The Evolution of Human Nutrition

Tracing the evolution of the human diet from our earliest ancestors can lead to a better understanding of human adaptation in the past. It may also offer clues to the origin of many health problems that we currently face, such as obesity and chronic disease. The CARTA public symposium on "The Evolution of Human Nutrition" brought together scientists from a wide variety of backgrounds to explore the diets of our ancestors. What did early humans eat? Were the nutritional requirements and dietary needs of contemporary humans established in our prehistoric past? At this symposium, a lively discussion took place about the changing diets of our ancestors - from australopith diets to current hunter-gatherer diets - and what role these dietary transitions played in the evolution of humans. (from

Image: The Evolution of Human Nutrition

1. Background and Overview
Leslie Aiello (Wenner Gren Foundation) provides some background for the discussion and defines the overall goal of the symposium, The Evolution of Human Nutrition.

2. Diets and Microbes in Primates
Steven Leigh (Univ of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) explores the nature of the primate microbiome with the goal of understanding the impacts of microbiomes on human evolution.

3. Current Hunter-Gatherer Diets
Alyssa Crittenden (Univ of Nevada, Las Vegas) reports on the diet composition and foraging profiles of the Hadza hunter-gatherers of Tanzania.

4. Australopith Diets
Peter Ungar (Univ of Arkansas) looks at the fossil record to determine what it can teach us about the diets of our early hominin forebears.

5. Fire, Starch, Meat, and Honey
From an evolutionary perspective, Richard Wrangham (Harvard Univ) contends that the special feature of the human diet is not so much its ingredients, as how we prepare them.

6. Neanderthal Diets
Alison S. Brooks (George Washington Univ) and Margaret J. Schoeninger (UC San Diego) provide an overview of Neanderthal diets based on the physical evidence, archaeological data, and bone composition data.

7. Archaic Human Diets
Mary Stiner (Univ of Arizona) explains how each of these transitions came with new labor and social arrangements that extended well beyond the mechanics of hunting.

8. Agriculture's Impact on Human Evolution
Clark Spencer Larsen (Ohio State Univ) explores what anthropologists have learned about the alterations of the lives, lifestyles, and wellbeing from the study of bones and teeth of our recent ancestors during the one of the most dynamic periods of human evolution.

9. Impact of Globalization on Children's Nutrition
Barry Bogin (Loughborough Univ) discusses how the Maya people of Mexico and Central America are a poignant case of globalized diets.

Related Links
Did Cooking Make Us Human?
This is a BBC Horizon documentary which asks whether eating cooked food prompted changes that helped humanity evolve.
Origins of Us
This is a BBC documentary series presented by Dr. Alice Roberts, showing how we evolved away from our ape cousins to become the adaptable, successful species we are today.
Walking with Cavemen
This is a four-part BBC documentary series narrated by Robert Winston, about the story of human evolution from Australopithecus afarensis to Homo sapiens.
The Truth about Food
This is a six-part documentary series that looks at the real science behind the food we eat and reveals the truth about the effects of food on our bodies.
Introduction to Human Nutrition
This course provides an overview of digestion and metabolism of nutrients. Foods are discussed as a source of nutrients, and the evidence is reviewed as to the effects of nutrition on health.