Is cooked food healthy? You see, the world is occupied by hundreds of different types of animals, but none except man cooks food. This is a subject that some individuals have tried to explain for many years. They have wondered about possible fire advantages for human evolution, with some like Dr. Richard Wrangham in his book, Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, arguing that cooking food is the ultimate app that has brought man out of his primitive past and continues to propel him into an even smarter future. In this discussion, we look at how fire and cooking food has fueled the civilization of man.
Why Did Man Begin Cooking?
Dr Wrangham goes on to note that 2.5 million years ago, our ancestors were very similar to present-day chimpanzees. They had a similarly-sized brain and ate a similar, raw diet which was mainly plant-based with occasional meat.
Wrangham’s hypothesis is that the early man, after noticing that following a fire, there was new food to eat, may have begun seeking out fire and the new food it left behind.
The result was that by eating cooked food, the early man was able to access more energy from his food. Have you ever tried to chew raw buffalo meat? Cooked oatmeal has 60% more calories available than raw oatmeal. In order to develop a larger brain and spend less time foraging for food, the human advancement of cooking food propelled humans into a new category of creature. This affected the workings of his body and ultimately caused his brain size to grow. Ultimately, a new species of the early man arose which was distinct from similar species. And as this species continued to eat cooked food it evolved further to a more recent species, Homo erectus. Assuming this is true, there are many fire advantages for human evolution.
How Healthy is Cooked Food?
When the early man began taking advantage of the benefits of fire by cooking, his diet changed substantially – he begun eating more meat – and with it, his digestive system relatively changed to less than two thirds the size of the chimpanzee’s digestive system. But besides the smaller digestive system, other changes such as smaller mouth and teeth also occurred because man was eating higher value food which he didn’t need to eat in large amounts or remain within the system for long before digestion. These changes came about some 1.8 – 1.9 million years ago.
How Does Cooking Affect Food?
To understand how food could affect the early man so profoundly, we need to look at what cooking does to food. It is worth noting that some types of food such as fruits do not need cooking, however, foods like meat are improved by cooking.
Following are the positive changes of cooking food:
- Increases the amount of nutrients absorbed into the body. For example, studies have shown that in the case of eggs, when eaten raw, only 55 – 64 percent of the protein is digested and absorbed into the body. By contrast, eating cooked eggs helps your body to digest and absorb as much as 94 percent of the protein.
- Hastens the speed of enzyme action as the food is denatured which makes it more accessible by the enzymes.
- Makes the food easier to eat so that the body doesn’t expend much energy to break it down for swallowing. As a result, the early man was able to get more energy from smaller amounts of food. Incidentally, this is the same reason why the highly refined modern western diet has brought about serious obesity problem. Turns out that similar to cooking, other forms of processing have similar effects. This means that by eating highly processed food, your body expends a minimum amount of energy while eating or digesting it. The result is that much of the food is assimilated into the body which is then stored as fat because it is more than the body needs.
- Cooking reduces water content of food which increases the amount of dry matter consumed
- Cooking explodes the cellulose wall surrounding all plant cells, which is indigestible to the human gut, unless ground up or cooked.
- Cooking kills pathogens in food and therefore makes the food safer to eat. This means that by cooking his food, the early man was less likely to suffer from diseases brought about by food-based pathogens.
How Does Cooked Food Affect The Brain?
While the human brain is about 5 percent of total body mass, it takes up about 20 percent of the calories that you consume. It follows that by cooking and therefore eating high quality food, the brain of our ancestors could access more energy. This allowed for development of the brain which hastened evolution from the prehistoric man to the more recent species of our ancestors. These Are The Best Foods To Protect Your Brain
By contrast, the great apes which were similar to the early man continued to spend more time looking for and eating food, but still accessing relatively fewer nutrients. Studies have shown that the great apes spend about nine hours per day feeding in order to maintain their bodies and brains. While raw food proponents argue that the largest creature on earth, the elephant, eats only raw food, one might add that the elephant spends all of its waking hours searching for and chewing these raw plant foods. No time for writing computer programs or declarations of independence.
Other fire advantages to human evolution included the capacity to migrate from Africa, the known first home of man, to Europe, Asia and the rest of the world. This happened because the early man no longer needed to spend nine hours looking for food and eating it. He could spend a fraction of this time, eat less and still get adequate nutrients to support his body and brain. He then had more time in his hands to make tools and even move further to explore his world. Fire also provided a protective barrier for cave men against the predatory creatures of the night.
Is Cooked Food Superior to Raw Food?
Dr Wrangham says that tests carried out on the great apes show that when given cooked food, they prefer it to raw food. He goes on to hypothesize that this prevalence indicates that prehistoric man would have loved to eat cooked food. However, this only became possible once he found a way to control fire.
According to Wrangham, studies have shown that after forest fires, chimpanzees eat seeds which they normally would not eat when raw. This suggests that once the early ancestors could control fire, they began eating foods that they hitherto never ate. In doing this, they were able to access nutrients that they would not access before.
Studies have also shown that the human body mass index is inversely proportional to the amount of raw food eaten and the period of time this is practiced. This can explain why a raw food diet works in reducing weight.
Conclusion: Is cooking the ultimate app to make humans smarter?
The arguments advanced in Dr. Wrangham’s book proof that fire and cooking were critical in improving the circumstances of the early man. By controlling fire, he was able to expand the range of the food items that he ate and to eat smaller quantities and still get adequate amounts of nutrients. This helped him to develop a bigger brain, which enabled him to do more, including exploring his surroundings. Reading Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human can help you get a better grasp of the argument.