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Most people on low-fat diets are low on protein, he says. Protein is usually the first thing to go in a diet. Too, they usually consume low-fat foods such as pasta, rice, and baked potatoes. "They're eating low fat, but their insulin levels are shooting through the roof," he says. "That's why low-fat diets have been so unsuccessful in bringing weight down." Eades encourages eating more protein and says the high meat content of diets like Audette's is okay. "Don't worry about the fat as long as you restrict the carbohydrates."

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of these Paleolithic diets is one that completely counters conventional medical wisdom regarding cholesterol. Some researchers say cholesterol, too, can be helped by eating more, not less meat, even meats previously considered too fatty to be healthful.

Eades says sometimes a patient's cholesterol level goes up a few points on the diet, but the ratio of good cholesterol--the one that counts, says Eades--always goes up. "I've never had anyone with a ratio that got worse," he says. The reason, he says, is that only 20 percent of cholesterol comes from diet. The rest the body makes. "When you try to restrict it, if you cut it back, then the body ends up making more."

Based on his own clinical research, Eades believes "if you can reduce insulin, you can reduce cholesterol in a matter of weeks."

Putting patients on a diet high in red meat and eggs made Eades very nervous at first, and he initially put only low-risk young people on it. "When I first started to put patients on the diet I thought I was going to get burned at the stake," he says. The results of such a diet were so conclusive as to be hard to ignore. "I'll put anyone on it now," he says. "It has never failed."

Atlanta's Eaton cautions, however, that hunter-gatherers ate meat that was naturally very lean. Today's corn-fed beef is much fatter, he says. Eating fish and lean meats will put you closer to the true hunter-gatherer diet. "Many nutritionists don't know it, but studies show cholesterol levels go down if you keep the fat content stable and you increase protein and decrease carbohydrates." Eaton says studies of Africa's !Kung San bushmen--modern-day hunter-gatherers--show they eat much more meat and cholesterol than doctors today recommend. Even so, they have almost no heart disease and very low blood cholesterol, about 125.

Mainstream nutritionists like Dr. Abhimanyu Garg, associate professor of internal medicine and a researcher with the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, find Audette's nutritional theories eccentric if not downright dangerous. "If the major thrust of the diet is that of carnivores, then there is a big problem," Garg says. "Not only are you going to get a lot of saturated fats that would raise cholesterol, but the excess protein would be wasted. There is a concern, certainly, that eating like this would make you gain weight."

Garg says the current nutritional recommendations, based on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration food pyramid, provide a balanced diet. "The current recommendations are good," he says. "They've been tested."

Diet is not the only area in which scientists are learning from prehistoric man. A recent story in The Wall Street Journal discussed several new books on the subject, including the best-seller The Moral Animal by psychologist Richard Wright. It discusses Darwinian psychology--studying our ancient ancestors to explain why we act the way we do today. And, as part of a similar emerging trend in Darwinian medicine--a concept that encourages health professionals to look at humans and their illnesses as products of a long evolutionary history--Randy Ness and George C. Williams published Why We Get Sick: The New Science of Darwinian Medicine earlier this year.

Audette, too, has embraced not just a caveman diet, but an entire lifestyle that, he says, reflects a respect for pre-technological man.

He has become a falconer--licensed by Texas Parks and Wildlife and by the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife. Occasionally Audette uses his hawk, Arrow, and his dog, Sheika, to hunt in the fields near his home or makes a trip to East Texas during hunting season. Sheika flushes cottontails and jackrabbits from the brush, then Arrow swoops down and seizes the prey with his powerful talons. Sometimes Sheika, a long, slender creature with silky white fur, will flush a pheasant or quail. If Arrow has fed enough that day, Audette takes the game home to roast on a backyard grill for himself. But Audette doesn't expect to subsistence hunt until he fine-tunes his skills with a falcon instead of the slower hawk.

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Rebecca Sherman