Former “vegan” Bear Grylls recently shared his tips to “stay strong.” This included his opinion that we should all be eating animal organs, such as their pancreas, heart, and testicles. His recommendations coincide with the recent launch of Ancestral Supplements in the UK, a brand that Grylls endorses.
In a press release, Grylls claims that Ancestral Supplements are “like nature’s best multivitamin.” And, that organ meats “help us put back in our bodies what modern living drains from us.” Grylls has previously claimed that a vegan diet nearly gave him kidney stones. However, plant-based diets are safe for the kidneys, and Grylls may have never, in fact, adhered to a vegan diet anyway.
Ancestral Supplements is a US-based company that states its mission is to restore health and wellbeing to everyone who needs it. It sells various supplements from beef organs, bones, collagen, and other body parts. These, it claims, can benefit everything from hormone balance to immunity and athletic performance. The supplements are not cheap – starter packs retail at $138, and individual supplements such as beef gallbladder sell at $64.80.
However, according to The Washington Post, one of the owners of Ancestral Supplements, Brian Johnson, known as the “Liver King,” recently made a video apology for misleading people into thinking his physique was due to his ancestral diet and supplements. In fact, he was taking anabolic steroids, which he had repeatedly denied taking in the past.
What is the ‘ancestral diet’?
The ancestral diet is based on the assumption that humankind’s ancestors did not experience some of the health problems we do today, such as allergies, tooth decay, and some chronic illnesses.
As such, advocates of the diet attempt to eat the way our ancestors may have. This means avoiding refined sugar and grain, GMO products, additives and preservatives, and seed vegetable oils, including margarine, among others.
Instead, people following ancestral diets opt for whole, ideally seasonal plant foods. In addition, “grass-fed” animal meat, “wild-caught seafood,” raw dairy, animal fat, and organ meats.
Is the ancestral diet good for you?
Diets such as the paleo, keto, carnivore, and ancestral diets promote eating meat and dairy for health and body composition.
However, evidence suggests that healthy plant-based diets lower the risk of obesity and overall mortality. Further, health experts recommend we shift towards more plant-based diets and away from animal agriculture.
Did our ancestors eat a lot of meat?
Attributing the benefits of ancestral diets to organ meats is misleading, too. Many of the advantageous aspects of primitive diets were actually due to plant foods.
For example, research indicates that the ancestral diet was high in fiber, perhaps 100 grams a day. Our ancestors had a high fruit and vegetable intake with minimal amounts of dairy and grains. Fruits and vegetables were the primary carbohydrate source, contributing approximately 50 percent of energy intake.
This is much more than what most Americans eat now. In fact, only 10 percent meet the recommendations for daily vegetable intake, while 12.3 percent meet fruit recommendations. Naturally, this meant that the vitamin, mineral, and phytochemical content of the ancestral diet was typically 1.5 to eight times that of today.
Further, the ancestral diet included much more non-digestible fiber from plant sources than what many people eating a standard diet consume today. Fiber is fermented in the colon to produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which help to keep the gut bacteria balanced. Evidence indicates that SCFAs have beneficial effects on many body systems and may play a part in preventing chronic diseases.
Other research suggests that plant foods in the ancestral diet were a rich source of polyphenols that had positive influences on mental health.
In contrast, animal foods in ancestral diets contributed perhaps 480 milligrams a day of cholesterol. This flies in the face of current guidelines from experts such as the American Heart Association, which recommends limiting saturated fats in red meat and full-fat dairy to manage cholesterol and prevent heart disease.
What are the risks of eating organ meats?
Before people take a leaf out of Bear Grylls’ book and start eating cow testicles for dinner, they may want to consider the negative health aspects of eating organ meat and supplements.
For example, a 2021 analysis of 11 studies found an increased risk of bladder cancer with high intake of organ meat. The authors suggest that the high fat content, toxins, and mutagens formed in cooking organ meats may be responsible for the association.
A 2022 study found that organ meat consumption was related to a higher risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease among Chinese adults.
Additionally, organ meats may contain toxic chemicals and metals such as cadmium, and compounds called purines, which can cause gout.
Human and planetary health
In addition, plant-based diets are better for the planet compared to meat-heavy diets. Vegan diets have a lower carbon footprint than omnivore, paleo, and keto diets. Recent research shows that keto and paleo diets, as eaten by American adults, scored among the lowest on overall nutrition quality. They were also among the highest on carbon emissions.
Conversely, a vegan diet was found to be the least impactful on climate, generating 0.7 kg of carbon dioxide per 1,000 calories consumed. This is less than a quarter of the impact of the keto diet.
We don’t need to eat animal organs
Many maintain that eating any part of an animal — whether it be their legs or their brain — is cruel, unethical, and unnecessary. There is no need to slaughter animals for food when experts agree we can be perfectly healthy on a plant-based diet. And, recommend that we eat more plant foods and fewer animal products to protect the planet.
There’s no need to buy expensive animal organ supplements to stay healthy or perform optimally. A varied plant-based diet provides an abundance of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that enable our bodies to function at their best. For strict vegans, adding an inexpensive vitamin B12 supplement and possibly an algae-based omega-3 fatty acid supplement ensures we get a sufficient daily intake of these essential nutrients.
So, save your pennies, and let the animals keep their vital organs by going plant-based.