Carbed up evolution

| Post published on February 2, 2015
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Dr Karen Hardy from the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies, along with an international team of experts on human evolution, genetics and environment, pulled together a wealth of data for their theory that – carbohydrate consumption, particularly in the form of cooked starch, was critical for the development of the human brain over the last million years.

Up to 25 per cent of the energy we make, and up to 60 per cent of our glucose, is used by our brain. Glucose is its preferred source of energy and a low carbohydrate diet makes it difficult to supply enough. Starches, an important source of glucose, were widely available to our ancestors in the form of tubers, fruits, seeds and nuts. Raw starches are not digested as well as cooked ones, when they change structure. During our last one million years of evolution we developed a significantly higher amount of the enzyme amylase, which is in our saliva and increases our ability to digest starch.

According to the theory, amylase genes increased once cooking became widespread and glucose for the brain became more available, which in turn enabled an increase in its size.

Hardy et al. 2015. The Importance of Dietary Carbohydrate in Human Evolution. The Quarterly Review of Biology. 90 (3) 251-268.

About the author
Dr. Justine Butler
I joined Viva! as a health campaigner in 2005 after graduating from Bristol University with a PhD in molecular biology. My scientific training helped me research and write numerous reports, guides and fact sheets for Viva! including Meat the Truth, Fish-Free for Life, One in Nine (breast cancer and diet) and the substantial report on the detrimental health effects of consuming dairy; White Lies. This accompanied Viva!’s report The Dark Side of Dairy which spelt out the inherent cruelty of dairy farming. We were the first UK group to take on the dairy industry in this way, and many of our supporters go vegan after reading these reports.

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