Evolutionary perspectives on human nutrition: The influence of brain and body size on diet and metabolism

William R. Leonard*, Marcia L. Robertson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

186 Scopus citations


Human dietary patterns and metabolic requirements are compared to those of nonhuman primate species in order to gain insights into the evolution of our nutritional needs. In general, primate diet quality (i.e., caloric and nutrient density) is inversely related to body size and total resting metabolic requirements (RMR). Humans, however, consume a diet of much higher quality than is expected for our size and metabolic needs. This energy‐rich diet appears to reflect an adaptation to the high metabolic cost of our large brain. Among primates, the relative proportion of resting metabolic energy used for brain metabolism is positively correlated with relative diet quality. Humans represent the positive extreme, having both a very high quality diet and a large brain that accounts for 20–25% of resting metabolism. Evidence from the hominid fossil record implies that major changes in diet and relative brain metabolism occurred with the emergence of the genus Homo. © 1994 Wiley‐Liss, Inc.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)77-88
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican Journal of Human Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 1994

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Anthropology
  • Genetics


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