Mon, Mar-20-23, 09:53
Bear Grylls: ‘I’m an offal man. Veganism was not working for me’
Bear Grylls: ‘I’m an offal man. Veganism was not working for me’
The adventurer wants us all eating meat. He tells Julia Llewllyn Smith about transforming his health by becoming an out-and-proud carnivore
With the relish he normally reserves for scaling mountains or trekking deserts, Bear Grylls is describing to me his bowel movements. “It’s dreamy,” he says. “I have absolutely great number twos. Once a day, and there’s never a smell. You hardly have to wipe. When I was a vegetarian that was an adventure in itself. My guts were telling me something. It was a joke how often Papa would break wind. Now? Hardly ever.”
Eurgh, Bear! TMI! I’m relieved that a bad internet connection in the Swiss eyrie where he’s staying means the Zoom camera’s off as Grylls, 48, shares all this with me. Although he then briefly turns it on so I can get a glimpse of his patrician features set off by a new Terry Thomas moustache (“I’m probably thick into the middle of a midlife crisis but I’ve been in it for about 20 years,” is his explanation) and an outfit of what looks like DayGlo Lycra.
But then Grylls has never shied from anything related to bodily functions, including drinking his urine from a snakeskin and gulping down “juice” squeezed from elephant’s dung.
Today he’s attempting to persuade me that all the years spent drinking blood from a buffalo artery and eating the warm heart of a moose he’d just killed weren’t just telly stunts but health boosters. For, after years of veganism to do their bit for the environment, Grylls and his family are now out-and-proud carnivores, following what they call an “ancestral diet” of red meat, offal, eggs, fruit and honey but no nuts, grains, wheat or raw vegetables.
“Nature knows!” he exclaims. “For millions of years we’ve thrived, and been strongest and healthiest, by eating meat, blood and organs.”
Grylls realised veganism wasn’t working for his family after observing its effects on his eldest son, Jesse, then about 16, now 21 (his other sons, Marmaduke and Huckleberry, are 17 and 14). “Jesse had a really bad tummy, really bad skin, he looked really drained. Eventually I said: ‘We cannot just go on like this. We need to find the best nutritionist in the world.’ ”
Fortunately, one of the many perks of being a global television star — who, for his Running Wild show, has foraged and slept under the stars with such luminaries as Courteney Cox, Cara Delevingne, Zac Efron, Roger Federer, Ashton Kutcher, Natalie Portman and Barack Obama — is a fat address book.
“These Hollywood stars are often quite dialled into this [nutritional] stuff.” Via them, he contacted several nutritionists. “They all said the same: ‘You’ve got to get red meat and liver into your son’s diet, and get him away from all these seed oils. They’re so unnatural but they’re in everything.’ I thought, ‘Hold on, they’re not in oat milk,’ and looked at the carton — full of the stuff.”
At that point, the environmental scales fell from Grylls’s eyes. “Nothing is worse for the environment than plant-based stuff full of seed oils. It’s stripping rainforests to create palm oil [present in many vegan foods], it kills millions and millions of small animals. Crappy-quality meat is bad for the environment because of the tilling of the land to grow grain. But if you want to do something carbon-positive, eat grass-fed, locally sourced cattle fed on non-arable land that fertilises the land, makes deep roots and protects it from flooding.”
From then on, hummus and kale smoothies were out for the Grylls clan; grass-fed steaks and burgers came in. “I was filming for about three weeks. I came back and Jesse was transformed: bubbly, energetic, his mood was great — it had been so low before.”
Meanwhile, Grylls was suffering kidney pains. “They’d been getting worse for months. I couldn’t think why. I thought: ‘Gosh, have I pulled a muscle?’ ” Then he remembered that the actor Liam Hemsworth had abandoned his plant-based diet after developing kidney stones so severe he was forced to miss the premiere of his 2019 film Isn’t It Romantic. Grylls went back to the nutritionist, who told him that “raw juice is so bad for you, it’s full of oxalates” — acid linked to kidney stones. “I stopped the raw veg and in two days my kidneys that had been hurting for years were fine.”
Grylls was slow to share his U-turn with the world, not least because he had published books extolling veganism. What’s more, with his background in the territorial SAS and a degree in Hispanic studies from Birkbeck, University of London, his scientific qualifications are hardly on a par with, shall we say, the epidemiologist Professor Tim Spector, whose Zoe app has just awarded me a nutritionally dazzling 75 per cent for my lunch of avocado on sourdough sprinkled with dukkah seeds — all no-nos in the Grylls canon.
“I was really embarrassed,” he says of his conversion. “I knew I felt transformed — I used to always have colds, now I haven’t had a cold for years. But I didn’t want to tell anyone why I felt better; I hadn’t got enough information.” So began a deep dive into, for example, how wild animals eat their prey’s organs first. “I’ve lived with enough tribes over the years to have seen how they were always dreaming about meat and liver,” he says. “The pennies dropped.”
So now — surprise! — Grylls is flogging a range of Ancestral Supplements that include liver, heart, kidney, thyroid, placenta, lung and testicle from grass-fed cattle. Why swallow pills? Is Grylls not man enough to eat a plate of fried balls? “I don’t want to eat testicles. I would eat them when I’m doing survival things at work, but not at home — nor lungs, nor brain.”
Is Grylls worried about angering vegans? “No, because veganism destroys people’s health. My job is not to tell vegans how to live, but we get hundreds and hundreds [of people] writing to us with the same story about what veganism has done to them. We are not designed to thrive like this.”
Grylls emphasises that he’s not a conspiracy theorist. “I’m definitely not an all-pharmaceuticals-are-bad person.” Yet he believes much of the healthy-eating creed is driven by corporate interests.
Big pharma would retort that Grylls, whose net worth is estimated at £20 million, has an interest in selling supplements. “They’re absolutely right,” he says. “My stuff makes people happy, healthier.” But a diet of grass-fed beef is prohibitively expensive, as are Grylls’s supplements: 180 pills of grass-fed placenta cost upwards of £85. “Good health is expensive, sadly, whether it’s a gym membership or moving out of a polluted area. That’s just the way life is.”
Many deride this relentless brand-building, but in the flesh — or rather, on Zoom — it’s hard to dislike Grylls, who is public spirited (he’s the chief scout and has poured his heart into the scouting movement), generous (he goes through his phone to share the numbers of nutritionists he thinks might help with a family issue), brimming with Old Etonian charm and honest (although perhaps overly so on matters scatological).
Talk turns to his latest venture, an interview with Volodymyr Zelensky in Ukraine, to be broadcast on Channel 4 this month. “My job was just to listen. Hopefully the world will see a side I’ve never seen, of the guy away from the podium.”
Did he give Zelensky any supplements? “No, and it wasn’t like with Obama, where I could find an old carcass of a salmon by just walking around the city. So we shared a bar of Dairy Milk — it wasn’t very ancestrally specific but sometimes it’s just about the good things. Anyway, it wasn’t vegan.”