Cooked Meat Gave Ancestors An Advantage

For years, scientists have thought cooked foods are easier to digest, and thus, are more nutritious than non-cooked eats. Before now, though, they lacked the evidence needed to confirm these claims for meat. But a recent experiment suggests that cooked meat packs more nutritional value than its raw counterpart. The findings could give clues to how early humans gained more energy from cooking meats as well as provide insight on ways to maximize nutrition today. The researchers tested foods in the ways that they’re actually digested in organisms, rather than analyzed outside of the body. The experiment involved feeding groups of mice variations of organic beef or sweet potatoes over a 40-day period. Different diets included raw/intact, raw/pounded, cooked/intact and cooked/pounded foods (either the beef or the sweet potato). Mice could eat food freely, and researchers monitored the rodents’ activity levels and body mass.

While activity didn’t differ across groups, body mass did. All mice lost weight on the diets, but those consuming cooked foods lost less than others eating raw foods. This means that the mice were getting more energy from the cooked foods, especially the meat. The paper’s authors think a few mechanisms might be at play. First, cooking seems to unwind proteins in meat, which could make it easier to digest in the small intestine before gut bacteria take their share of the pie. In addition, cooking meat seems to loosen muscle fiber connections, making the foods easier to chew.

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