The health gurus like to tell us to cut out the meat. Going vegetarian is often advocated as a health option, but it doesn’t make sense, in the big scheme of things.
Fitting into the scheme of things
Researchers from Lund University in Sweden embarked on a study which compared the dietary habits, brain size and baby feeding patterns of 70 mammalian species. Man was one of the mammals included in this study.
The study began by classifying the animals in terms of whether they ate meat or not. To be considered carnivorous, a species needed to obtain at least 20 % of its energy content from meat.
Based on this classification system….
- Carnivores include ferrets, racoons, panthers, killer whales and non-vegetarian humans.
- Our nearest neighbours, from an evolutionary perspective, the great apes, failed to make the cut – gorillas, orangatans and chimpanzees were classified either as herbivores or omnivores.
Feeding the wee ones
The study then analyzed breast feeding patterns in all of the animals on the list. Since by definition, mammals suckle their young, all the animals did so, but for how long varied.
- Traditional humans (few of which exist today) typically breast fed for 2 years and 4 months.
- Chimpanzees mom’s suckle their babes a whole lot longer, 4-5 years is standard.
A quick glance at this stat reveals a big difference between man and ape. The difference is even more significant when you add in how long each species lives for. Humans can hit 100 + years, chimps don’t do more than 60.
Humans seem to have bucked the system …………
The human advantage
Cutting back on the time between babies in the big scheme of things, means more babies are possible.
In the animal world, more babies means more of your kind.
There is no doubt about it, as we push upwards beyond the 7 billion humans on the planet, as a species – humans are a BIG success.
Mother Nature’s rules for weaning
The time of weaning is dictated by brain development.
The team found that all animals stop suckling, when the brain has reached a particular stage of development.
Big brains by their very nature, require longer to develop, which explains why apes are breast feeding for years and years.
But the human brain is the biggest of all, so on paper at least, human mothers should be breast feeding at least as long as chimp moms do.
The difference comes in eating meat
Eating meat, speeds up brain development across the spectrum of animals studied. Carnivores consistently wean earlier.
Probably because eating animal protein, provides them with the goodies needed to build brains, a little quicker.
Lessons for modern man ?
Biologically speaking we should be eating “meat” i.e. animal protein, especially if you’re in the business of making a human brain.Impact of Carnivory on Human Development and Evolution Revealed by a New Unifying Model of Weaning in Mammals. PLoS ONE, 2012; 7 (4): e32452. Elia Psouni, Axel Janke, Martin Garwicz
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