Neurophilosophy discusses a recent study that suggests that the inclusion of large amounts of starchy foods into our diet helped fuel the evolution of the brain.
It’s interesting because it’s not the first study to suggest that specific changes in diet improved nutrition and brain development:
According to one theory, increased consumption of meat by our ancestors provided the additional energy needed for brain expansion. (Cooking would have further increased the amount of calories obtained from meat.) Another holds that a switch to a seafood-rich diet would have provided polyunsaturated fatty acids which, when incorporated into nerve cell membranes, would have made the brain function more efficiently.
And now, a study published in Nature Genetics adds starchy tubers to the smorgasbord of foodstuffs that may have contributed to the expansion of the human brain.
These theories tend to be quite controversial and tend to cause numerous back and forth arguments in the literature, partly because they’re quite hard to test, largely owing to the fact that the brain has the consistency of toothpaste and so doesn’t leave much of a fossil record.
The study picked up by Neurophilosophy is interesting because it tracks a gene that codes for a starch enzyme, needed to break down starch into glucose.
It’s a relatively new approach to an old problem, although as the article mentions, the link to brain evolution is still circumstantial.
However, it’s an interesting areas and the Neurophilosophy article is a great brief guide to some of the thinking behind these theories.
Link to Neurophilosophy on ‘Diet and brain evolution’.