Ray Audette – One of the Very First Public Paleo Advocates
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Jonathan: Hey, everyone, Jonathan Bailor back with another bonus Smarter Science of Slim podcast. Today’s show is going to be a good one because we have a man with us who was Paleo before Paleo was Paleo. A man who was eating things found in nature and not eating things not found in nature before that was cool. We have the author of Neanderthin – now newly released on Kindle – as well as the proprietor of Neanderthin.com. Folks, we have none other than Ray Audette. I was so excited, I didn’t even ask him how to say his last name. Ray Audette, welcome to the show!
Ray: It’s a pleasure to be here, Jonathan.
Jonathan: Ray, you are such a nice guy that when we got on the phone, we just started yapping and I forgot to even ask you to close down other programs on your computer – well, you’re on a landline, so it doesn’t matter – and I didn’t go through my checks and balances. So, folks, you can see how nice of a guy Ray is. He was so nice, I was overwhelmed by his kindness. But we’re here, we’re good. Ray, let’s start talking about something meaningful. You were Paleo before Paleo was Paleo. How did you get started with this?
Ray: Well, back in 1985, I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and I had already had rheumatoid arthritis for about a dozen years. I knew that the diabetes had come through my grandfather’s part of the family, which was largely Native American. So I decided that Native Americans ate a much more natural diet than what I was then eating, so I decided I would try to eat more naturally. Having been a philosophy student, I first defined the term “nature.” To me, nature was what was edible without technology. So without technology, I would be naked with a sharp stick, and that was my criteria for putting things on my plate. If it was available and edible to me in nature, I would eat it; if not, I would not.
Jonathan: Okay, that seems to make sense.
Ray: Within a few days, my blood sugar went normal and my arthritis disappeared; and that was 28 years ago now.
Jonathan: You’ve been doing it ever since, I would imagine.
Ray: Yes, I have, very religiously. If I cheat at all, I get pings and pains in my knees and I start feeling very, very ill. Well, for ten years after that, people would tease me about eating this way. Because when I started eating Paleo, as they call it now, no one else was doing it. People would tell me that I was going to die of a heart attack. I would go off to the local medical library – and all medical libraries in the U.S. are public libraries – and I would work with the librarians there and Xerox off articles to refute what they had been telling me and throw it in their faces. Eventually, I had a box of these things that I had collected over the years. After ten years, my then-wife told me she was going to have a baby. And so I told her, In that case, I’m going to quit my job and write my book. Jonathan, I want to tell you, you’re an author as well, but never say that to a pregnant woman.
Jonathan: Then you needed your spear to defend yourself, maybe.
Ray: Exactly. So I wrote the book. A friend of mine, Troy Gilchrist, whose band had just quit him a couple of years before – they’re now called the Dixie Chicks – he and I sat down. He had just graduated in philosophy, so he had nothing better to do. We sat down and in 100 hours, we wrote Neanderthin, took it to a printer, had some copies made up, and then over the next five years, we put out three self-published editions and sold a total of close to 10,000 self-published copies of Neanderthin. Then St. Martin’s Press of New York came about and gave me a bushel basket full of money, and the rest is history.
Jonathan: Ray, what has been your observation? Like we said, folks, Ray is a footnote on Wikipedia. If you look up the Paleolithic diet, he was doing this back when… Let’s be clear, folks. Obviously, Loren Cordain has massive contributions here, but there was also Konner and Boyd Eaton out of Emory University that were doing this research, and that was right around the same time Ray was doing this. Ray, my question to you is, think of Neanderthin as it was originally envisioned and what you see now as mainstream or popular Paleo; are there significant differences between the two?
Ray: I think so. I tend to take the very simplest of approaches to Paleo. The only rule in my entire book – in fact, the only thing on the first page – is the first rule in the Bible.
Jonathan: What is that?
Ray: Seriously. To me, all Paleo comes down to is, Do not eat fruit of the tree of knowledge; tree of knowledge, of course, being old English for our word technology, which in Greek is weave of knowledge. That’s the only thing on the first page, and that’s really the only rule I go by. Without technological intervention, grains, beans, potatoes, milk, and sugar are simply not edible to primates. It’s a very simple rule. If you follow that rule, it really doesn’t matter how much or how little you eat or how much or how little you exercise, it’s not going to be possible for you to be overweight anymore. You can spot a sinner from across the room.
Jonathan: Ray, just a quick point of clarification so I understand. In that list you’ve got grains, beans; those types of things are not edible raw. Did you include potatoes in that list?
Ray: Yes, I did. Potatoes, you can eat them raw, but you can only get about one percent of the nutrients out of them in their raw state. You really have to break down the starch in order to make them edible. Of course, anytime you heat a starch past 140 degrees, you’re going to be forming acrylamides, which are very, very dangerous.
Jonathan: So when you say technology, do you even mean heat as technology?
Ray: Yes, fire. If God had pre-supposed fire, we’d have a big lighter where your thumb is right now.
Jonathan: Wow! Actually, that seems even simpler, is one word for it. Another word for it is maybe more rigorous than some of the modern Paleo approaches.
Ray: Well, people assume that they are going to have a hard time becoming Paleo if they don’t let all these other things into the equation, and I find that it’s actually easier if you just take the simple approach and do it wholeheartedly the way I’ve done it for the last 28 years.
Jonathan: When you say wholeheartedly, that literally would be meat, fish, vegetables, fruits?
Ray: Meat, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and berries, yes. Exactly what’s edible when you’re naked with a sharp stick.
Jonathan: Ray is like, “Jonathan, why are you trying to complicate this? If you could eat it when you were naked with a sharp stick, that’s what I’m talking about. Keep it simple. I’m supposed to be the simple guy.” That makes sense, Ray. That makes sense. Do you personally heat food, or is it just conceptually it shouldn’t need to be heated?
Ray: It has to be edible raw. I do cook my food. I’ve had a pound of bacon every morning for the last 28 years, and I do singe the salmonella off of it before I wolf it down.
Jonathan: So you do apply heat to food; it’s just the criteria is not to. Ray, do you perceive this as being an effective way to eat or do you perceive it as the effective way to eat?
Ray: I would say the effective way to eat. I’m a licensed falconer, Jonathan. In falconry, according to U.S. Government regulations, if you feed your bird something that in nature it could not eat, the government will come and seize your bird. I don’t think I should have lower standards for myself. Now, there’s a book in my bibliographies by Mark Cohen about what happened to human bodies when we began eating these things. We lost 40 percent of lifespan in one generation; we lost six inches of average height in one generation; we lost all our teeth by age 30 in one generation. This was the Neolithic revolution, what the theologians call the fall from grace.
We didn’t start living longer again until the invention of the railroad. The railroad and then refrigeration have added more years to our life than anything else in human history. Let me explain the reason for that. The University of Georgia Medical School has done two nutrition studies on people who lived to be 100.
They did it twice, because the first time they simply didn’t believe it. The only thing the 100-year-olds do differently is they eat more animal fat than anyone else. Indeed, if you calculate the price of animal fat versus lifespan, since the railroad began bringing down the price of animal fat in the 1850s, the two numbers are in mathematical lockstep: As the price of animal fat went down – first with the railroad, and then with refrigeration – lifespan went up. It’s still the number-one statistical variable in how long you live.
Jonathan: Ray, this is fascinating. This is data that I’m actually not familiar with, so I’m curious because I’ve heard – and everyone I’ve heard this from definitely has a very clear position on nutrition that I may not agree with – that these so-called blue zones, a.k.a. areas of the world where people live the longest, are areas where people eat very low-fat diets. Are you familiar with this observation?
Ray: Well, no. The Georgia Centenarian Study is the major work… The first one was just for the U.S. centenarians, the second was worldwide. When you look at the problems that people who eat very low amounts of animal fat have, it’s quite astounding. For instance, the highest rate of heart disease is found among vegetarians. In fact, there was another study done here at U.T. Southwestern, by a Hindu doctor as a matter of fact, that showed that at age 40, vegetarians have 14 times the average heart-disease rate. Based on those numbers, he calculated that 65 percent of all the world’s heart attacks occur among Hindus.
If you do a simple Google search on heart disease in India, you’ll find the highest rates of heart disease in the world; then if you compare Indian Hindus with Indian Muslims, you’ll see the difference I’m talking about. Now, it’s simply not possible for a primate to be a vegetarian without fruit of the tree of knowledge. In 300 generations, the human immune system has not adapted to these things that no other primate eats, so that is why autoimmune disorders occur only among people who eat these things. One of the earmarks of what we call autoimmune disorders is that they’re not found in nature or in hunter-gatherer populations.
Jonathan: It’s a very, very profound point, Ray, that you’ve made; and I would actually ask you to even repeat it to highlight it for the audience, because I’m going to butcher it right now. This idea that a non-omnivorous diet – we are omnivores. The idea is that a nutritionally-complete diet that is not omnivorous is only possible if we involve technology and some level of food-processing; is that correct?
Ray: Correct. Being a vegetarian is the most high-tech diet you can be on. Without technology, it’s simply not possible for an ape or any kind of primate, for that matter. Think about this, Jonathan. Every film of a monkey or an ape you’ve ever seen, they were eating meat in the form of insects. It’s called grooming.
They actually spend more time doing that than they do gathering fruit. In fact, there’s a recent study – it’s also in my bibliography on the website – from The International Journal of Primatology about how orangutans lose weight in the jungle. This guy followed around a bunch of orangutans in the jungle with Ketostix and an upside-down umbrella to catch their urine.
He found out that for half a year, even in the rain forest, fruit is seasonal. For half the year, there is no fruit. So for half the year, all the orangutans eat are high-fat nuts, fatty insect grubs, and low-carbohydrate vegetable materials. Based on their Ketostix, for half the year, they’re doing Atkins. The ones that are in the deepest ketosis are nursing and pregnant females. Apparently, there’s no gestational diabetes among orangutans.
Jonathan: Oh, man. It’s much more anecdotal, but I remember reading a story in the news where these gorillas at some zoo were getting obese and they were getting diabetic. Well, why was this happening? They were feeding them these technologically-engineered biscuits which were predominantly starch and —
Ray: Oh, that’s Purina Monkey Chow.
Jonathan: Exactly. And then they just switched them to a diet that more matches what they would have eaten in nature, and miraculously the diseases went away. I’m like, What do you mean miraculously? Of course if you feed something that which it’s supposed to eat, it’s going to do better.
Ray: Exactly. It’s such a simple idea. I mean, I felt like crying out in the wilderness here for the last 18 years talking about Neanderthin and the Paleolithic diet, but when you get right down to the basic brass tacks, almost anyone will agree that it’s best to eat things that are edible in nature and not to eat things that are not edible in nature. You can get almost anyone to agree that when they start looking at what that actually means, it’s hard for our minds to wrap around some of this stuff. I mean, complex carbohydrates are a big part of our society. They’re the body and blood of some people’s gods, and it’s hard for people to get used to the idea that they may not be that good for you.
Jonathan: Or even get used to the idea, to the interviewee’s credit who I mentioned earlier, there is no such thing as complex carbohydrate; there is only sugar. And there are just certain foods which have long chains of sugar strung together, and there are certain foods that have individual pieces – for lack of better terms – of sugar. Also, most people would agree that eating a lot of sugar is not good for you, and then when you understand, it’s like, Why are we even debating? This seems like it makes so much sense.
Ray: Even the precursor to this. A lot of things turn into sugar when they’re digested. But anytime you heat a starch past 140 degrees, it’s going to form a substance called acrylamides. Acrylamides are the crunchy component of complex carbohydrates. Back in 1843, Stanislav Kochu [phonetic] at the University of Paris determined that the best way to estimate epidemiological cancer rates was per capita grain consumption.
Since 1843, we have known that grain causes cancer, but it wasn’t until 2001 that we found out why, when the scientists in Sweden took blood samples from several thousand people looking for carcinogens and they found out that about 90% of cancer are these acrylamides that I mentioned. So that’s the most common carcinogen found in human bodies, any form of starch. And potatoes are particularly high.
Based on acrylamide levels, a slice of white bread has an Ames number of 300, an order of French fries, being a little bit crunchier, has an Ames number of 1100. A cigarette – a single cigarette, in comparison – has an Ames number of 1.24.
Jonathan: Oh, my goodness.
Ray: Right. That’s why when people began eating grains, they lost 40 percent of lifespan in one generation. And that doesn’t even get into the other autoimmune disorders. I run into people with migraine headaches and I pull up the data and I show them that 78 percent of migraine sufferers are allergic to wheat. They did these tests in the ‘70s, but can you get them to give up bread? That’s a whole other question.
Jonathan: Ray, two questions, one that’s more specific and one that’s more general. The specific one first: What is your position on this debate around safe starches in the modern Paleo community? Because you mentioned potatoes and this high-carcinogenic factor. That is generally lumped into the category of safe starches; what say you?
Ray: No, they are not safe starches. Not only that, but potatoes are the most chemically-contaminated food you can buy in America. Not only are they very high in acrylamides once you’ve made them edible, but also they have pesticides and fungicides and herbicides on them. You can go to the fancy grocery store and buy organic potatoes, but unfortunately the fungus is eight to ten times more carcinogenic than the fungicide. So you’re actually increasing your risk of cancer by eating organic potatoes.
Jonathan: Ray, I could imagine some listeners at this point just putting their head in their hands, because it seems that what we’re saying here has lots of science backing it. Then on the other hand, we read these books which say that if you eat protein – and in fact, we did a study with mice where when you eat protein, you cause cancer; and when you don’t eat protein, you don’t cause cancer. What about that?
Ray: The best work on the subject is Vilhjalmur Stefansson’s Cancer: Disease of Civilization? where he talks about the search for cancer among hunter-gatherers. They did this for over 100 years, this search. In looking at over 50,000 individuals, they never found a case in a hunter-gatherer eating their traditional diet, only among those eating missionary food.
Right now, a bushel of wheat on the open market is $8.50. That’s 80 pounds of wheat for $8.50 – about 100 loaves of bread. That kind of profitability buys a lot of marketing, and it’s really hard to overcome that sort of thing. A lot of what gets mistaken for nutritional information comes right off of TV commercials, and it has no basis in science.
I know that you’re a very heavy researcher. I admire guys like you who can actually, using other resources, find the real source material. You, and Gary Taubes is another great example of a guy who does his homework. People put together all kinds of books and all kinds of articles without really doing any deep research. I think Latin scares them. Your upcoming book, I know you’ve researched thousands of papers. Gary Taubes in Good Calories, Bad Calories talks about before the internet, he could not have written that book.
Ray: I’m sure you’re familiar with him. He’s the guy that exposed the low-fat hoax and also exposed the low-calorie hoax. He’s a very, very fine researcher. He’s another Ivy League kind of a guy.
Jonathan: When we say fine researcher, I also actually want to put you in that category. Because one thing that I have been noticing as well, I was speaking to Professor Timothy Noakes, who’s like the Michael Jordan of exercise physiology – and this is kind of a weird comparison – but if it’s possible to be honored in a certain way in a professional field, Dr. Timothy Noakes out of South Africa has had that done.
He has recently started to get on the nutritional bandwagon because he was struggling with his weight, and then went on a more nutrient-dense, lower-carbohydrate, higher-fat diet, and is now preaching it all around South Africa. In fact, in South Africa, it’s called the Noakes Diet.
He talks about how he attributes his scientific success to – ignorance is the wrong word. Yes, ignorance is totally the wrong word, but coming in with an open mind and just being more of a sponge, being more of an, I just want to help, versus, I just want to prove a point. How much of what you see today is either morality or ideology, searching for a home versus just the science is pretty clear; what’s going on?
Ray: Exactly. There are all kinds of sociological reasons why people don’t want to believe what is. One thing I try to do, I was very influenced by Albert Einstein’s first major paper where he had no footnotes and no bibliography to it at all. He just did a logical experiment. Really, if you take it as a logical experiment, nature is best, everyone nods their head. Nature is the absence of technology, everyone nods their head. Then you say, without technology, grains, beans, potatoes, milk, and sugar are not edible; now it’s controversial?
And that’s what I aimed for in Neanderthin, was not to try to clog up with conflicting scientific papers and confusing people who don’t understand biochemistry, but to put it in ways that people could understand where this is coming from.
Jonathan: Ray, what I admire about what you just did is there are ways to put things in common-sense, simple terms that is sound logic, and then there are ways to do that that use a bit of logic tomfoolery, where it seems like the argument makes sense, but if you unpack it – like, if you apply the same level of logic in other areas – you’re like, Wait a minute, that logic doesn’t hold. For example, people always say to me a lot, well, people in China eat a lot of rice and they’re slimmer than us, so doesn’t that prove that rice makes you slim? We’re just like, Okay, that was simple, but there are so many not only logical but just – this is just wrong on so many levels.
Ray: Exactly. Well, there are other reasons why people stay slim besides that. They could be starving to death, malnourished, or it could be they walk around barefoot in rice paddies and have hookworm. Who knows?
Jonathan: Exactly. That’s just the general… It’s sad, too, because – and we were talking about this before we started the call – if our goal is truly just to help people, at the end of the day, eat foods that make you and help you to achieve your goals, and that is all we talk about. Because if we want to have an environmental discussion, that’s a separate discussion. If we want to have a morality discussion, that’s a separate discussion. Let’s just keep nutrition as nutrition, and if we want to talk about other stuff, let’s talk about that separately. What do you think?
Ray: Oh, definitely. There’s a sociology and a morality involved with it. I just thank God every day that after thousands of years of persecution, the pigs still outnumber those that would call them unclean. Really what it comes down to is that without – well, our animals, the ones that we eat, are the only place to see megafauna that survived in Pleistocene numbers, the extinction event of 12,500 years ago. If we didn’t eat them, they wouldn’t be here. We have a duty to them. That’s why I eat that pound of bacon every morning.
Jonathan: Keep in business. Well, Ray, this is an absolute pleasure. Folks, I hope you can hear in Ray’s presentation the way he brings things. He’s a man of science, he’s a man of reason, he’s a man of humor, and he’s a man of common sense. And for all those reasons and more, I would highly recommend checking out the brand new release on Kindle. Ray, if I’m correct, it’s like $7, so it’s not going to break the bank, right?
Ray: No, it’s $6.99 actually, so it’s quite a bargain. Of course, there are still print versions available on Amazon, but most of them go for more than retail now that it’s out of print. There are people who collect them, apparently.
Jonathan: I love it. Folks, go check out his book, Neanderthin, available for only $6.99 in the newly-released Kindle version. Lots of good stuff in there. Also check out his website, Neanderthin.com.
Ray, I want to leave you with a last word. If you had to leave our listeners with one bit of wisdom to help them live better this week and every week after, what would it be?
Ray: Keep hunting and gathering knowledge.
Jonathan: Folks, I hope you enjoyed today’s show as much as I did. Please remember, this week and every week after, eat smarter, exercise smarter, and live better. Talk with you soon.