Flashback Friday: Does Cooking Make Us Human

**I am going back through my old posts and finding some that I still love. I wanted to re-share them, especially for those of you that haven’t been reading my blog for very long. This post is from last September (2009), a few weeks after I stopped eating raw. I was only raw for a few weeks, but I found that it didn’t work for me. I have edited this post slightly so it is not exactly the way it appeared last year. Without further ado…**

Does Cooking Make Us Human?

In the summer of 2009, raw food was abuzz in blogland. I gave it a try to help my digestion, but that way of eating didn’t work for me. Now that it’s fall there is less and less talk about raw food, and more and more posts about oatmeal, baked squash, and delicious apples. It’s propitious that Bobby alerted me to this article: Did Cooking Give Humans An Evolutionary Edge? – a transcript of an NPR talk from Science Friday. It has to do with the differences between humans and other primates (like this gorilla that lives in the San Francisco zoo)…

537px-Male_gorilla_in_SF_zoo

To summarize:

  • It’s an interview with Dr. Richard Wrangham, a primatologist (someone who studies primates = humans, apes, monkeys, and prosimians) who wrote Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human.
  • Dr. Wrangham proposes that cooking has actually been a key aspect of evolution and our bodies have changed over the years due to the fact that we can cook our food. It’s given us a huge evolutionary advantage because we have more time to use our brains instead of foraging and chewing all day long.
  • Interesting factoid: apes show either a preference for cooked food over raw food, or they are neutral… they never prefer raw to cooked food.
  • Humans have a weird digestive system compared to other primates. Our digestive system is 2/3rds the size of an ape’s (if you adjust for the size of the ape versus the size of the human) and we have small teeth and small mouths – not ideal for lots of chewing.
  • We’ve adapted to a “high quality” diet. (High quality meaning mostly cooked and easy to digest… not talking about the processed crap that most people live on.) Cooking is what increased the “quality” of our diet.
  • We don’t have to eat large amounts of food and we don’t have to retain and ferment food for many many hours to digest it.
  • The changes to our digestive system happened about 1.8 million years ago.
  • Cooking our food increases the proportion of nutrients and energy that we’re able to digest. While a cooked carrot may technically have the same number of calories as a raw one, we are able to access more of the calories from the cooked one. Another example – when you cook an egg and eat it, you can digest about 94% of the protein. A raw egg? You digest about 60%. That’s a big difference.
  • Why does cooking make things easier to digest? For protein, the process is called denaturation. The protein cells are kind of like a big ball of yarn; cooking unwinds the yarn. Besides cooking, acid can also denature something. Our stomach acid can do some of this, but cooking makes it that much easier for our bodies to digest protein (going from 60% digestion with just stomach acid to 94% digestion with cooking in the egg example above). A similar process happens with starch – chains of sugars open up during cooking so that they are more readily available to absorb.
  • Humans are one of the only species that typically does not thrive on a raw diet… about half of women following a raw diet stop menstruating and most people lose weight (but this isn’t always a but thing). This is due to an energy shortage.
  • Now this doesn’t mean that a raw diet can’t be beneficial – a lot of people are eating way too much so a raw diet can help them maintain their weight and feel better. A lot of the benefits that come from a raw diet are due to cutting out processed foods and chemicals. Many people have undiagnosed food allergies (gluten, wheat, dairy, etc…) and since those foods aren’t common in a high raw diet, people will feel better since they’re not eating them anymore.
  • Again, eating more raw food is not necessarily bad or unhealthy! But if you live in a place where food is scarce, you should *not* follow a raw diet… if you live in the US or another developed country, incorporating more raw foods into your diet is actually a fabulous idea.
  • Many people think that following a raw food diet is the most “natural” way to live… not true. We’ve actually evolved away from eating raw food. And one of the major reasons that we’ve been able to advance so far in terms of knowledge and technology is due to the fact that we are NOT like other primates – we don’t have to eat all day to get enough food, so we have time to use our huge brains.

Ever Heard of Biocultural Evolution?

In anthropology there is the idea of biocultural evolution, which basically says that our culture (using tools, cooking food, etc…) has a large influence on our evolution. The invention of tools allowed us to evolve away from huge teeth. The cultural idea of wearing clothes might be the reason that we aren’t covered in hair. And maybe cooking is responsible for changing our digestive system, our mouths, and our teeth.

What does it mean for me and you?

What works best for me is a fairly natural diet (no processed foods) with a little bit of raw food. I’d call it somewhat macrobiotic, except for the fact that I also eat dairy and meat… in moderation. I eat fruit raw (obviously) and I do snack on raw veggies sometimes. I love salad (obviously, again) but I don’t eat salad every day unless it’s the summer. I love my oatmeal, oat bran, baked and steamed squash, and many other cooked foods, especially in the cooler months.

What works for you? What do you think of the ideas that this guy is proposing?

What’s Up Sunday – 10.10.10

Last week was almost a palindrome and this week is lots of 10’s! 10’s seem to be very popular with humans, probably due to the fact that we have ten fingers and ten toes. Here are some fun facts and sayings that have to do with TEN:

  • The Ten Perfections: These are ten qualities one must achieve in order to attain “Buddhahood”, or awakening (Buddhism)
  • The Perfection of Ten: this is different from the previous one. Shakespeare uses the term “the perfection of ten” to describe a person’s opinion of his lover in the same way we might say, “she’s a perfect ten.”
  • The Ten Commandments: In Christianity (and Judaism I think), these are ten moral/religious imperatives that one must follow in order to be a good person.
  • Base Ten: our decimal system has ten as its base. It’s the most widely used number system used by modern civilizations. “Decimal” comes from the Latin decem, which means ten.
  • Scale of one to ten: “a general and largely vernacular concept used for rating things, people, places, ideas and so on.” (Wikipedia.) It’s the most popular rating scale, followed by 1-5 and 1-4.
  • Breathe and count to ten: I can’t find the origin of this phrase, but it’s a way to calm down when you are about to blow your top off.
  • TEN: the word “ten” itself comes from the pre-Germanic (a long-ago ancestor of English) base *tekhan. If you go back even further to PIE (proto-Indo-European) the base was *dekm (you can see this led to the Latin decem mentioned above).

And now onto the rest of my weekly wrapup…

Interesting Health Articles

  • US Life Expectancy Lowered by Poor Healthcare: Researchers found that our life expectancy is lagging behind the life expectancy in other (civilized) countries. Why? It is not, in fact, obesity, smoking, homocides, or car addicents – it’s our horrible horrible healthcare system.
  • New York tries to ban the use of Food Stamps for sugary drinks: a while ago NY tried to pass a tax on sugary drinks and it didn’t go through, so now we’re trying to at least not allow food stamps to be used towards sugar-laden drinks. My opinion? I’m all for it. I was all for the tax, too.
  • Too Much Noise at Work Bad for Your Heart: a Canadian study showed that people who work in a noisy environment are 2-3 times more likely to get heart disease. The reason is probably that noise –> stress –> constantly elevated cortisol and adrenaline (stress hormones, which are good in moderation but not all the time) –> heart disease.
  • Sleep Makes the Body Leaner: a study showed that if you get 8.5 hours you burn more fat than people who sleep 5.5 hours. The people who slept 5.5 hours burned more of their lean muscle mass. You’re also hungrier if you don’t get enough sleep

Other Random Stuff (blogs, Macbooks, etc…)

  • Eden’s Euphemisms: I have linked to Eden before, but you have to read this post of hers – she lists a bunch of fun euphemisms and also talks about why sometimes it’s better to just say what you really mean instead of masking it with a more PC phrase.
  • Macbook Air Update Coming Soon: I have been waiting and waiting to get a new computer for the Macbook Airs to get updated and I think they finally will be – a bunch of places (including Amazon) are out of stock of the current ones and they are not getting replenished until either 10/12 or 10/16, and I am guessing (hoping) that the new shipment will be new Airs!

My Salad Roundup

My weekend has been great so far. I…

  • Brunched at Alice’s Tea Cup with an old friend and current neighbor (Saturday)
  • Got my nails done (Saturday)
  • Discovered a new and awesome Duane Reade (Saturday)
  • Found a yummy Asian restaurant close by (Saturday)
  • Took Nia (Sunday)
  • Took Yoga (Saturday)
  • Am meeting up with another old friend for dinner (Sunday)
  • Cleaned (mostly Sunday)
  • Am very happy! (both days)

Okay off to do some work. How was your weekend?

What’s Up Saturday – 8.21.10

Time for another best of the week post:

Bloggieville

Food!

Media (this is usually books, but…)

  • I’ve been in a major funk all week and have not read. I have to snap out of it a bit.
  • So I give you Dishing Up Nutrition podcasts. These are super interesting. They are big fans of fats like butter, whole eggs, and veggies. The one thing I’m still on the fence about is their obsession with protein.  Has anyone listened to these or have any input? I’m really intrigued.
  • Great NYTimes article about why us 20-somethings are so lost. Long read, but worth it.

Useful Schtuff

That’s enough for now. Hope you are enjoying your Saturday.

What are your weekend plans?

What’s Up Saturday – 8.14.10

I have some favorites to share for the week…

Blogland

Books

  • I didn’t read that much this week, but I am working on Nicholas Sparks’ new book – The Lucky One. I don’t like it. I think I am over Nicholas Sparks’ writing style.
  • I have several health and wellness books on my shelf that I haven’t finished, like Eight Weeks to Optimum Health (Salvation Army find – $1.49). Maybe this week.

Fun

  • I took a Core Fusion class on Thursday night (Dori hosted) and I got to meet up with Missy, Ilana, Angela, and a bunch of other bloggers. Recap to come. Lovely, lovely ladies.
  • Anne has a guest post for me that will go up on Monday. I’m very excited for it and you should be too!

Happy Saturday!

What’s Up Saturday – 8.7.10

Here are my picks for the week (I had a lot of favorites). They are a bit late – we just arrived back to our apartment from our honeymoon and are trying to accept the fact that we have to start real life again 😉

Blogosphere

Books

  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson – I read this ~500 page book in under a day. And then I had to get the next one! If you like crime drama you will definitely be hooked. This is a thriller not to be missed.
  • The Girl Who Played with Fire, by Stieg Larsson – I picked this up in the airport just a few hours after finishing the first book (above). It’s great so far – I have been pretty tired so I did not finish it in a day. But I will finish it within a day or two, I think. It’s a continuation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but I think you could pick it up without having read the first. Larsson does a good job summarizing what you need to know.
  • Sphere, by Michael Crichton – Another page-turner. Sphere is a science-fiction novel about a team of scientists (including a psychologist, the main character) that goes down to the bottom of the Pacific to explore a UFO that is 300 years old. I enjoyed it very much – I couldn’t put it down.

Fun!

  • Summer Streets began today! For 3 Saturdays (today, next week, and the week after) Park Avenue is closed to motor vehicles from Central Park to the Brooklyn Bridge – bikers, pedestrians, dog walkers, etc… can enjoy a strolling with no traffic. It’s car-free between 7AM and 1PM.

Whew. I am going to bed now! What are your finds this week?