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According to Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel (pp 125-126), the domestication of local grains (e.g. wheat, barley) and pulses (e.g. peas, lentils) lauched food production (farming) societies in many areas. Grain crops have the advantage of being fast-growning, high in carbohydrates and high yield per area cultivated. Their low protein is made up by pulses which are often >25% protein (e.g. soybeans has ~38%). This makes these two types a good combination. The author proceeded to list many parallel combination of grains (or cereals) and pulses in many early farming communities:

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My question is, given their lack of knowledge about biochemistry, how did these societies learn about the advantage of pulses' protein contents and the importance of balanced carbohydrate-protein diet? Or did they unconsciously do it, for example were there some evolutionary/selection process that caused people who consumed balanced diet to survive and produce more offstring? If so, what made this combination invariably "win" in many areas?

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Protein content and balanced carbohydrates are merely words we attach to successful strategies. Societies that employ successful dietary strategies succeed. Groups of people who center their diet on cotton candy and soda (or their contemporary equivalents) aren't healthy enough to form a successful society. One doesn't need to understand theory to succeed. – Mark C. Wallace Jun 28 '14 at 20:08
@MarkC.Wallace good point, thanks. Edited the question – user69715 Jun 28 '14 at 21:02
Here's an experiment that many graduate Life Sciences students are asked to attempt: Try going a mere 72 hours eating only one food group of Protein, Carbohydrates, Dairy and Vegetables/fruits. Stick strictly to the regime, so no mustard or bun with a hot dog, no cheese, anchovies or pepperoni with your pizza, etc. If you are not starting to feel quite ill by 72 hours you were cheating somewhere. As a society we have lost touch with many of our body's most basic signals, and it is really not so difficult to figure out what is necessary to live healthily. – Pieter Geerkens Jul 1 '14 at 15:48
up vote 7 down vote accepted

What made you think they know about the protein content? Evolutionary pressures would have drove humans to develop instincts for foods that contain the nutrition we need to survive (i.e., cravings). There is also a common human preference for diversity. Those factors alone would have pushed early civilisation into cultivating multiple crops.

Additionally, as MarkC.Wallace points out, societies which adopted a good diet would have been better equipped for success than those who didn't. Now, cultivation of pea and lentil seemed to have begun at the advent of human agriculture in the old world. The evidence points to a tradition of human hunter and gatherers living off food including pulses, before farmer societies came about.

That is to say, those tribes that did not feed off both staple carbohydrates and high protein pulses (and others) was out competed by those who did. As the successful tribes learnt to start growing their food, they would have begun by growing the food they already ate. Hence the farming societies "knowing" about eating pulses.

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