Medicine For People!

October 2014: Big Brain Cooking

Caveman Cooking

Big Brain Cooking

  • Raw Food Vs Cooked Food
  • Big Brains Burn Fuel
  • Cooking Kills Parasites and Releases Nutrients
  • New Office Hours
  • Preservative-Free Flu Vaccine
  • Facebook

During my high school years, I could never could figure out what my parents were thinking or why. I wondered if they were even the same species as me!   Now, having had children of my own, it's all become clear. However, had I been born some 12,000 generations earlier, some 200,000 years ago, my parents would really have been of a different species, or to be technical, sub-species. For that was the time that primitive Homo sapiens were just becoming Homo sapiens sapiens. Homo sapiens sapiens looked exactly like us modern humans, and had the same intelligence and physiologic needs.

Way back then, we Homo sapiens sapiens cooked our food just as our predecessors had.  We had tamed fire some million years previously.   Ferocious beasts threatened us, hunger was never far away. But fire was our ally and we even managed to survive, when some 100,000 years ago, disaster struck.

A tremendous volcano spread ash throughout the atmosphere cooling the world by some 20°F. For six years there was no summer and no growing season.    Our population crashed, and only a few thousand of us hung on, struggling to survive on a barely livable part of the East African coast. Huddled along the coast, we cooked the seafood, grains, legumes, tubers and vegetables which we collected nearby.  It was that or join the many other species going extinct. 

Raw Food Vs Cooked Food

Fast forward to our contemporary world, where some modern humans advocate that we don't need to cook our food. They claim that the natural nutrition of raw food improves our health.

I heard the first argument against this raw food enthusiasm some 20 years ago in India. Ayur-vedic physicians taught me that cooking food predigested it, allowing us to gain more value from what we eat. Knowing how prone digestion can be to various disorders, this made sense to me.

Now comes a more interesting argument, supported by comparing the anatomy of humans, primates, and other mammals. Scientists have weighed the brains and other organs of different species to see what relationships appear. The average primate has a brain about twice as large as the average mammal. The average human brain is twice again as large as that. A human-size mammal, such as an adult sheep, possesses a brain weighing about six ounces. Our three pound brains are definitely off the scale—that's why we're able to decipher these letter symbols -- whereas sheep can't.

Big Brains Burn Fuel

This ability of our brains carries a price tag, and that price tag is the 15 watts of energy we need to provide to it every moment.   Fifteen watts wouldn't make for the brightest light bulb, but it's much more than the two watts the sheep has to provide. Given that mammals, including humans and sheep, have generally similar metabolic rates, where do we get that extra power?   Most of our energy goes into our brain, heart, kidneys, and digestive system. All our muscles together idle along at less than a watt when we aren't using them. What did our ancestors sacrifice to get the energy for our larger brain?  

The operating requirements of a mammal do not allow us to sacrifice lungs, liver, kidneys, heart or muscles.  What we gave up during our evolution was part of our digestive tract. Across the animal kingdom, animals with relatively large digestive systems have relatively small brains, and vice versa. Our digestive system is much smaller than a sheep's or even a chimpanzee's.  On a proportional basis, ours weighs just 60 percent as much as a chimp's, and far less than a sheep's.  This is why, when a sheep decides "I'll just go with my gut," it may do a better job than you do.

Humans just do not do well with nothing but raw food.   Our physiology was formed over the last two million years during the Pleistocene era.  By the time we earned the name Homo sapiens sapiens some 200,000 years ago, we had already been using fire for some million years.

Fire allowed us to move some of the digestive processes out of our body, which freed up energy to power a larger brain.  This larger brain with its improved intelligence allowed us to harvest more nutritional food, get by with  a smaller digestive tract, which allowed more energy for more brain, and so the cycle went.  

Cooking Kills Parasites and Releases Nutrients

Cooking meat kills parasites.  Moreover, we did not need to restrict ourselves to fruits and vegetables just at the right stage of growth and ripeness.  For example, a green apple has toxins, but we could cook those away.  No fire, and we got little nutrition from grains, tubers and legumes.  We could now turn these into foodstuffs with shelf life, and we learned to grow and store them as well.  We enjoyed better health and a wider choice of foodstuffs.

And if someone says that they don't cook their food because they don't want to destroy the enzymes, remember that plant enzymes have a vastly different function and purpose than the enzymes inside us. The main value food enzymes carry for us are the amino acids of which they are made, amino acids made more available to you by cooking the food.

This does not mean we should give up our fresh fruit or your salad. Our ancient great grandparents most likely enjoyed them too as they watched the sun rise over the Indian Ocean and waited out those long and terrifying global winters on the coast of East Africa.

Completely raw food diets are especially hard on children. Read how.

New Office Hours

You can now see our up-to-date hours of operation. When Doctor Rienstra is out of town, the office will be open Mondays and Thursdays only, from 8 am to 10 am.

Our two RNs have newborns at home, so we do not have a nurse working every day. For nursing services such as laboratory and injections, please call in advance to avoid unnecessary waiting. As always, if your insurance covers care at a Medicare or Medicaid clinic, we still can care for you out of network and in coordination with those clinics.

Preservative-Free Flu Vaccine

Our 2014-2015 flu vaccine just arrived. Manufacturers require us to order this in the spring. While our supply lasts, vaccinations are $35.


The clinic Facebook page alerted readers to elements of this story and many others.



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Medicine for People! is published by Douwe Rienstra, MD at Port Townsend, Washington.