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The Evolution of Human Diet, Health and Lifestyle

Research into the evolutionary backgrounds of our diets can help us make the right choices in diet, health and lifestyle.

Humans have evolved from ape-like ancestors who lived in small groups in Africa millions of years ago to an extremely successful species. Today, there are almost 8 billion members who have colonised nearly every corner of each continent.  This success is due in part to our unique diet, and how that has changed over the course of our evolutionary history. Currently, our eating habits are creating health issues as well as sustainability problems. This calls for dramatic changes in lifestyle and the way we produce food at all scales, from local soil quality up to global consumer behaviour.

The human diet

Teaming up with a range of scientists, palaeoanthropologists are in a unique position to add time depth to the human diet and to study the development of the human niche. Within the Faculty of Archaeology, researchers study how humans interact with and actively construct their own dietary niche.

They study, among others, the plant component of our diet, the evolution of and our behavioural and biological adaptations to fire use, the food choice behaviour of foragers and changes to the gut microbiome due to a wild-food diet.


The ERC project of Dr Amanda Henry explores the question of why particular foods were chosen, and how the choice of these foods then affected the biology, behaviour, and social interactions of the consumers.

At Leiden’s University Medical Centre, Professor Hanno Pijl dives into the diets and behaviour of prehistoric humans in general. Their diets may inform us about the factors in our lifestyle underlying current chronic diseases.

While partly driven by interest in our deep past, these projects generate data that are of relevance for developing a sustainable lifestyle for the futre, keeping humans healthy and our planet liveable.

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