The cost of chewing: The energetics and evolutionary significance of mastication in humans

Adam Van Casteren, Jonathan R. Codd, Kornelius Kupczik, Guy Plasqui, William I. Sellers, Amanda G. Henry

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Any change in the energetic cost of mammalian mastication will affect the net energy gain from foods. Although the energetic efficiency of masticatory effort is fundamental in understanding the evolution of the human masticatory system, nothing is known currently about the associated metabolic costs of chewing different items. Here, using respirometry and electromyography of the masseter muscle, we demonstrate that chewing by human subjects represents a measurable energy sink. Chewing a tasteless odorless gum elevates metabolic rate by 10 to 15% above basal levels. Energy expenditure increases with gum stiffness and is paid for by greater muscle recruitment. For modern humans, it is likely that mastication represents a small part of the daily energy budget. However, for our ancestors, before the onset of cooking and sophisticated food processing methods, the costs must have been relatively high, adding a previously unexplored energetic dimension to the interpretation of hominin dentofacial fossils.
Original languageEnglish
JournalScience Advances
Issue number33
Early online date17 Aug 2022
Publication statusPublished - 17 Aug 2022


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