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Nutrition, Health, Culture and Evolution: Food for Thought


For the fourth seminar on tipping points, GPR Human Past invited Amanda G.Henry, Karen Metheny, Nicole Bender and Hanno Pijl for Nutrition, Health, Culture and Evolution: Food for Thought. The seminar was held on November 23, 2022


  • Amanda G. Henry, Leiden University, invetsigates the use of plant microremains from archaeological contexts as markers of diet, differences in the plant food consumption between Neanderthals and Early Modern Humans, diet of our very early australopith ancestors.
Eating our way to the top: Major dietary changes in human evolution.
The food choices made by our ancestors have influenced our biology and behavior today. Paleoanthropologists try to reconstruct these food behaviors using a variety of different approaches, and have identified several major shifts in our dietary patterns since the first hominins appeared. I will discuss what we know about these ancient diets, and how they have led us to be the most successful species on the planet.
  • Hanno Pijl, Leiden University, internist-endocrinologist, Professor of Diabetology, interested in our nutritional history and chronic diseases
Type 2 diabetes mellitus: how ancient dreams turned into a contemporary nightmare.
Today’s society is faced with a pandemic of chronic non-communicable disease. How did we end up in this health mess?? The answer to this question is deeply rooted in our evolutionary history. Three critical tipping points determined our current state of health.
  • Karen Metheny, Boston University : historical archaeologist and anthropologist specializing in food studies

Made to order? Food and culture are messy, and other thoughts on evolutionary tipping points

When we think about the role of food as a tipping point in human development, we need to look past evolutionary models. Culture is messy. We don’t eat everything that we, as humans, might consume. Our food choices are not always rational. Culture, rather than biology, may be everything. In this presentation, I want to highlight in particular the impacts of cultural encounters on foods and food practices that may lead to profound cultural, social, and historical change.

  • Nicole Bender, University of Zurich : evolution of human nutrition and body composition, obesity and related diseases, Evolutionary Public Health, Human adaptation to novel environments and mismatch diseases, Clinical Evolutionary Medicine. 
Human diet and body composition from the evolutionary medicine point of view
Evolutionary medicine studies the impact of evolution on today's human health and disease. Concerning human diet and the modern propensity for overweight, the focus lies on the mismatch between evolved genome and modern, manmade environment. However, further factors, such as epigenetics, changes in microbiome, and sociocultural influences are discussed in this context.

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