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Research and general acceptance



The neanderthin diet is a high-protein low-carbohydrate diet that is based on the foods eaten by early humans of the paleolithic era, from about one million years ago to 10,000-14,000 years ago when agriculture developed. Since this was the period of rapid evolution of the human species, modern humans are presumed to be genetically adapted to a paleolithic diet.

Neanderthin is the same as or very similar to a:

  • paleolithic diet
  • ‘paleo’ diet
  • paleothin diet
  • caveman diet
  • Pangaian diet
  • stone-age diet
  • pre-agricultural diet
  • hunter-gatherer diet.


Paleolithic foods

For 96.6% of our evolutionary history, all human beings were hunter/gatherers. Isolated pockets of hunter/gatherers have survived into the twenty-first century. Early humans hunted animals, fished, and gathered plants for food. There were no crops, such as rice or wheat, and no milk products except for breast milk, although babies were probably breastfed until they were several years old. Although the paleolithic diet varied greatly depending on the geographical location and season, it is likely that early humans used a far greater variety of plants and animals than do modern humans and, perhaps for this reason, may have consumed more vitamins, minerals, and healthy factors such as antioxidants.

Based on the foods that would have been available during the paleolithic and on the foods consumed by modern hunter/gatherers, many experts believe that early humans had a diet that was very high in protein derived from meat—perhaps up to twice as much as modern westerners. Since the meat was from wild animals it was low in fat. Early humans living near oceans, lakes, and rivers would have eaten fish and seafood such as oysters, mussels, and prawns that are also low in fat, particularly saturated fats . However since early humans ate far more of the animal carcass than modern humans, including offal that is now considered inedible, as well as brains and other organs, the paleolithic diet may have been even higher in fat than modern diets. However the fats would have been monounsaturated and polyunsaturated rather than saturated.

The paleolithic diet probably also included large amounts of:

  • leafy vegetables
  • root vegetables
  • fruits and berries
  • grass seeds
  • nuts
  • honey.

Root vegetables are high in nutrients and fiber and may have provided a large portion of early humans’ energy requirements. Wild berries have more nutrients and antioxidants than modern commercial berries, as well as far less sugar. Salt intake was probably about one-fifth of what the average westerner consumes today.

About 72% of the food consumed by modern humans was unavailable to early humans. The paleolithic diet did not include:

  • dairy products
  • cereal grains such as wheat, barley, oats, or rice
  • legumes, including beans, soy, peas, or peanuts
  • corn
  • yeast
  • processed foods such as sugar, bread, or pastries
  • alcohol.


Antigen— A substance that is foreign to the body and invokes an immune response.

Antioxidant— A substance such as vitamin C or beta-carotene that inhibits oxidation—reactions promoted by oxygen and peroxides—and that may help protect the body against the damaging effects of free radicals.

Autoimmune disease— A disease caused by the body's own immune system.

Diabetes mellitus— A disorder of carbohydrate metabolism caused by a combination of hereditary and environmental factors and characterized by the inadequate secretion or utilization of insulin, leading to excessive sugar in the blood.

Glycemic index— GI; a measure of the rate at which an ingested carbohydrate raises the glucose level in the blood.

HDL cholesterol— High-density lipoprotein; ‘good’ cholesterol that helps protect against heart disease.

Homocysteine— An amino acid product of animal metabolism that at high blood levels is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

LDL cholesterol— Low-density lipoprotein; ‘bad’ cholesterol that can clog arteries.

Lectins— Plant proteins that bind to carbohydrate-containing receptors on cell surfaces.

Omega-3 fatty acids— A type of polyunsaturated fatty acids that appear to be beneficial for the heart.

Paleolithic— Human cultures of the Pleistocene epoch, from about one million to 10,000 years ago.

Pemmican— Dried meat pounded into a powder and mixed with hot fats and dried fruits or berries to make a loaf or small cakes.

Phytate— Phytic acid; an acid in cereal grains that interferes with the intestinal absorption of minerals such as calcium and magnesium.

Phytochemicals— Compounds in plants such as car-otenoids and phytosterols.

Rheumatoid arthritis A chronic autoimmune disease that is characterized by pain, stiffness, inflammation, and possible destruction of joints.

Saturated fats— Fats found in animal products and in coconut and palm oils that are a major dietary cause of high LDL.

Triglycerides— Neutral fat; lipids formed from one glycerol molecule and three fatty acids that are widespread in adipose tissue and circulate in the blood as lipoproteins.

Unsaturated fats— Fats that help to lower blood cholesterol; olive and canola oils are monounsaturated fats; fish, safflower, sunflower, corn, and soybean oils are polyunsaturated fats.


As a young man Ray Audette was stricken first with rheumatoid arthritis and then with diabetes—autoimmune diseases that are prevalent only in agricultural societies. A non-scientist, Audette spent 15 years researching and experimenting with diets that would improve his health. He self-published Nean-der-thin: A Caveman's Guide to Nutrition in 1996.

While Audette helped to popularize the paleo diet, his ideas were not new. Herodotus espoused the benefits of a paleo diet in the fifth century B.C. The concept was revived during the nineteenth century by William Banting and James Salisbury, who ground up cheap beef cuts with fat to make ‘Salisbury steak.’ In the early twentieth century the Arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson lived with the Inuit and adopted and publicized their all-meat diet. Buckminster Fuller adopted a low-carbohydrate diet on the theory that nature utilizes energy most efficiently and that vegetables and animal protein are the most concentrated sources of food energy.

In 1985 S. B. Eaton and Melvin Konner published an article in the New England Journal of Medicine reporting that, compared to our modern diet, the paleo diet had far more:

  • fiber
  • iron
  • calcium
  • folate
  • essential fatty acids; and far less:
  • sugar
  • salt
  • saturated fats.

They concluded: ‘The diet of our remote ancestors may be a reference standard for modern human nutrition and a model for defense against certain ‘diseases of civilization.” Although initially met with ridicule, this work opened up new avenues of nutrition research. Since 1987 Dr. Loren Cordain, professor of exercise physiology at Colorado State University, has used research and scholarship to promote a paleo diet.


General principles

Paleo diets are based on the theory that, since the human genome has changed very little in the past 40,000 years, modern human nutritional requirements should be identical to those of paleolithic humans. However neanderthin is not just a diet—it is a hunter/gatherer way of life. Audette wrote: ‘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. I’m no longer a spectator of nature, I’m a participant. Philosophically, you become one with the hunter-gatherer within you.

In general paleo diets consist of:

  • high protein—about 29% compared with 15% in the typical modern diet
  • medium fat—38% compared with 34% in the modern diet
  • low-to-medium carbohydrate—33% compared with 48% in the modern diet
  • no alcohol compared with an average of 3% in a modern diet
  • high levels of omega-3 fats
  • healthy monounsaturated fats from canola, walnut, and olive oils
  • carbohydrates with a low glycemic index (GI) from fruits and vegetables
  • high soluble fiber
  • small amounts of honey or maple syrup
  • high amounts of essential vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals.
  • Paleo diets include little or no:
  • saturated or trans fats
  • refined sugars
  • grains
  • high-GI carbohydrates
  • salt
  • processed foods.
  • Audette concluded that obesity and various diseases are immune responses to foods introduced via technology. Thus neanderthin is defined by its non-reliance on technology. Audette wrote: ‘A natural diet is what is edible when you are naked with a sharp stick.’ Food in the neanderthin diet must be edible without cooking, although it does not have to be eaten raw.

Allowable foods

Neanderthin is a diet of:

  • lean meat with low levels of saturated fats
  • fish and other seafood with high levels of omega-3 fats
  • eggs
  • vegetables, especially root vegetables but not potatoes
  • nuts
  • berries
  • fruit.

ANIMAL PRODUCTS Meats, seafood, and eggs are the most important components of paleo diets. Ideally these come from animals fed on natural organic food and from free-range chickens. Pasture-fed beef and lamb are lower in fat than grain-fed animals. Wild game is the lowest in fat and is the preferred meat. Because of the dangers of bacterial and parasitic contamination, Audette does not suggest eating meat, poultry, eggs, or seafood raw unless it has been irradiated. Meat should be lightly cooked or cooked by paleolithic methods—slow cooking over low heat—a with a crock pot rather than a microwave. Processed meats should be without preservatives or additives such as corn, corn products, soy, starch, or sugars.

Paleo diets include unlimited quantities of unprocessed meat such as:

  • grass-fed bison and beef
  • chicken
  • lamb
  • pork
  • turkey
  • antelope
  • caribou
  • elk
  • kangaroo
  • ostrich
  • quail
  • rabbit
  • venison
  • fish
  • shellfish.

VEGETABLES Most vegetables are allowed, raw or cooked, fresh or frozen, including:

  • cabbage
  • carrots
  • celery
  • cucumbers
  • eggplant
  • garlic
  • lettuce
  • mushrooms
  • onions
  • peppers
  • rhubarb
  • spinach
  • turnips
  • watercress.

Potatoes and legumes are prohibited because they require cooking or processing to be edible.

FRUIT, NUTS,ANDSEEDS All fruit and nuts should be consumed fresh and raw. The neanderthin diet calls for very little fruit to achieve maximum weight loss. Canned fruits, preserves, jams, and jellies are prohibited because of their high sugar content and the loss of nutrients during processing. The neanderthin diet allows only limited amounts of juice with pulp and without additives.

Most fruits are permitted including:

  • apples
  • apricots
  • avocadoes
  • ripened bananas
  • berries
  • cherries
  • citrus fruits
  • coconuts
  • dates
  • grapes
  • olives
  • peaches
  • pears
  • tomatoes
  • tropical fruits.
  • Most nuts and seeds are allowed including:
  • almonds
  • Brazil nuts
  • chestnuts
  • filberts
  • pecans
  • walnuts.

Raw cashews contain a toxin and are therefore prohibited.

In general paleo diets allow olive, nut, coconut, and flaxseed oils. Neanderthin beverages are limited to water, tea, and lemon and lime juice. Lard and mustard are permitted.

Forbidden foods

Forbidden foods include:

  • all grains including cereals, breads, corn, pasta, wheat, wheat germ, barley, oats, rye, rice, buckwheat
  • all legumes including beans and bean products, lentils, soybeans, peanuts, and coffee
  • all dairy products
  • sugars including sucrose, fructose, and molasses
  • starchy foods including potatoes, yams, parsnips, sweet potatoes, cassava, manioc
  • processed meats made with nitrites and additives, including hot dogs, bacon, sausage, and lunch meat
  • cashews and mixed nuts
  • margarine
  • corn, cottonseed, peanut, soybean, rice-bran, and wheat-germ oils
  • ice cream
  • candy
  • chocolate
  • carob
  • commercial mayonnaise and ketchup
  • whey powder
  • baking powder
  • salt and foods containing added salt
  • soy sauce, vinegar, and all pickled foods
  • seaweed byproducts such as agar and carrageenen
  • alcohol

A neanderthin menu

A typical neanderthin menu consists of:

  • for breakfast, a 12-oz (340-g) steak with two eggs, a small glass of orange juice, and hot tea with lemon
  • for lunch, a double-meat hamburger with lettuce, onion, and tomato, and a medium iced tea
  • an afternoon snack of one apple, one small bag of almonds, and one bottle of mineral water
  • for dinner, six medium poached shrimp, six raw oysters with lemon, and a 12-oz (340-g) grilled tuna steak
  • an evening snack of one cup of Brazil nuts and one-half cup of pemmican—dried meat mixed with fat.


Various paleo diets differ in their specifics. Cor-dain's diet recommends canola oil but not coconut or palm oils which are high in saturated fats. For weight loss, nuts and seeds should be limited to 4 oz (110 g) per day. Cordain allows diet soda, coffee, tea, beer, wine, and other alcohol in moderation. He advises easing into the diet in three phases and allows ‘open meals‘ with loosened rules, starting out with three open meals per week. Cordain and others believe that paleo diets are beneficial even if the rules are only partially followed. Some paleo diets merely restrict the amount dairy products and grains. At the very least cereal grains should be restricted to two-three servings daily.


Although neanderthin and other paleo diets are used for weight loss, they are primarily designed to promote good health by providing the foods for which the human body is best adapted. Cordain argues that proteins in agricultural foods such as cereal grains are foreign to the human immune system, since humans did not eat grains during their evolution as a species. Therefore these foods can disrupt the immune system and cause autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

In today's world most people do not have access to game meat and the world's food supply is completely dependent on cereal grains. Thus neanderthin and other paleo diets are only appropriate for those who can afford to eliminate grains from their diets and are willing to eat large quantities of meat.


Proponents of neanderthin and other paleo diets claim that they:

  • cause weight loss
  • reduce hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • lower ‘bad’ cholesterol
  • reduce food sensitivities by eliminating sugar, dairy, grains, and legumes
  • reduce the risks for high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer
  • alleviate symptoms of diabetes and arthritis.

Many people on low-calorie high-carbohydrate diets suffer from hunger pangs and regain any weight lost on the diet. In contrast people usually feel satiated on high-protein diets. Cordain claims that protein also speeds up the metabolism, thereby accelerating weight loss.

The allowable carbohydrates in the neanderthin diet have low GIs that help stabilize blood sugar and insulin levels. The over-consumption of carbohydrates has been linked to numerous health problems including:

  • insulin resistance
  • hormone imbalances
  • heart disease
  • obesity
  • diabetes
  • hypertension
  • gastrointestinal disorders
  • dental caries
  • cancer.

Neanderthin eliminates legumes which can be:

  • poisonous if eaten raw
  • high in lectins, which bind carbohydrates, can be inflammatory and toxic, and have been linked to autoimmune diseases
  • high in phytate (phytic acid) that can inhibit the absorption of minerals such as zinc, calcium, magnesium, and iron in the digestive tract
  • high in protease inhibitors, which can interfere with the breakdown of proteins into amino acids.


Precautions concerning neanderthin and other paleo diets include:

  • They are probably more expensive than eating grains such as bread and pasta.
  • Some obese people, particularly women, may fail to lose weight.
  • People with low blood pressure may not be able to limit their salt intake.
  • Chronic diabetics will probably not experience a reversal in symptoms.
  • These diets must be adjusted for use by children and pregnant women.


Risks associated with neanderthin and other paleo diets include:

  • possible adverse effects from the high amounts of meat and fat
  • possible adverse effects on the kidneys from the high protein
  • possible difficulty in consuming adequate amounts of carbohydrates.

Research and general acceptance


FOSSIL AND ETHNOGRAPHIC EVIDENCE Although there have been no large trials of neanderthin or other paleo diets, there is an increasing volume of scientific evidence to support the benefits of at least some components of these diets. Cordain's paleolithic diet was based on evidence from the fossil record and ethnographic studies of 181 hunter/gatherer groups around the world. This evidence suggests that the pre-agricultural diet was primarily animal-based, with 65% of energy from animal sources and 35% from plant sources—a diet high in protein and low-to-moderate in carbohydrates and fat. Studies indicate that early humans rarely if ever ate cereal grains or diets that were high in carbohydrates. Cereal grains are virtually indigestible by humans without milling (grinding) and cooking. The first grinding stones do not appear in the archeological record until about 10,000-15,000 years ago. Modern hunter/gatherers, such as African Bushmen, Amazonian Indians, and Australian Aborigines, have little heart disease, osteoporosis, obesity, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, or other diseases until they adopt a modern western diet.

Fossil studies have shown that the density and robustness of paleolithic bones were equal to or greater than those of most modern humans, despite a low-calcium high-protein diet without dairy products. This has been attributed to their physical activity, with a daily energy expenditure of twice that of modern humans, vitamin D from working outdoors in the sun, and improved calcium balance due to improved acid-base status from the 35% of energy coming from fruits and vegetables.

The fossil record indicates that, in comparison to their paleolithic ancestors, early farmers had:

  • smaller skeletons
  • increased infant mortality
  • shorter life-spans
  • more infectious diseases
  • more iron-deficient anemia
  • more bone disorders
  • more dental caries and tooth enamel defects.

NUTRITIONAL EVIDENCE There is little scientific evidence to support the prevailing view that healthy diets should be high in complex carbohydrates such as are found in breads, cereals, rice, and pasta. According to Cordain:

  • Although individual tolerances for cereal grains vary tremendously, health deteriorates when cereal constitutes 70% or more of the caloric intake.
  • Diets high in cereal and dairy lower the pH of the body, making it more acidic and leading to urinary calcium excretion and increased depletion of skeletal calcium.
  • The high phytate content of wholegrain cereals can interfere with iron and calcium metabolism.
  • The high phytate levels in unleavened wholegrain breads can cause zinc deficiency.
  • Components of cereals can interact with the gastrointestinal tract and perhaps with the immune system.
  • The high lectin content of whole grains can cause dietary and pathogenic antigens to enter the circulation.
  • Whole-cereal grains lack vitamin C and beta-carotene and their vitamin B6 is poorly absorbed.
  • Epidemiological studies have shown that diets high in unleavened wholegrain breads can result in vitamin D deficiency and rickets.
  • Whole grains have low levels of essential fats and high ratios of omega-6/omega-3 fatty acids.

Cordain believes that the modern western diet is not only too high in saturated fats, but that the polyunsaturated fats are out of balance. Cordain's research suggests that prior to the development of agriculture, the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids was about 1:1-3:1, whereas in the modern diet the average ratio is 12:1.

CLINICAL STUDIES A 2003 German study found that a diet high in lean meat and relatively low in carbohydrates increased HDL (‘good’) cholesterol and lowered LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol, triglycerides, and

homocysteine levels. They concluded that their results might warrant a reevaluation of high-carbohydrate, low-fat nutrition guidelines. Clinical studies also have shown that people eat fewer calories with high-protein meals than with high-carbohydrate or high-fat meals, probably because protein is more satiating.

OPPOSITION While most scientists and nutritionists agree that increased consumption of fruits and vegetables, reduced saturated fats, and increased activity levels are beneficial, many of them consider paleo diets to be eccentric, if not outright dangerous. Their concerns include:

  • the elimination of entire food groups
  • increased consumption of saturated fats that could raise cholesterol
  • excess wasted protein
  • possible weight gain.


  • Are neanderthin or other paleo diets appropriate for me?
  • Could this type of diet exacerbate my medical conditions?
  • Have you treated other patients on these types of diets?
  • Would I be expected to lose weight on neanderthin?
  • Is it appropriate for me to completely eliminate grains, legumes, and dairy from my diet?

The majority of nutritionists believe that reduced-or low-fat milk and milk products, cereal foods such as wheat, rice, and pasta, and beans are appropriate foods.

Many scientists question whether a paleo diet would have much affect on modern health, since modern health problems occur primarily in middle age and beyond. It is unlikely that many paleolithic peoples survived to an age at which problems such as heart disease, cancer, arthritis, or osteoporosis begin to develop.

General acceptance

The majority of nutritionists and the general public view neanderthin as a quirky fad diet, unsuitable for most people. However paleo diets are gaining popularity among athletes. Nevertheless, although few people have or could adopt neanderthin, there is increased skepticism concerning the overwhelming reliance on grains in typical diets.



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Margaret Alic, PhD