What Paleo diet? Eating carbs powered brain development in early humans

SHARE What Paleo diet? Eating carbs powered brain development in early humans
SHARE What Paleo diet? Eating carbs powered brain development in early humans

Modern humans wouldn’t have developed such powerful brains without eating carbs, a group of University of Chicago researchers have found — calling into questionthe theory behind the Paleo diet.

The Paleo diet has people eschew all carbs, dairy, sugar and processed foods in favor of meat, vegetables, fruit, eggs and nuts. Proponents of the Paleo diet say it is the way humans were meant to eat — and tout its weight loss and health benefits.

But in a paper released last week, a group of researchers found that carbohydrates in starches were critical to the evolution of our highly developed brains. The brain development came at the same time humansdeveloped cooking methods for starches and enzymes to digest them, according to the paper.

The researchers looked at archaeological, anthropological, genetic, physiological and anatomical data to come to their conclusions.

They found that the energy demands of the brain — coupled in women with the energy demands of pregnancy and nursing — would make it hard for early humans to survive without the easy energy available in carbohydrates. Luckily, starches (in the form of tubers) were readily available, according to the researchers.

Plus, human discovery of cooking over an open flame and the evolution of genes to produce certain enzymes bothhelped with the ability to digest starch. Both of these things happened sometime in the last million years, the researchers say — likely before brain development really picked up.

The ability to cook and digest starch provided more glucose — aka energy — to early human fetuses, the researchers suggest. That extra energy powered the “acceleration” of brain development.

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