What's the nutritional value of brains?
How much nutrition would you get from eating a human brain?
Jonathan Reisman answered this question...
Jonathan - Well, besides the legal and ethical questions about eating another human's brain, it's a very nutritious and very high calorie meal. The average human brain is about three pounds or about 1.3 or so kilograms, and 60% of it is fat. So myelin, which is the substance that sort of insulates all the nerves. If the nerves were wires, myelin would be the sort of rubber coating on the outside. So a lot of that fat, would provide a lot of calories, probably enough calories to last you several days — you know, if you had only one human brain to subsist on. There's also protein, various kinds of, minerals, some B vitamins as well. I don't know if the person asked for a recipe when they submitted this question, but I would go with the traditional brain sandwich preparation method. Common in the city of St. Louis, which is to slice the brain, dip it in egg, spice it, and then deep fry it before putting it on rye bread with a hot mustard for the sandwich.
Chris - Delicious. I might ask the rest of the panel for their brain related recipes. Kathryn?
Kathryn Harkup - I have a question. I remember seeing a sign once many years ago that said smart cannibals don't eat brains because of the diseases that can be transmitted and accumulates within the species because of it. Is that true?
Jonathan - Yes. The most famous example is diseases of the prion form. There's a disease called kuru , historically common in Papa New Guinea, where cannibalism was more common —perhaps in ancient times than it is now. But there was a ritual eating of people's brains after death and this prion disease, kuru, was transmitted from person to person. There's also mad cow disease or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, which can be transmitted through, I am not totally clear how common it is for it to be transmitted to humans, but eating the nervous tissue or the brain of infected animals does put you at risk. I think the risk of contracting any of those prion diseases, including mad cow or chronic wasting disease, which is very common in white-tailed deer, here in the US, the transmissibility to humans is not well documented. But certainly in the case of kuru, which every medical student in the world knows about —because it's such a unique instance. There's definitely a risk there.