Were carbs the brain fuel for ancient humans?
No need to fear carbs, they may be the secret to human brain development, according to new research. Scientists say that when early humans added carbohydrates to their diets their brains grew in size.
“Around 800,000 years ago, the brain truly accelerated in increasing its size,” says Mark Thomas, an evolutionary geneticist, in a statement. “At that point, we develop the use of fire and start consuming more carbohydrate-rich foods. [That] was critical to the expansion of the brain.”
Researchers found that a specific enzyme that digests starch became more readily available in the body around that same time. This caused study leaders to believe that the body was adapting to digesting more carbohydrates. In addition, by cooking vegetables and other starches like potatoes, humans were able to digest the food faster increasing the amount of glucose going to the brain.
“Carbohydrates are to your body like gasoline is to a car,” says Jamie Portnoy, a registered dietician with Advocate Weight Management in Libertyville, Ill. “If you don’t fuel your car, your car is going to stall. If your body doesn’t have carbohydrates, you are going to feel fatigue, lethargic, tired and without energy.”
With so many individuals choosing low carb, no carb and Paleo diets as a means for losing weight, Portnoy says many people believe that carbs are bad. Instead of avoiding carbs, she suggests consuming good carbs which raise the blood sugar more slowly, help you feel full longer and keep one’s blood sugar at a more normal level. These include lentils, beans and brown rice.
Bad carbs, on the other hand, should be avoided because they are empty calories due to the fact that they raise blood sugar levels quickly and do not keep you feeling full for long. While they may help someone feeling like they have low-blood sugar, Portnoy says they don’t satisfy hunger.
“About 50 – 60 percent of total daily calories should come from carbohydrates,” says Portnoy. “Fruits, non-starchy vegetables and avoid the candy, cookies, breads pastas. One serving of fruit such as one small apple or 17 grapes. This is equivalent to 15 grams of carbohydrates.”
About the Author
health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.