Back in the day, cooking meat was never an option. Our early ancestors probably pounded their meat until it became soft enough to eat. When fire was discovered, they soon realized that cooked meat tasted a thousand times better, and we have been grilling, roasting and deep frying our way to civilization ever since. It’s a good thing, too, because as a study led by Harvard researchers suggests, cooked meat gives us more energy than raw meat.


According to Rachel Carmody, a PhD candidate in the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard, "Every day, humans in every global society devote time and energy to processing food--cooking it, grinding it, slicing it, pounding it--yet we don't understand what effect these efforts have on the energy we extract from food, or the role they might have played in our evolution."

The study, published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the first to investigate the connection between cooked meat and energy consumption. "It is astonishing, since energy gain is the primary reason we eat," said Carmody.

To test just how much energy gain cooked meat offers over raw meat, the researchers set up an experiment involving two groups of mice and an array of portioned food samples for them to nibble into. Meat and sweet potatoes, prepared in different ways, were the specialty. Some were raw and whole, raw and pounded, cooked and whole and cooked and pounded.

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Tracking any changes in the mice’ body mass and giving them time on an exercise wheel, the researchers determined that both cooked meat and sweet potatoes gave the subjects more energy than the raw meat and sweet potatoes. The experiment also revealed that the mice preferred the cooked food to the raw ones.

This simple study certainly has implications on the human evolutionary process. According to Medical News Today, our ancestors have been consuming meat for almost 2.5 million years, and yet it was just 1.9 million years ago when they developed larger bodies and the stamina for long-distance running.

There are floating theories that our ancestors’ discovery of cooked meat enabled them to derive more energy thus fueling more advanced thinking. Could it be that a change in their diet was responsible for the sudden change in human biology?

That is a question that will have to wait another day. For now, we at least know to think twice when choosing a steak cooked rare over one that is cooked to the bone.


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