Effects of brain evolution on human nutrition and metabolism

William Leonard, J. Josh Snodgrass, Marcia L. Robertson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

116 Scopus citations

Abstract

The evolution of large human brain size has had important implications for the nutritional biology of our species. Large brains are energetically expensive, and humans expend a larger proportion of their energy budget on brain metabolism than other primates. The high costs of large human brains are supported, in part, by our energy- and nutrient-rich diets. Among primates, relative brain size is positively correlated with dietary quality, and humans fall at the positive end of this relationship. Consistent with an adaptation to a high-quality diet, humans have relatively small gastrointestinal tracts. In addition, humans are relatively "undermuscled" and "over fat" compared with other primates, features that help to offset the high energy demands of our brains. Paleontological evidence indicates that rapid brain evolution occurred with the emergence of Homo erectus 1.8 million years ago and was associated with important changes in diet, body size, and foraging behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)311-327
Number of pages17
JournalAnnual Review of Nutrition
Volume27
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1 2007

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Keywords

  • Body composition
  • Diet quality
  • Encephalization
  • Hominin
  • Homo erectus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics

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