also makes most of them far more bioavailable because it breaks down the indigestible cellulose matrix that contains them. Most foods receive a net benefit from light cooking (or a blending, for that matter, which is great for making raw fruits and veggies better for you).

                  Additionally, there are frequently other factors at work with raw diets. When you were eating lots of raw fruits and veggies, did you eat less gluten and vegetable oil? Did you more carefully watch what you ate? Just a couple of examples.
                  Give me liberty. Exploration of other options will be vigorously discouraged.

                  Wondering something sciencey? Ask me in my Ask a Biochemist Thread


                  • #10
                    The meat eating/cooking theories are ones I've read/heard many times and it makes sense to me. I've always wondered why folks eat a totally raw (including meat) diet when it seems that cooking, esp meat, is what lead to our brain development. I'm sure they have arguments for their side, but I've never run across them. I'll keep cooking my meat...
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                    • #11
                      Raw is still crucial, we only cooked some foods. Careful to make the distinction, cooking tends to make energy for available not nutrients, its been well shown that enzymes and nutrients are destroyed by cooking.

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                      • #12
                        The raw diet was very limited but I got my fats and oil from the same sources I do now (nuts, coconut oil and olive oil - save for lard and duck fat).
                        But you have a good point! As a matter of fact, when I tried the raw diet again (recently) my face didn't clear as significantly as before - most likely because I was already eating well (or have done irreversible damage to my skin to the point where it no longer responded to anything!).

                        I'm actually willing to make a guinea-pig out of myself and do a raw meat and fish month. I intend to document it in my PB Journal. That will help me figure things out.
                        "The penis is the male animal-flower, a soft-firm dildo, a warm dream."
                        -Raymond Peat, PhD


                        • #13
                          @ rockstareddy

                          The enzymes are completely irrelevant to digestion and health. By the time they get to the gut, they've been irreversibly denatured, whether from the heat of cooking or from the peptidase-laced acid bath of the stomach.

                          Nutrients are a more complex matter. Some are destroyed by cooking, but many are also locked up inside a matrix of indigestible carbohydrate. Anything which breaches the cells of this matrix will make the nutrients more available. Chewing and the mechanical action of the stomach do this a little bit, but unless you're really chewing your veggies for minutes at a time, much of the goodness is going to be poorly bioavailable. Cooking, on the other hand, tends to dissolve many of the walls of these cells (this is why vegetables wilt as you cook them), allowing the goodies to spill out. Some of them are lost, but more of them are actually available for uptake.

                          I suppose very fine chopping or, better yet, blending of raw vegetables might accomplish much the same thing without nearly so much oxidation of important nutrients, but just eating veggies raw isn't necessarily the way to go. Light cooking gives you the best of both worlds.
                          Give me liberty. Exploration of other options will be vigorously discouraged.

                          Wondering something sciencey? Ask me in my Ask a Biochemist Thread


                          • #14
                            Ooer, really? So when people have fits about the enzymes being destroyed, it doesn't matter because enzymes in food cannot function after being subjected to stomach acid? What does that say about digestive enzyme supplements then? Are those still of merit?

                            Now I suppose the oxidation is a good point but light-cooking with anti-oxidants and eating antioxidants with the cooked food mitigate these effects. Hell orange juice reduced reactive oxygen species after a junk meal by a significant amount so more potent antioxidants would most likely render any damage nil. Depriving the body of important micronutrients would be the greater diservice.

                            Also, Dr.Mercola tends to go on about "biophotons" and how food with its biophotons intact (which are supposedly destroyed by heating) are very important.

                            The primary reason for making sure you get plenty of raw food in your diet is due to what’s called ‘biophotons.’ It’s a term you may not have heard of before, but in Europe, Germany in particular, there’s a lot of research in this area. Dr. Dietrich Klinghardt has also discussed it in some detail in one of his expert interviews for my Inner Circle program.

                            Biophotons are the smallest physical units of light, which are stored in, and used by all biological organisms – including your body. Vital sun energy finds its way into your cells via the food you eat, in the form of these biophotons.

                            They contain important bio-information, which controls complex vital processes in your body. The biophotons have the power to order and regulate, and, in doing so, to elevate the organism – in this case, your physical body -- to a higher oscillation or order.

                            This is manifested as a feeling of vitality and well-being.

                            Every living organism emits biophotons or low-level luminescence (light with a wavelength between 200 and 800 nanometers). It is thought that the higher the level of light energy a cell emits, the greater its vitality and the potential for the transfer of that energy to the individual which consumes it.

                            The more light a food is able to store, the more nutritious it is. Naturally grown fresh vegetables, for example, and sun-ripened fruits, are rich in light energy. The capacity to store biophotons is therefore a measure of the quality of your food.

                            Now, the DNA inside each of your body’s cells vibrates at a frequency of several billion hertz (which is unfortunately the same range at which modern cell phone communication systems also work). The vibration is created through the coil-like contraction and extension of your DNA -- which occurs several billion times per second -- and each time it contracts, it squeezes out one single biophoton; a light particle.

                            All the biophotons emitted from your body communicate with each other in a highly structured light field that surrounds your body. This light field also regulates the activity of your metabolic enzymes. For more in-depth information about how this works, I recommend you view the video clip of my interview with Dr. Klinghardt.
                            zuh? Is this just mystical new-agey mumbo jumbo disguised as science? I hope mercola isn't pulling a Carl Jung on me and becoming more and more batty with age.

                            Anyone have comments?
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                            • #15
                              MG linked to a post by Dr. Mike Eades above that I found very compelling -- the expensive tissue hypothesis -- and I've been thinking about the implications ever since, even as I slept.

                              Of particular interest for me was that the most metabolically expensive organs, by far, are the brain, heart, kidneys, liver, and GI tract. Muscles don't even come close! Yet how often we have heard that building muscles raises your BMR and contributes to leanness.

                              Well, if that's marginally true for muscle, how much moreso would it be true for increasing heart, kidney, liver output? For example, now that my kidneys are working overtime on a high-protein diet, my liver is getting regularly squeezed dry by IFs and built back up again, and my cardio health has improved greatly, perhaps these organs have become stronger, more powerful, even larger? If that's the case, perhaps their metabolic price has gone up as well, and perhaps that's contributing to fat burn and a lower body fat "set point".

                              Any thoughts on this from someone who actually knows a thing or two about metabolism?

                              EDIT: Stabby... biophotons producing a highly structured light field surrounding the body and regulating metabolic enzymes? I like bold new ideas, but that sounds insane. There's no doubt that biophotons exist, but... well, I haven't read thoroughly on it yet, but this is either brilliant or a sign of dementia, like you said.
                              Last edited by Timothy; 04-03-2010, 06:45 AM.