Review of Ray Audette's "Neanderthin".  Huw Thomas, 9 June 2002

Firstly, I'd like to say that before I read this book I was a vegetarian.  Now, I am an omnivore.  This book greatly influenced my view on nutrition, and I think that it is a good guide for people thinking about a palaeo diet.  Having got my biases out of the way, I'll see what I can remember.

Audette is something refreshing in the world of modern diet: a self professed non-scientist who is not a doctor of anything at all. But he has remarkable insight into nutrition, and does have the necessary experience into what works and what does not. It seems, on the whole, that Audette has arrived at the right balance through trial and error, as well as clear thinking instead of wading through the science. I, for one, am not totally interested in the science behind these things, but I know some are (e.g. my Dad who runs this site). He does go into the basic processes, but does not get bogged down with omega 3 ratios or advocating half a teaspoon-full of slivered almonds (as Barry Sears does in one of his recipes) to get the EXACT balance right.

He initially goes into some depth about the history of dieting; or rather the history of eating something different from what the rest of your society was eating. It is surprising, and perhaps telling of the period mentality, that these discoveries went un-publicized and largely unknown in the West until recently. Good reading, and some novel ideas about diet from those oldies in the 1st half of the 20th century.

The reason he began to search for a correct diet (for his body) is outlined in the book. Audette was suffering from diseases like arthritis, which he took to be a sign that his body was falling apart, deteriorating. He advocates the diet that cured him: natural. No processed food, nothing out of boxes, very little food from agriculture (we can forgive fruit and vegies, but grain is off-limits.)

Ok, from here on, what he says is great stuff. I won't go into all of it here, but the theory is tops. Eg. it is simply not credible that our ancestors would have deliberately practised sustained caloric restriction, exercise is good. Sugars, dairy and grain are un-natural, as are legumes. If you read this stuff, and then act on it, you'll be a much healthier person. And if you think about the principles behind your actions, you can see easily how to apply them in parts of your daily living which Audette does not touch on. Worked for me, and I guess that if you DON'T CHEAT it will work for you.

One thing that I did find was that when I ate dried fruit I got cravings. Audette advocates moderate, restrained intake of a "trail mix". Having a penchant for figs and dates, I certainly (I was surprised with the rapidity with which it happened) put on a cm round the waist. Or just lost some definition. But the cravings really were there; your body just wants more and more. Audette says the same thing about all nasty, processed, sugary foods. Just one bite, and you'll have cravings for weeks. Well, I finally weaned myself off them (helped that I couldn't afford any more!) and I vowed not to do it again. I have to remind myself that those figs from Turkey and dates from Iran probably have all sorts of additives in them including added sugar and cheap inustrial preservatives.

His exercise regime looks good as well. Lots of sensible stuff, alternating aerobic with weights. I, without sounding snobbish, am above the basic level of fitness he sets here, but it is good for those that have not done anything apart from open the fridge in the past 5 years...(it's a similar exercise to a dumbbell row, but the weight tends not to increase unless you put more condiments in the door, you generally only do one rep an hour and there is not enough body twist for my liking).

To end, it is a great no frills book without the jargon-babble so common these days. And he has great recipes for jerky and pemmican. What else could you want! Give it a try. (Neanderthin is presently available only secondhand.) For an interview with Ray Audette see this classic. Another review of Ray's book is over at the Beyond Vegetarian site.

Adios, comrades!

* * * *

In May 2009 Todd Moody wrote to the Paleofood discussion list: "As you wrote, the initial membership here were inspired by Ray Audette's Neanderthin, 2nd edition. I became skeptical, and critical, of some of Ray's arguments in that book, such as the claim that Homo sapiens are the "gracile", neotenized descendants of Neanderthals....The appearance of Cordain's book was a turning point. For one thing, his book was more successful than Audette's book ever was. Consequently, many people associate the term "paleo diet" with Cordain, and tend to think of it in that way. Audette's version is largely forgotten.

"Ray Audette was much inspired by V. Stefansson, and favored a very low-carb, high-fat approach, with an emphasis on animal fats and pemmican. The third edition of his book backed away from that just a bit, as I recall."

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