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Forget Paleo Diet, Carbohydrates Made Humans Smarter

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While most people who choose to eat "healthy" resort to fad diets such as Paleo diet or the "diet of the cavemen," a group of researchers found that sticking to those popular diet trends may not be the best option for the brain.

A new study found that food rich in carbohydrates, particularly in the form of starch, have compelling effects to the expansion of human brains and thus is critical to the brain development of people through time. Although eating high amounts of meat, as in the Paleo diet, may also enhance brain growth, it is with cooked starchy food that a person may be smarter.

A group of international researchers acknowledged that the unprecedented rise in the incidence of obesity and metabolic disorders have ignited a spark of interest among the public to start on healthier diets. However, the precise amount of food sources that can comprise what may be considered as a healthy diet are not clearly defined and agreed upon by experts. Too much information dissemination only serves to complicate what the public should and have believed in. Nonetheless, the experts think that human function should be nurtured and patterned according to the diet that humans have gone through in the past years of evolution. With this, the researchers were pushed to acquire an improved comprehension of the food consumed during the significant phases of the hominin evolution and by modern hunter-gatherer.

The researchers, headed by Karen Hardy from Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies in Spain, came up with multiple observations that can help to better understand the role of carbohydrates in the development of big brains in modern humans. Foremost, they came up with the premise that the human brain utilizes approximately 25 percent of bodily energy and about 60 percent of glucose supplies in the blood. With the high demands for glucose, which may not be efficiently acquired from other sources easily, the researchers think that a diet that is low in carbohydrates was unlikely to have sufficed that need.

The second point made the scientists pertains to pregnancy and lactation. They reasoned that such physiological events require more glucose supplies. If the mother had low blood glucose, her health, as well as the baby's would have been compromised.

Starches are highly likely to have been available to early men as its sources such as tubers, seeds, fruits and nuts are already present during that time.

Although raw starches are hard to digest back then, cooking it will dissolve its crystalline properties thus, making it easier to digest.

Salivary amylase genes, which have a role in starch digestion, have increased over time, potentially signifying that people were able to consume more carbohydrates. Specifically, modern humans now have an average of six copies, compared to primates, who only had two. Although the exact increase in the said genes are not yet determined, genetic evidences point out to its credibility, at least in the last one million years.

Through these observations, the research team suggests that supply of pre-formed dietary glucose to the brain and fetus were increased. This then paved the way to the significant expansion of human brain size starting from about 800,000 years ago up to the present. Nonetheless, the researchers said that solving this complex dietary puzzle requires information from varied disciplines including archeology, human physiology and genetics.

Photo: Stadt Braut | Flickr

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