"Most people are simply not designed to eat pasta": evolutionary explanations for obesity in the low-carbohydrate diet movement

Public Underst Sci. 2011 Sep;20(5):706-19. doi: 10.1177/0963662510391733.


Low-carbohydrate diets, notably the Atkins Diet, were particularly popular in Britain and North America in the late 1990s and early 2000s. On the basis of a discourse analysis of bestselling low-carbohydrate diet books, I examine and critique genetic and evolutionary explanations for obesity and diabetes as they feature in the low-carbohydrate literature. Low-carbohydrate diet books present two distinct neo-Darwinian explanations of health and body-weight. First, evolutionary nutrition is based on the premise that the human body has adapted to function best on the diet eaten in the Paleolithic era. Second, the thrifty gene theory suggests that feast-or-famine conditions during human evolutionary development naturally selected for people who could store excess energy as body fat for later use. However, the historical narratives and scientific arguments presented in the low-carbohydrate literature are beset with generalisations, inconsistencies and errors. These result, I argue, from the use of the primitive as a discursive "blank slate" onto which to project ideals perceived to be lacking in contemporary industrialised life.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biological Evolution*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / etiology*
  • Diet, Carbohydrate-Restricted*
  • Humans
  • Obesity / etiology*
  • Socioeconomic Factors