Paleo diet: Big brains needed carbs

Aug 11, 2015

Photo credit: © giorgiomtb / Fotolia

By University of Chicago Press Journals

Understanding how and why we evolved such large brains is one of the most puzzling issues in the study of human evolution. It is widely accepted that brain size increase is partly linked to changes in diet over the last 3 million years, and increases in meat consumption and the development of cooking have received particular attention from the scientific community. In a new study published in The Quarterly Review of Biology, Dr. Karen Hardy and her team bring together archaeological, anthropological, genetic, physiological and anatomical data to argue that carbohydrate consumption, particularly in the form of starch, was critical for the accelerated expansion of the human brain over the last million years, and coevolved both with copy number variation of the salivary amylase genes and controlled fire use for cooking.

With global increase in obesity and diet-related metabolic diseases, interest has intensified in ancestral or ‘Palaeolithic’ diets, not least because — to a first order of approximation — human physiology should be optimized for the nutritional profiles we have experienced during our evolution. Up until now, there has been a heavy focus on the role of animal protein and cooking in the development of the human brain over the last 2 million years, and the importance of carbohydrate, particular in form of starch-rich plant foods, has been largely overlooked.


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3 comments on “Paleo diet: Big brains needed carbs

  • The Human brain had increased in size before the mass consumption of carbohydrates with the gradual adaption to agrarian practices. In fact the average size of modern brains is slightly smaller than those of our paleolithic ancestors. Maybe brain size has diminished through excessive carbohydrate consumption? Carbohydrates can play a useful part, especially in short-term energy bursts, but as some bronze age nutter once said:”Man cannot live by bread alone”



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  • Probably worth mentioning when they mention carbs they aren’t talking about complex carbs as a result of agricultural innovations, they are talking about hunter gatherer societies cooking roots and nuts, starch from stuff like that. Whether this is still an optimal healthy diet given that there are known evolutionary adaptations that have taken place since farming started (such as lactose tolerance) is not answered here.



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