Humans owe their brain size to barbecues

Awhile back I remember there was a health-craze for eating only raw foods. Maybe it still exists.

The article I am sharing today is from the current issue of PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) and asks the question, why do humans have the largest brains and the most amount of neurons if they don’t have the largest body mass? In every other species, the general rule is: the bigger the body mass, the bigger the brain. But humans have bigger brains and more neurons than any other primate, including ones that are much larger than us, like gorillas and orangutans.

Time to fire up the barbecue and celebrate being human!
Photo: © Ril | 
Stock Free Images

The brain is an organ that uses up a lot of energy. In fact, only muscles and the liver use more. The authors of this paper think that having raw diet (instead of a cooked one) is what may have been limiting nonhuman primates from having larger brains compared to body size. They calculated that the nonhuman primates simply don’t have enough hours in the day to feed on a raw diet that would provide them with enough calories to increase the number of neurons compared to their body mass. On the other hand, cooked food, which is something humans worked out, is much more calorie-dense, because it is easier to chew, digest, and absorb nutrients from, especially meat, which has a buttload of protein (and raw meat is really hard to chew).

PNAS, despite having an acronym that is normally pronounced in a slightly embarrassing way, is a fantastic journal that publishes ground-breaking results from across all scientific fields. Many of the articles are open-access, too.

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