We all have at least one loved one who has fallen prey to the Paleo Diet, and you're most likely painfully aware of this fact because it's all they ever talk about. Despite their insistence that "they're eating what CAVEMEN ate, man," however, they might be putting themselves through the incredible pain of a no-carb diet for nothing, because recent research has shown that carbs could have made humanity smarter. And that, kids, is why you stay away from fad diets.
Researchers have long suspected that dietary changes are part of what jump-started humanity's brain evolution millions of years ago, but they frequently cite meat consumption and the rise of cooking as the primary reason for our increased brain size. A team put together by Dr. Karen Hardy, though, claims that carbohydrates played a much bigger role in evolution than previously believed.
Their hypothesis is founded upon the assumption that human metabolism in the modern day is optimized for the diet that humans primarily ate millions of years ago. As a result, Hardy and her team put together a variety of observations about modern-day metabolism and ancient crops to come to their conclusion. In other news, I prefer to imagine "Hardy and her team" as a nerdier version of the Avengers.
According to Science Daily, researchers pointed out that the human brain uses a quarter of the body's energy as well as up to 60 percent of blood's glucose, and pregnancy further increases that demand. Low-carbohydrate diets are unlikely to meet this high need for glucose. Furthermore, cooked starch is easily digestible by humans, and it would have been readily available in the form of tubers, nuts, and some fruits at the time. Lastly, unlike other primates, humans have a variety of salivary amylase genes to make digesting starch easier.
Hardy claims that the rise of cooking coincided with the increase in
salivary amylase, which ended up being linked to increased brain size
800,000 years ago. That's right: you could totally be evolutionary primed to gorge yourself on french fries.
The researchers present compelling evidence, but it's also important to note that it's largely observational, and as every social scientist has beaten into their heads during college, correlation is not causation. It's easy to ignore some data without realizing it, or to draw connections where there are none, in order to make evidence fit modern-day narratives of evolution. Perhaps most importantly, their observations don't mean that eating more carbs will make your brain bigger, which I know is a massive disappointment to everyone reading this.
On the other hand, who cares? Carbs are delicious, and I plan on shoving them into my face whether they make me smarter or not. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a date with some tater tots that I've been looking forward to all day.
Images: Giphy (3)