Ray Audette amuses his Far North Dallas neighbors. They laugh when they see Audette, a diet book author, tramp across the manicured lawns lugging fresh roadkill, usually squirrels. They know their neighbor is toting the furry accident victims back to his yard to feed his young red-tailed hawk.

The hawk, as well as Audette's pedigreed Saluki, a dog bred to hunt with birds of prey, are part of this rail-thin, 43-year-old, self-styled dietitian's reincarnation as a modern-day hunter-gatherer.

It's a lifestyle through which Audette swears he has shed 25 pounds, transformed a flabby body into a tight mass of sinew, and, perhaps most impressively, cured his own serious medical maladies--rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes. Audette's guiding principle is simple: Do what the cavemen did. If Stone Age man couldn't have speared whatever culinary delight you're about to pop into your mouth or if the Neanderthal couldn't have plucked it off a bush, Audette argues you should avoid it, too.In grocery list terms, that means Yes to a T-bone steak, a Cornish hen, and bag of fresh spinach, but No to a frozen pre-cooked pot pie, a can of corn, and even a box of pasta--the staple of low-fat diets.

"A natural diet is what is edible when you are naked with a sharp stick," Audette says. "When you have no technology."

This spring, Audette paid to have published a slim volume that he and co-author Troy Gilchrist wrote titled Neander-Thin: A Cave Man's Guide to Nutrition. The book extols the really old-fashioned virtues of eating like folks did in the Stone Age, offering menus and recipes and theories about why they lived healthier lives back then.

So far, Audette, who has gotten kicked out of Borders Books & Music for promoting his book a little too enthusiastically, has sold only 600 copies of his dietary treatise. But the transplanted New Yorker and former computer salesman cannot be dismissed as a kook.

Audette's neighbors and the management at Borders might be surprised to hear that his ideas on the benefits of a hunter-gatherer diet are sup-ported to a large degree by dietary researchers' recent findings. A new medical consensus is building that threatens to turn upside down the long-held notion that fat-free diets are the solution to obesity, heart disease, and other maladies. Researchers say that many of us might benefit from more red meat and less of those previously-lauded grains. As The New York Times put it in a headline over a story quoting weight control experts: "So It May Be True After All: Eating Pasta Makes You Fat."

In other words, bye-bye bran flakes.
The father of much of this thinking is S. Boyd Eaton, a doctor who has published an article on the virtues of Paleolithic nutrition in the respected New England Journal of Medicine. In 1988, Eaton wrote a book about the healthy diet and lifestyles of cavemen. That year, Eaton and his co-authors of The Paleolithic Prescription: A Program of Diet & Exercise and A Design for Living, noted in their preface that their theories made them the butt of media humor. The Washington Post ran an editorial cartoon that depicted a suburban man heading out for work dressed in skins, carrying a club and sending neighborhood squirrels for cover; syndi-cated columnist Ellen Goodman wrote a witty piece on the study called "Make Mine Mammoth." While the public laughed, the medical profession didn't--Eaton's research spawned years of further study and discussion on the issue. (Since his book's publication, Eaton has continued his research in Paleolithic nutrition at Emory University and is a member of the 1996 U.S. Olympic Games Poly Clinic, which will treat international athletes when they gather in Atlanta.)

Eaton, who has been forced to develop a sense of humor about his work, nevertheless resents his ideas--shared by Audette--being characterized as just a blip on the screen of diet vogue. "If it's a fad, then it's a 2-million-year-old fad," Eaton says. "Paleolithic nutrition is based on a given set of circumstances that existed when our genetic constitution was formed millions of years ago. It does not change."

Now, seven years since Eaton published his book, his ideas have inspired a slew of theories. As noted in the recent Times story, several like-minded diet books have begun to hit the stores, all penned by doctors. Dr. Stephen Gullo, director of the Institute for Health and Weight Sciences in Manhattan, has offered Thin Tastes Better: Control Your Trigger Foods and Lose Weight Without Feeling Deprived. Dr. Richard Heller, professor of pathology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and his wife, Dr. Rachel Heller, wrote Healthy For Life. Dr. Barry Sears, a medical researcher who has helped Stanford University varsity swimmers win college championships by prescribing more meat and less pasta, will publish his regime this month in The Zone, a book whose title refers to the term used to describe peak athletic performance.