A burger and fries may be the quintessential North American meal but it can also be viewed as the perfect example of humanity’s increasingly varied diet, according to researchers who have conducted a unique study of the plants used around the world for food.
In the first-ever study of the “phylogenetic distribution” of the human diet, University of Calgary plant evolutionary ecologist Jana Vamosi, working with a team led by Serban Proches from Stellenbosch University in South Africa, found that humans likely stand alone when it comes to the spectrum of species we consume. Our ability to process food combined with an insatiable hunger for new tastes and international trade systems has also led to food becoming the ultimate product of a globalized society.
“Generally speaking, we eat very broadly from the tree of life,” Vamosi said. “Others have looked at the sheer number of plant species we consume but nobody has ever examined whether the plants we eat are clustered in certain branches. It turns out that they are not.”
In a paper published in the current issue of the scientific journal BioScience, the researchers examined more than 7,000 plant species commonly eaten by people to determine the origins and evolutionary relationships of the various plants that comprise humankind’s menu. In addition to confirming the incredible number of species that are regularly eaten, they found that we chow down on members of a remarkably high number of plant families known to biology.
As a case study, the scientists analyzed the ingredients of a simple fast food meal – a McDonald’s Big Mac, French fries and a cup of coffee – to illustrate how the average human diet in developed nations is more diverse than ever before. From potatoes that were first domesticated in South America to mustard that was developed in India, onions and wheat that originated in the Middle East and coffee from Ethiopia, they found the meal contained approximately 20 different species and ingredients that originated around the world (see attached Backgrounder). This leads to the conclusion that “a Big Mac is an apt symbol of globalization.”
“That a single meal contains about 20 species is impressive, given that some human societies – those that are largely unaffected by current globalization trend – commonly include only 50 to 100 plant species in their entire diet,” the paper states.
Vamosi says the study raises myriad questions about the diversity and nutritional aspects of the human diet that will be the subject of future investigations.
“Certainly, including many fruits and vegetables in your diet is something that has been encouraged by nutritionists for some time. However eating carrots and celery, for example, provides you with nutrients from the same plant family, as do apples, pears, apricots, peaches, raspberries and blackberries. Indeed broccoli, kale and cauliflower are actually a single species,” Vamosi said.
“Eating lots of different produce might not actually provide you with a phylogenetically diverse diet, and whether that’s important for providing maximum nutritional value remains to be seen.”
The study also argues that steps to protect the diversity of human food plants may have to be taken as globalization and industrial-scale agriculture gradually leads to more uniform diets for the world’s population overall.
"Individually we are probably eating a greater range of plant species than our ancestors, but the loss of indigenous knowledge and regional cuisines may mean that as a species our diet is becoming increasing focussed on a few plant species, and indeed a few varieties of those species” states coauthor John Wilson.
“The fact that we do eat so broadly indicates that we enjoy many different flavours and combinations of flavours and also indicates that many plants that we don't eat likely have some sort of culinary value that we just haven't discovered yet,” Vamosi said. “Maintaining plant diversity ensures that we will continue to have the current flavours that we enjoy available to us and will also preserve other potential food sources into the future.”
WAKE-UP provides new treatment option for stroke patients | International study led by UKE
17.05.2018 | Universitätsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf
First form of therapy for childhood dementia CLN2 developed
25.04.2018 | Universitätsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf
A research team led by physicists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed molecular nanoswitches that can be toggled between two structurally different states using an applied voltage. They can serve as the basis for a pioneering class of devices that could replace silicon-based components with organic molecules.
The development of new electronic technologies drives the incessant reduction of functional component sizes. In the context of an international collaborative...
At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.
At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...
There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?
At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...
So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics
Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...
The historic first detection of gravitational waves from colliding black holes far outside our galaxy opened a new window to understanding the universe. A...
02.05.2018 | Event News
13.04.2018 | Event News
12.04.2018 | Event News
24.05.2018 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation
24.05.2018 | Medical Engineering
24.05.2018 | Physics and Astronomy