Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Big Mac: The Whole World On Your Plate

Date:
February 7, 2008
Source:
University of Calgary
Summary:
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 conducted the first ever study of the phylogenetic distribution of the plants used around the world for food.

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 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. 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."

The paper "Plant Diversity in the Human Diet: Weak Phylogenetic Signal Indicates Breadth" by Serban Proches, John R. U. Wilson, Jana C. Vamosi and David M. Richardson is published in the February, 2008 issue of the journal BioScience.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Calgary. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Calgary. "Big Mac: The Whole World On Your Plate." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 February 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080205094852.htm>.
University of Calgary. (2008, February 7). Big Mac: The Whole World On Your Plate. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080205094852.htm
University of Calgary. "Big Mac: The Whole World On Your Plate." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080205094852.htm (accessed August 22, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Friday, August 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Endangered Red Wolves Face Uncertain Future

Endangered Red Wolves Face Uncertain Future

AP (Aug. 22, 2014) A federal judge temporarily banned coyote hunting to save endangered red wolves, but local hunters say that the wolf preservation program does more harm than good. Meanwhile federal officials are reviewing its wolf program in North Carolina. (Aug. 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Farm Resurgence Grows With Younger Crowd

Farm Resurgence Grows With Younger Crowd

AP (Aug. 22, 2014) New England farms are seeing a surge in younger farm hands as the 'buy local' food movement grows across the country. (Aug. 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Drug Used To Treat 'Ebola's Cousin' Shows Promise

Drug Used To Treat 'Ebola's Cousin' Shows Promise

Newsy (Aug. 21, 2014) An experimental drug used to treat Marburg virus in rhesus monkeys could give new insight into a similar treatment for Ebola. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Terrifying City-Dwelling Spiders Are Bigger And More Fertile

Terrifying City-Dwelling Spiders Are Bigger And More Fertile

Newsy (Aug. 21, 2014) According to a new study, spiders that live in cities are bigger, fatter and multiply faster. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins