Salivary amylase helps us digest starches like wheat
A recent scientific paper proposes that carbohydrates—starches specifically—played a larger role in the ancestral human diet than previously thought. I’ll call this paper the Hardy study since she’s the first named author. The only author I recognize is Jennie Brand-Miller, of glycemic index fame.
A key part of the hypothesis is that our ancestors’ use of fire made starchy foods much more digestible. That’s not controversial. Wrangham thinks hominins have been using fire for cooking for over a million years. Humans, remember, arrived on the scene about 200,000 years ago.
I’m not saying I agree or disagree with the researchers. Read the paper and decide for yourself. I do feel somewhat vindicated in my inclusion of potatoes and other tubers in my version of the Paleolithic diet.
Steve Parker, M.D.
PS: The article references the Pleistocene Epoch. You’ll find various definitions of that, but the Pleistocene ranged from about 1.8 million to 11,000 years ago .
Lifextension argues it as well as anyone I’ve read. Some quotes:
Chimpanzees produce salivary amylase to digest fruit; similarly, carnivores also possess amylase in order to process the glycogen residing in muscle meat. Moreover, animals fed alternatives to their natural diet will produce amylase in amounts corresponding to the quantity of carbohydrates consumed. Humans too have their own primordial amylase gene copy; we have possessed it ever since we were primates. The second copy mutation occurred somewhere between 100 – 200,000 years ago, however this may have resulted even more recently, as single nucleotide polymorphisms and copy number mutations can result in just thousands of years. The additional – and currently incomplete – copies occurred at the very most, around 25,000 years ago, but most plausibly they came about around 10,000 years ago, concurrent with the onset of agriculture, and confirming that high starch consumption was a historically late phenomenon. Many present day human populations from low-starch consuming ancestries still only have two copies, indicating that adaptation to high-starch consumption was not globally widespread.
Moreover, the current evidence engendered from nitrogen stable isotope analysis of hominin bone data – being studied by Professor Michael Richards and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology – has confirmed that our human ancestors truly were high-level carnivores. In fact, one-hundred percent of the early hominin bones studied from Upper Palaeolithic Europe reveal an even more carnivorous stable isotope footprint than that of foxes and wolves; while, comparatively, the data from omnivores such as pigs or the Brown Bear validates that these species truly did have an omnivorous diet.
Read the whole enchilada. The debate continues.