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Fueling Evolution: The Transformative Power of Cooking in Human History

Discover how cooking revolutionized human evolution. From Darwin's views on fire's significance to Levi-Strauss's take on cooking's symbolism, delve into how cooked food's energy benefits shaped our bodies and culture.

In "How Cooking Made Us Human," Dr. Richard Wrangham delves into the pivotal role of cooking in human evolution, revealing its profound impact on our biology and culture.

Cooking is a human universal and most societies cook dinner. Levi-Strauss (1969) said cooking is biologically unimportant (it is conventional wisdom and symbolic). Darwin (1871) said the discovery of fire was probably the greatest ever made (after language) and dates from before the dawn of history.

How many extra calories does cooked food have? Cooking destroys a portion of calories, whereas eating raw food does not.

But what are the energy consequences of cooking? Organisms search for energy intake in order to reproduce. Wild food is important from an evolutionary perspective: even small energy gains matter. Body mass lowers when a person is on a raw diet.

Cooking increases energy gain. Cooked food is more easily digested in the ileal.

More energetic benefit is absorbed than simply raw food. When eggs are cooked, 91% of the energy benefit is absorbed – a 78% increase! Protein digestion, in general, increases 44-78% when food is cooked.

Cooked food also requires less energy to digest, allowing for the body in intake more energy while spending less: a win-win situation.

The human body is also adapted to cooked food (small intestines and big brains). There is no diet that can explain human survival on raw food, and our bodies are adapted to cooked foods.

Our brains use 25% of our caloric intake and the human body changed to have small guts so we can sustain the energy request the human brain requires in order to function.

The first humans probably began cooking because their bodies received more calories with cooked food than raw food. After the discovery and mastery of fire, cooking possibly became a tradition that began the creation of culture.

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