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Keywords:

  • diet;
  • food choice;
  • gut microflora;
  • human evolution;
  • mismatch;
  • niche construction;
  • Paleolithic diet

Evolutionary paradigms of human health and nutrition center on the evolutionary discordance or “mismatch” model in which human bodies, reflecting adaptations established in the Paleolithic era, are ill-suited to modern industrialized diets, resulting in rapidly increasing rates of chronic metabolic disease. Though this model remains useful, its utility in explaining the evolution of human dietary tendencies is limited. The assumption that human diets are mismatched to the evolved biology of humans implies that the human diet is instinctual or genetically determined and rooted in the Paleolithic era. This review looks at current research indicating that human eating habits are learned primarily through behavioral, social, and physiological mechanisms that start in utero and extend throughout the life course. Adaptations that appear to be strongly genetic likely reflect Neolithic, rather than Paleolithic, adaptations and are significantly influenced by human niche-constructing behavior. Several examples are used to conclude that incorporating a broader understanding of both the evolved mechanisms by which humans learn and imprint eating habits and the reciprocal effects of those habits on physiology would provide useful tools for structuring more lasting nutrition interventions.