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A key principle of the Paleo diet is the exclusion of starch-rich vegetables and grains – a food group that findings published in the Quarterly Study of Biology say not only played a major factor in the evolution of the human brain. Apparently, it’s also a food group that the original Palaeolithic humans would not have evolved without.
It challenges the long-held belief that increased meat consumption was solely responsible for the evolutionary increase in brain size that got humankind to the point we’re at today.
“Our research suggests that dietary carbohydrates, along with meat, were essential for the evolution of modern big-brained humans,” says co-author Professor Jennie Brand-Miller from the Charles Perkins Centre.
According to the study, a low carbohydrate diet similar to the modern Paleo diet would not have provided enough glucose needed to enable the development of modern human’s large brains. (Post continues after gallery.)
While starches have been readily available in seeds, fruits and nuts since some of the earliest human populations, it was when cooking became more of a common practice (researchers pinpoint this as around one million years ago) that more evolutionary changes occurred.
“After cooking became widespread, starch digestion advanced and became the source of pre-formed dietary glucose that permitted the acceleration in brain size,” co-author Professor Les Copeland said.
Researchers say that their evidence shows a change in the number of salivary amylase genes, which increase the amount of salivary enzymes produced in order to digest starch, occurred at a similar time.
So where do we go from here?
Amidst all the current concern about global obesity rates, which many believe is what has made the Paleo diet so popular today, the study’s researchers argue that a diet similar to the one eaten in the Palaeolithic era would still be good for us today.