COGSCI 111 Leonard - Food For Thought

COGSCI 111 Leonard - Food For Thought - Leonard Food For...

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Leonard – Food For Thought Dietary change was a driving force in human evolution We humans are strange primates. We walk on two legs, carry around enormous brains and have colonized every corner of the globe. Anthropologists and biologists have long sought to understand how our lineage came to differ so profoundly from the primate norm in these ways, and ove r the years all manner of hypotheses aimed at explaining each of these oddities have been put forth. But a growing body of evidence indicates that these miscellaneous quirks of humanity in fact have a common thread: they are largely the result of natural selection acting to maximize dietary quality and foraging efficiency. Changes in food availability over time, it seems, strongly influenced our hominid ancestors. Thus, in an evolutionary sense, we are very much what we ate. Accordingly, what we eat is yet another way in which we differ from our primate kin. Contemporary human populations the world over have diets richer in calories and nutrients than those of our cousins, the great apes. So when and how did our ancest ors' eating habits diverge from those of other primates? Further, to what extent have modern humans departed from the ancestral dietary pattern? Scientific interest in the evolution of human nutritional requirements has a long history. But relevant investigations started gaining momentum after 1985, when S. Boyd Eaton and Melvin J. Konner of Emory University published a seminal paper in the New England Journal of Medicine entitled "Paleolithic Nutrition." They argued that the prevalence in modern societies of many chronic diseases--obesity, hypertension, coronary heart disease and diabetes, among them--is the consequence of a mismatch between modern dietary patterns and the type of diet that our species evolved to eat as prehistoric hunter-gatherers. Since then, however, understanding of the evolution of human nutritional needs has advanced considerably--thanks in large part to new comparative analyses of traditionally living human populations and other primates--and a more nuanced picture has emerged. We now know that h umans have evolved not to subsist on a single, Paleolithic diet but to be flexible eaters, an insight that has important implications for the current debate over what people today should eat in order to be healthy. To appreciate the role of diet in human evolution, we must remember that the search for food , its consumption and, ultimately, how it is used for biological processes are all critical aspects of an organism's ecology. The energy dynamic between org anisms and their environments--that is, energy expended in relation to energy acquired--has important adaptive consequences for survival and reproduction. These two components of Darwinian fitness are reflected in the way we divide up an animal's energy budget. Maintenance energy is what keeps an animal alive on a day-to-day basis. Productive
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This note was uploaded on 02/25/2008 for the course COGST 1110 taught by Professor Adkinsregan,e&ho during the Spring '08 term at Cornell University (Engineering School).

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COGSCI 111 Leonard - Food For Thought - Leonard Food For...

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