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Herman Pontzer

The Misunderstood Science of Metabolism

4.2 (130 ratings)
28 mins

Brief summary

In "Burn," Herman Pontzer explains how our bodies evolved to keep us alive, not necessarily to keep us healthy. He debunks common myths about exercise and diet, providing actionable advice for improving our health and longevity.

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    You are what you eat – literally.

    In 1859, the French scientist Louis Pasteur made a revolutionary broth. What made it so special? Well, first, Pasteur realized that boiling the soup killed any germs that might be in the liquid. And second, he found that keeping it in an airtight flask prevented bugs and dirt from entering. This two-step system prevented the soup from spoiling – a revolutionary discovery.

    This process came to be known as pasteurization, named after Pasteur himself. The experiment wasn’t just a practical triumph, though. It was also the final nail in the coffin of a theory as old as Aristotle – a theory known as spontaneous generation

    Spontaneous generation tried to explain phenomena like the sudden emergence of maggots on rotting meat. Where did these maggots come from? Before the invention of powerful microscopes, it was hard to answer that question. From antiquity to the Middle Ages and well beyond, people argued they came from nowhere – that is, that they spontaneously generated from inanimate objects like meat. 

    It’s easy to scoff at such an outdated notion, but a century of research into metabolism has shown that the truth is even stranger. 

    The key message in this blink is: You are what you eat – literally. 

    Today, we know that maggots don’t emerge from inert material. But look closely at a maggot-laying fly. What does it do? Essentially, it’s a small machine that transforms putrid protein into baby flies. Put differently, it spontaneously assembles its own and its offsprings’ bodies out of water, air, and the food it consumes. 

    Like flies, humans are also spontaneous-generation machines. Every ounce of bone and pint of blood, every fingernail, eyelash, and strand of hair, is made out of the things we eat. Inanimate matter, it turns out, does generate life. 

    How does this uncanny transformation occur? The answer is metabolism – the way our bodies burn energy. Let’s break that down. 

    The body is made up of thousands of different, interacting molecules. These include enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters, DNA, and more. Very few of them arrive in the body in usable form through our diets, however. Before they can be put to use, they have to be converted. 

    This is the work of cells. A cell’s job is to pull useful molecules circulating in the bloodstream in through its membrane and then convert those molecules into something else. Take ovary cells. They pull cholesterol molecules inside, convert them, and then push the end-product – estrogen, a hormone that affects the whole body – back into the bloodstream.

    The work of these cells is what keeps us alive. But it requires energy – lots of it. Metabolism is the body’s life-preserving furnace, “burning” the food we eat and unlocking its energy for this purpose. 

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    What is Burn about?

    Burn (2021) shines a light on the science behind metabolism – the way our bodies burn energy. Packed with memorable insights and facts, it draws on the latest metabolic research and delves into the evolutionary history of the human body. 

    Burn Review

    Burn (2021) takes readers on a captivating journey into the science of human energy expenditure, challenging common beliefs about fitness and weight loss. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • With compelling research and fascinating case studies, it reveals the surprising ways our bodies burn calories and how this impacts our health and weight.
    • Dispelling myths about exercise and metabolism, the book offers practical insights that can help readers optimize their energy expenditure and achieve their fitness goals.
    • Through its engaging storytelling and clear explanations, Burn demystifies the science of human energy, making it an enjoyable and informative read for anyone interested in health and fitness.

    Who should read Burn?

    • Gym members wondering why they aren’t shifting more weight
    • Would-be dieters unsure of which nutritional plan to follow
    • Natural history buffs

    About the Author

    Herman Pontzer is an Associate Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology at Duke University and Associate Research Professor of Global Health at the Duke Global Health Institute.

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    Burn FAQs 

    What is the main message of Burn?

    The main message of Burn is that understanding our evolutionary history can help us live healthier lives.

    How long does it take to read Burn?

    The reading time for Burn varies depending on the reader's speed, but it typically takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just a few minutes.

    Is Burn a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Burn is worth reading because it provides fascinating insights into human evolution and offers practical advice for improving our health.

    Who is the author of Burn?

    The author of Burn is Herman Pontzer.

    What to read after Burn?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Burn, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • Why We Eat (Too Much) by Andrew Jenkinson
    • The Metabolism Reset Diet by Alan Christianson
    • The Whole30 by Melissa Hartwig and Dallas Hartwig
    • Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston A. Price
    • Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch
    • The Obesity Code by Jason Fung
    • The Shift by Gary Foster
    • Feel Great, Lose Weight by Rangan Chatterjee
    • Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes
    • “You Just Need to Lose Weight” by Aubrey Gordon