What Did Our Ancestors Eat?

Stanley M. Garn*, William R. Leonard

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

58 Scopus citations


Over the millennia various hominoids and hominids have subsisted on very different dietaries, depending on climate, hunting proficiency, food‐processing technology, and available foods. The Australopithecines were not browsers and fruit‐eaters with very high intakes of vitamin C; rather they were scavengers of kills made by other animals. The hominids who followed did include some cold‐climate hunters of large game, but the amount of animal protein decreased with the advent of grain‐gathering and decreased further with the introduction of cereal agriculture, with a concomitant decrease in body size. From what we know about food adequacy, preparation, and storage, the notion that the postulated “primitive” diet was generally adequate, safe, and prudent can be rejected. Over evolutionary time, many of our ancestors ate poorly, especially during climatic extremes, and they were often at risk for vitamin deficiencies, food‐borne diseases, and neurotoxins. Until the advent of modern processing technologies, dirt, grit, and fiber constituted a large part of most early diets.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)337-345
Number of pages9
JournalNutrition Reviews
Issue number11
StatePublished - Jan 1 1989


  • fat
  • fiber
  • food safety
  • fossil humans
  • hominids
  • hominoids
  • nutritional deficiency
  • primitive diet
  • protein

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'What Did Our Ancestors Eat?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

  • Cite this