- The Washington Times - Friday, July 21, 2000

Call them evolutionary eaters, neoprimitive gourmets, or simply fad dieters. But some Americans, increasingly disgusted with America's processed and canned foods, its high-starch snacks and fast-food fixes, are taking the popular protein diets one step further.

They are vowing not to buy anything from supermarket shelves that would not have been found on the happy hunting grounds of our long-ago ancestors.

They are taking their cue from books such as "Neanderthin," "Diet Evolution" and "Dr. Citron's Evolutionary Diet," which look back to the diets of Paleolithic forebears to determine what humans should be eating today.

Carnivorous habits are natural to our species, the evolutionary eaters say, and should be guiltlessly embraced by modern man.

According to the evolutionary dieting mantra, meats, fruits, vegetables and nuts are good; dairy, sugar, beans and grains are bad.

Ray Audette, the author of "Neanderthin," says he formed the guidelines of his diet with one question: Could I eat this if I were naked with a sharp stick on the savannah?

Mr. Audette claims that sticking to this formula cured him of rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes, rid him of 25 pounds and gave him more energy all while allowing him to eat a pound of bacon each morning.

But evolutionary diet books such as his represent more than just a way to lose weight. They promote the virtues of "natural eating," encouraging us to go beyond the merely organic and toward the technology-free. They push a philosophy akin to Rousseau's, which says man is happiest and healthiest when eating straight out of nature's stew pot.

"I am the anti-vegetarian," says Mr. Audette, who is not an anthropologist or a trained nutritionist, but has followed and researched his diet plan for 15 years. "It's the most natural way to eat. It's the way to become most in tune with nature.

"As I've been doing this I've been becoming more and more of an uncivilized man," he said. "I'm no longer a spectator of nature, I'm a participant. Philosophically you become one with the hunter-gatherer within you."

But becoming one with your inner hunter-gatherer means, according to these plans, giving up foods that most people ingest regularly and enjoy, like bread, pasta, cheese, even alcohol. And, some might ask, why would something as wholesome as 12-grain bread be bad for us?

Because, say the evolutionary eaters, harvesting grain and baking it into bread represented a departure from Paleolithic ways, and thus introduced new, manmade products into a fairly consistent diet of meat, nuts and berries.

It was the transition from a hunting-and-gathering lifestyle to farming, cooking and permanent settlements that brought about obesity and disease, including cancer, heart disease and depression, the evolutionary eaters claim.

"A lot of problems that humans have are because we're trying to adapt a hunter-gatherer to live in a world dominated by crop species. [Early humans] didn't have the problems we have, because they didn't have the world we have," Mr. Audette says wistfully. "All these problems come up with agrarian cultures."

New research has shown that Neanderthals early Paleolithic-era humans who lived in the Neander Valley in the Rhine Province, Germany did in fact eat a lot of red meat. Their diet was similar to that of wolves and lions, and they probably hunted woolly mammoths.

They couldn't afford to be too particular about their cut of meat, either everything from organ meats to "sweetbreads," tongues and ears was consumed.

"When you look at what's available to eat on the steppe tundra, you can't walk a mile without tripping over something that's just died," says Mr. Audette. "When you look at what makes a human a human, it's these red meat adaptations for living on the grasslands. It's what distinguishes humans from other primates."

To get as close as possible to a Paleolithic diet, "Neanderthin" does recommend eating the more unusual cuts of meat, but only if the dieter can stomach them.

"I'm all for organ meats, but don't eat more of them than you'd normally eat," Mr. Audette said. With woolly mammoth meat being scarce these days, beef, lamb, and pork make fine substitutions.

The "Neanderthin" diet does allow some cooking, in order to make it palatable to more than a select few.

"There are a few purists out there, the raw food people," Mr. Audette says. "But as long as you're picking from normal primate foods, the effects of cooking are minimal."

Understandably, few doctors and dietitians are throwing out their USDA food pyramid charts in favor of the evolutionary eating guides.

Kathryn A. Parker, a registered dietitian in Gainesville, Fla., sees "Neanderthin" as just a quirky variation of the protein diets that countless Hollywood stars have followed.

"High-protein foods rid the body of calcium," she said. "I don't think [the Neanderthals] lived long enough to get osteoporosis. We're living a long time, we need to build the bone, and we're not going to do that with high-protein foods.

"The other part of the picture is that we're lazy," she says. "If I had to catch my food, I'd be a lot thinner."

Another argument against evolutionary eating is that all this concern with the old ways is unnecessary; the human body has adapted since Paleolithic times, making people more able to process sugars and grains and dairy milk.

Mr. Audette responds: "We're talking about 10,000 years, not even 300 generations. It's an eye blink in terms of evolutionary time. No one has adapted evolutionarily to a vegan diet, or to a high-carb diet."

Not everyone would want to trade professions with a Neanderthal, no matter how low his body-fat ratio was. Life for these early humans was cutthroat, dangerous and short. Their remains, which have been analyzed to determine their eating habits, frequently show evidence of trauma and lesions.

But Mr. Audette's modern-day version of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle is sweet indeed, and it has extended to other areas besides the dinner table. He's chucked his old office career in favor of more time in the great outdoors. He has grown a beard. And he has taken up falconry.

Needless to say, the falcon's prey is not wasted.

Mr. Audette long ago learned to ignore the quizzical looks he gets when ordering a hamburger with no bun, and shrugs off insults like "caveman."

"I'm a carnivore, get over it," he shouts back.

No one would dispute that the philosophy of evolutionary eating has infused every part of Mr. Audette's life. "When people ask me what I do for a living, I say I eat," he says.

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