Ray Audette is a peculiar kind of health fanatic: a sincere, skinny
guy who claims he
cured himself of arthritis and diabetis by eating an inordinate amount of meat. He
says his diet plan is slimming too, and good for the heart, good for lowering coles-
terol, good for almost everything. He eats a pound of bacon for breakfast every day,
and thinks he may be onto something big.
There is a long and storied history of diet and fitness fads---inextricably inter-
twined with the history of hucksterism. Scientists seem to discover new properties
of the blueberry or the tomato regularly, and each "discovery" is promptly rolled out
as an all-encompassing lifestyle plan and promoted with P.TBarnum-like zeal to a
legion of suckers---fat suckers who watch a lot of television mostly.
Of late, the weight-loss industry has been overrun with a particular type of diet
scheme: the protein diet. The Atkins plan, the Zone system, the all-burgers all-the-
time diet (not yet invented, but most likely forthcoming). The diets are predicated
on the idea that it's carbohydrates that make us fat, and if we only upped the pro-
portion of protein (and fat) and eliminated most of the starch from our lives, a
strange chemical change would overtake us and we'd be thin in no time. Ray Au-
dette, being the peculiar sort of fellow that he is, has taken the model in a some-
what new direction. His book, Neanderthin, outlines a diet he thinks will cure the
world of it's ills, a diet summarized by Audette like this: "I don't eat anything
except what I could get if I were hunting on the African savanna naked with a sharp
stick." Eat as much wild meat as you can, Audette advises. Eat a pound of bacon for
breakfast, some pemmican (a native American powdered meat and lard dish) for lunch
and another pound of meat and some cabbage for dinner. Like any diet book, Neanderthin
includes some recipes---recipes that center, not surprisingly, on meat: from "fried apples
and bacon" to "beef soup" to "grilled venison". But Neanderthin is more than a diet book.
It's a lifestyle blueprint that includes doses of New Age self-help, diet instruction and
The Neanderthin Principle is compellingly simple: We primates are the product of
many millions of years of evolution. Agriculture, on the other hand, was invented about
10,000 years ago. The resulting introduction of large amounts of grain into the human diet
is to blame for cancer, heart disease, depression and obesity. The solution: Return to the diet
of our Paleolithic ancestors, a hunter-gatherer diet. Eat meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts and
berries. Do not eat grains, beans, potatoes, dairy products or sugar. There you have it:
another of the popular low-carb diets, wrapped up in retro-utopian philosophy.
Audette is not a physician or a scientist or a formally trained nutrician expert. He offers
himself as proof that his diet works. Twenty years ago, Audette was suffering from arthritis
and diabetes. At his local library, he says, he discovered that both diseases occure only
in modern agricultural societies. Audette decided to revert to preagriculture, Stone Age eating
Believe it or not, the American nutrician establishment doesn't neccessarily think it's a good
idea to eat saturated fat and cholesterol bombs three times a day. First of all, most doctors
don't buy into the vaunted high protein, low-carb theory. "All these diets do is curb your appetite."
says David Levitsky, professor of nutrition and psychology at Cornell University. Berry Sears
"The Zone", Atkins's "Revolution" and the Neanderthin diet all rely on the same trick. The caloric
concentration of all that meat works on your liver and brain in complicated ways to supress
appetite, Levitsky explains, which is why people lose weight. But in the long run these diets are
not sustainable, and in the long run the fat and cholesterol will have ruinous effects on your health.
"The bottom line," he says, "is there is no scientific evidence to support these diets."
But, to be fair, pork bellies aside, Audette may have been onto something when he looked
to our Paleolithic forebears for diet advice. Physician S. Boyd Eaton of Emory University hypothesizes
that the introduction of agriculture during the Neolithic period dramatically reduced man's consumption of fruits and vegetables---from 65 percent of total food energy to a mere 20 percent. Audette's demonization of grains has a ring of hysteria to it, but he's right that our diet has tilted away from high-fiber fruits and vegetables, to our detriment. Perhaps even more important than the replacement
of carrots with Lucky Charms is the fact that we no longer need to personally hunt or gather,
which means we don't exercise enough. Modern postindustrial agriculture has led to complete
decoupling of energy output and food intake, which might explain why diabetes has increased by a factor of ten in the United States since the 1930's.
And Audette's right about our caveman DNA. "We may live in the space age, but genetically we're
basically Stone Agers," says Eaton. So it may well turn out to be true that the hunter gatherers
have dietary secrets to reveil. Until we find them, however, drop the pemmican and eat your vegetables.
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