Raw foods deficient to sustain brain energy, research finds
Although “healthier” raw food diets have been all the rage recently, Brazilian scientists have found that cooked food has helped to improve the evolution of the human brain. Research findings published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicated that early humans had likely increased their brain size by gaining more energy from their food, and reducing digestion energy and time by cooking it.
The two Brazilian scientists who presented the report, Karina Fonseca-Azevedo and Suzana Herculano-Houzel, studied the amount of neurons in the brains of various primates. The research found that because humans can digest cooked food significantly easier than raw food, they had more time to “develop the brain” in other activities.
The researchers compared the amount, types of food, and the amount of energy used to fuel the brain in various primates. The report said that brain neurons were counted in several species of primates to determine the amount of energy required to run the brain, concluding that humans would need to eat for nine and a half hours every day if they did not cook their food.
Meanwhile, animals that do not cook their food, such as gorillas, spend an average of eight and a half hours eating daily. The researchers then applied this information to early humans such as “Paranthropus boise, Homo habilis and Australopithecus afarensis,” concluding that they would have had to spend seven and a half hours a day eating raw food just to maintain their brain size.
The spare time of the humans who ate cooked food would have allowed time for greater socialisation and further developing the human brain.
Suzana Herculano-Houzel, a neuroscientist and co-author of the new study says, “If you eat only raw food, there are not enough hours in the day to get enough calories to build such a large brain. We can afford more neurons, thanks to cooking.”
The report comes at a time when “raw food” diets are on the rise, promoting a so-called “healthier way of living.” Many raw food advocates argue that cooking takes away many nutrients in food. While this may be true for some foods, there have also been reports that cooking can also add to the nutrient value of other foods such as the lycopene made available by cooking tomatoes.
The latest research adds to existing knowledge that humans have benefitted safety-wise and nutritionally from cooked food. The latest findings might suggest that “raw food dieters” may also be at a disadvantage against people eating cooked food when it comes to sustaining their healthy brain power.