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The Mystery In The Meat: Is A Carnivorous Diet The Secret To Smarts?

Ashley Seruya |
December 11, 2013 | 5:35 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

Carnivores have rejoiced over the suggested that the introduction of meat into the human diet caused an acceleration in brain development. (Twitter/@HertiageMeat)
Carnivores have rejoiced over the suggested that the introduction of meat into the human diet caused an acceleration in brain development. (Twitter/@HertiageMeat)

Gluten free. Vegan. Dairy free. Vegetarian. Raw. Macrobiotic. Pescatarian. 

Not a day goes by that we are not informed about a new diet that, if followed, holds the secret to optimal health and happiness. Bandwagon enthusiasts hop onto the sometimes-dubbed crazy trains, and ride off into the sunset as a new ideal dietary lifestyle emerges in the next day or so.

There are an infinite number of labels for dietary fads and lifestyles. New research emerges daily about what is, or is not, the healthiest diet out there. Juice cleanses today, high fat intake tomorrow. Meat is often one of the most abused food groups, with countless research showing that consuming excess red meat can lead to heart problems and some cancers. The China Study is the most conclusive evidence we have that consuming meat is harmful to our health. Thus, vegetarian and plant-based diets have become very popular, and their health benefits have been touted for years by many expert dieticians.

The answer to all health issues seemed to be simple; avoid red meat, or eat it in extreme moderation, and load up on plant foods and healthy fats and protein. As to be expected, different theories have thrown a few monkey wrenches into the latest theory on optimal dietary health. One theory, as discussed in an article published in 2010 by NPR, suggests that the introduction of meat into caveman diets is what pushed the human evolution forward. Entitled "Food For Thought: Meat Made Us Smarter," this article explains that a human diet based in plants led to larger stomachs due to the low caloric density of plant-based foods. While this larger capacity for food may not seem to be an urgent issue, the article suggests that with larger stomachs come more complicated digestive processes, which saps energy from the body and therefore takes away potential energies that could be devoted to developing the human brain.

It is with this idea in mind that the article introduces meat. It explains that the introduction of meat to the caveman diet allowed for an easier digestive process. Meat is a calorie dense product. This means that a small serving of meat could satisfy a person calorically, without compromising a large amount of space in the stomach. It is also suggested by the article that meat, specifically cooked meat, is much easier to digest that raw plant products. These two factors combined meant that more energy could be devoted to the brain, and less to maintaining digestion. Thus, by eating meat, the human brain was able to develop to its full potential.

This article's relevance had died down a bit due to its somewhat dated publication year of 2010. The internet, however, recently pulled the article out of the woodwork. Specifically, the piece resurfaced on Reddit, within the Paleo subreddit.

The Paleo diet focuses on meat, eggs, nuts, fruits, and vegetables. (Twitter/@EveryoneActive)
The Paleo diet focuses on meat, eggs, nuts, fruits, and vegetables. (Twitter/@EveryoneActive)

The Paleo Diet has gathered a lot of steam in mainstream media, and health gurus and foodies are picking up on the trend left and right. The popularity has extended to Reddit, and the Paleo Diet subreddit is one of the more popular health and food based subreddits out there Dubbing itself the "Caveman Diet," the Paleo Diet focuses on eating as our hunter-gatherer ancestors did, back in the day. Much of this lifestyle focuses on nuts, fruits, and vegetables. Animal products, however, have a very large presence in the diet. With the exception of dairy products, all animal products and by-products are game in this dietary lifestyle. The large presence of meat in the Paleo Diet has attracted a lot of controversy due to meat's sinful reputation. The article made quite a conversational splash, then, when it hit Paleo ears, providing scientific evidence that maybe meat isn't so bad.

Though many would expect a vast number of internet trolls to flood this Reddit thread with rude remarks about vegetarian and vegan diets, instead, a thought provoking conversation began. One Reddit member, username J4degrees, pointed out the flaws in the article.




As noted by J4degrees, the article tends to focus on the importance of meat in the evolutionary process, rather than the introduction of cooking. As stated by the article, it was the complicated processes of digestion that diverted energy away from brain development. Making this digestion process easier, then, seems to be the answer to the problem. This suggests that cooking any type of food - as a technique for predigestion - would reduce the amount of energy necessary to process and break down the food in the body, thus leaving energy for the brain to use. With this in mind, it seems that meat may not be the answer everyone is looking for. In fact, raw meat is even more difficult to digest than raw plant foods, meaning that even if the cooking portion was removed from the equation, the hypothesis that the article provides does not make complete sense.

The discussion about the article does not stop with this well written commentary on the article. Member TertiaryPumpkin counters J4degrees, suggesting that the fat in cooked meat  had more to do with proper brain development that the ease of digestion.




TertiaryPumpkin makes an interesting point, though it is not one that the article has brought up. Regardless, essential fats and nutrients have been, and still are, integral in brain development processes. The context of a Paleo subreddit, a forum dedicated to those who believe strongly in the nutrition provided by meat, is also important to consider.

Both contributors to this Reddit thread make compelling arguments. A third member, however, username Msktb, makes the most profound statement of them all, asserting that perhaps humans will never have all the answers. More importantly, perhaps there is not one right answer, or one specific element that changed everything for the human race.




The answer, as Msktb suggests, may be that there is no definitive answer. Every single small factor, when combined under the right circumstances and at the right time, made us who we, as humans, are today. By extension, there is no one perfect diet or perfect way of living. Instead of striving to find the answers to dietary perfection, settle on what makes you happy. Gluten free. Dairy free. Vegan. Raw. Macrobiotic. Pescatarian.

Who cares?

Reach Staff Reporter Ashley Seruya here or follow her on Twitter here.



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