Brain food: Clever eating

Sujata Gupta in Nature:

FoodAround 6 million years ago, primates started moving from tropical forests into the savannahs. Unlike today, these prehistoric expanses were humid and probably provided a year-round supply of fruit and vegetables. But then, some 3 million years ago, the climate changed and the savannahs — along with their plentiful food supply — dried up. Many mammals, including some primates, went extinct, but others adapted. Archaeologists working at sites in modern Ethiopia have discovered animal remains that date back almost 2.6 million years. The telltale cut marks on their bones are almost certainly signs of butchery1, says Manuel Domínguez-Rodrigo, a palaeoanthropologist at Complutense University in Madrid. Only two types of primate survived the climate catastrophe, says Domínguez-Rodrigo. There was a “plant-processing machine on the one hand and a meat-eating machine on the other hand”, he says. “The meat-eating machine evolved a bigger brain.”

The meat-eating machine became us.

To build and maintain a more complex brain, our ancestors used ingredients found primarily in meat, including iron, zinc, vitamin B12 and fatty acids. Although plants contain many of the same nutrients, they occur in lower quantities and often in a form that humans cannot readily use. For instance, red meat is rich in iron derived from haemoglobin, which is more easily absorbed than the non-haem form found in beans and leafy greens.

More here.