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"Raw Data" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
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In a first-of-its kind study, Harvard researchers have shown that cooked meat provides more energy than raw meat, a finding that challenges the current food labeling system and suggests humans are evolutionarily adapted to take advantage of the benefits of cooking.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Now, You're Cookin'.

(Sound effect: theme music) I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: early tribal drums) Humans are a unique species. Among other things, they're the only species to master fire, and be able to cook. Although we've evolved all the way to cooking competitions on cable, we have, until now never definitively shown that there are distinct benefits to firing up our food.

Harvard researchers in a first-of-its-kind experiment started with a simple premise: could methods of processing our food increase its energy output? Their study examined four ways of preparing food: raw and whole, raw and pounded, cooked and whole, and cooked and pounded. While previous studies focused on how food is digested, the Harvard project honed in on energy value--energy being the reason we eat in the first place.

(Sound effect: mice) Two groups of mice were fed a diet of sweet potatoes or meat, prepared by one of those methods. Changes in body mass and energy output were monitored. Across the board, cooking delivered more energy and as if they knew it was better for them, the mice preferred the cooked food.

The findings provide evidence that perhaps human evolution itself got a boost when our ancestors learned to use fire. The increased energy may have helped in the development of a larger, more athletic physique and a more complex brain. The study could have implications from food labeling to battling obesity and malnutrition.

Want to feel more energetic? Kiss the cook.

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