Bear Grylls says he feels “embarrassed” that he used to promote veganism.
Not only has he now ditched being vegan, he eats a diet that’s heavy on red meat and no vegetables at all – and the adventurer insists the health benefits he’s reaping from his meat, blood and bone marrow diet eclipse anything he gained from being plant-based.
“I was vegan quite a few years ago – in fact I wrote a vegan cookbook, and I feel a bit embarrassed because I really promoted that,” Grylls, 48, says today. “I thought that was good for the environment and I thought it was good for my health. And through time and experience and knowledge and study, I realised I was wrong on both counts.”
Of course, the impact diet has on somebody’s health and the environment may depend on what an individual is actually consuming – rather than just whether they eat meat or identify as vegan – and it’s well documented that the meat industry is associated with big environmental concerns. For example, a study published in Nature Food in 2021 found meat accounts for nearly 60% of all greenhouse gases from global food production, and causes twice the pollution of production of plant-based foods.
Grylls believes though that “one of the worst things for the environment” is food that contains palm oil and soy oil: “It’s terrible for the environment, strips rainforests, and kills a ton of animals in the process.”
He’s also not impressed with processed vegetarian and vegan food that contains seed oils. “I used to think they were brilliant,” he says. “And then I started looking at the ingredients and just thought hold on, this is horrific. This is so processed, and it’s full of seed oils.”
Eating more naturally
Speaking from the Swiss mountains, having just packed away his parachute from paragliding, Grylls explains that for the last two years he’s been trying to eat more naturally – avoiding processed foods, bread, pasta and even vegetables, and enjoying a diet favoured by our ancestors thousands of years ago, including lots of red meat, salted butter, eggs, fruit and honey.
“For a long time, I’d been eating so many vegetables thinking it was doing me good, but just never felt like it had given me any good nutrients compared to the nutrient density I get from basically blood or bone marrow – red meat,” he says. “I’ve tried to listen to my body more, tried to listen to nature, and I don’t miss vegetables at all. I don’t go near them and I’ve never felt stronger, my skin’s never been better, and my gut’s never been better.
“I’ve found a counterculture way of living, of embracing red meat and organs – natural food just like our millennia of ancestors would have eaten for hundreds of thousands of years. And out of all the different things I do for my health, I think that’s probably been the biggest game-changer, in the sense of improving my vitality, wellbeing, strength, skin and gut. It’s just been getting away from the processed stuff and making the predominant thing in my diet red meat and liver and the natural stuff – fruit, honey, that sort of thing. It’s just about finding a more ancestral way of living.”
“I can only speak about what’s really helped me”
The father-of-three is keen to stress that while he believes this diet shift has been beneficial for him, he’s not telling other people what to do.
“I’m aware everyone is on their own journey and you can’t tell people how to live their lives. I can only speak about what’s really helped me. It’s about trying to help people find a way of living that’s much more empowering than maybe society’s taught them. “
Grylls says the ancestral way of living also encompasses how we live, manage stress, sleep and train, plus our environment – and simple things like getting outside and enjoying fresh air and getting sun on your face.
“I’m sat here now with bare feet on the grass, and I do that wherever I am in the world – cold places, hot places, just for a little bit each day,” he says. “I jump in icy water, whether it’s in a river or at home – I have an old industrial freezer I fill with water, and I do that every day. And I do my weights, which I think as you get older is really important – resistance training rather than just cardio stuff.”
“I’m so much stronger”
A former member of the SAS Reserves, Grylls has always made fitness a priority, and his exercise enthusiasm has not diminished in middle age. He starts every day with a walk, and does weight training every other day, as well as regularly joining in with gruelling sessions at his outdoor fitness company Be Military Fit.
“I find now that I’m eating better, I’m so much stronger,” he says. “As you get older, you have to listen to your body, and I definitely have – I don’t endlessly push, push, push, push. And I do a lot more stretching nowadays, and you need to make sure you’re resting enough in between. But there’s no doubt I’m stronger physically than I ever was, ironically.”
He starts every workout with 25 pull-ups (while wearing a weighted vest), 50 press-ups, 75 squats and 100 sit-ups in one go. “I could never do that before.” he reveals. “The idea of doing 25 straight pull-ups with a weighted vest when I was in my twenties was like, forget it!
“It’s weird – I don’t know why I feel stronger, but I think part of it is that I’m getting the nutrition right, and all these other factors that I never used to do, the sun and the ice and the walking and listening a bit more to the body and getting the nutrition supplements right. I think the whole package has changed a lot,” he says. “I probably don’t have the endurance I had when I was in my twenties, when I was definitely at the height of my military stuff. But I feel strong, which is good.”
So does this adherence to all things ‘natural’ mean Grylls never gets cravings for junk food?
“Well, that’s the other weird thing, before I sorted all this part of my life out and I was having salads every day, I would really crave junk food and once or twice a week have cheat meals – a real blow-out of whatever you want, burgers, pizzas, etc.
“And I look back on that and think it’s such an unhealthy way to live – you’re basically starving for 80% of the time and then you’re bingeing for the rest. That’s not good for the body. And I find now I’m always full when I’m eating so much meat and eggs and butter and fruit and honey – I’m never hungry. I go out and I’ll order three burgers and get rid of all the buns and the fries and just have the burgers. I don’t crave junk food.
“Maybe occasionally I’ll have a bit of pizza, but most of the time, I just feel really full, and it’s such a nice feeling rather than always being hungry.”
Bear Grylls is a spokesperson for beef organ supplements Ancestral Supplements