Origins and evolution of the Western diet: health implications for the 21st century

Am J Clin Nutr. 2005 Feb;81(2):341-54. doi: 10.1093/ajcn.81.2.341.


There is growing awareness that the profound changes in the environment (eg, in diet and other lifestyle conditions) that began with the introduction of agriculture and animal husbandry approximately 10000 y ago occurred too recently on an evolutionary time scale for the human genome to adjust. In conjunction with this discordance between our ancient, genetically determined biology and the nutritional, cultural, and activity patterns of contemporary Western populations, many of the so-called diseases of civilization have emerged. In particular, food staples and food-processing procedures introduced during the Neolithic and Industrial Periods have fundamentally altered 7 crucial nutritional characteristics of ancestral hominin diets: 1) glycemic load, 2) fatty acid composition, 3) macronutrient composition, 4) micronutrient density, 5) acid-base balance, 6) sodium-potassium ratio, and 7) fiber content. The evolutionary collision of our ancient genome with the nutritional qualities of recently introduced foods may underlie many of the chronic diseases of Western civilization.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acid-Base Equilibrium
  • Agriculture / methods*
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Chronic Disease / epidemiology
  • Diet / trends*
  • Dietary Fiber / administration & dosage
  • Fatty Acids / administration & dosage
  • Fatty Acids / analysis
  • Food Analysis
  • Food Handling / methods
  • Glycemic Index
  • Humans
  • Potassium, Dietary / administration & dosage
  • Sodium, Dietary / administration & dosage
  • United States


  • Dietary Fiber
  • Fatty Acids
  • Potassium, Dietary
  • Sodium, Dietary