THIS IS THE BEAUTY OF THE FOUR PACK MISSION…WE DON’T OFFER CHOICES, JUST REASONS…DON’T GET CONFUSED BY THE MYRIAD “CHOICES” AMONG DIETS…JUST EAT WHOLE, UNPROCESSED FOODS, IN SMALLER MEALS THROUGHOUT THE DAY WHILE NOT GOING OVER 2,000 CALORIES….READ BELOW…VERY INTERESTING…
“We all crave fat and sugar because they’re hard to find in the wild. The problem is that we make them too readily available. Carbohydrates, processed foods, they are the easiest things to eat now, and we eat too much of them.”
“A typical day for Mears begins with a bowl of fruit, followed by a lunch of salad, wild mushrooms and venison..”
There’s only one diet real men need to worry about and that’s the Paleo Diet – aka the Caveman Diet – which, in its most basic form, consists of what our hunter-gatherer ancestors would have eaten.
Who says so? Ray Mears. He’s qualified to pronounce on such matters because he has spent more than a decade researching what our distant forebears used to survive on. He has also spent weeks in the wild with nothing more to eat than nuts, berries and lean meat. These, he believes, are the key to avoiding illness and premature death associated with our excessive western consumption of refined sugar and carbohydrate.
“Our ancestors were hunter-gatherers who ate a lot of meat and fish. They had a completely different diet from ours today, and if we were still eating that diet, I’m certain we wouldn’t be getting as ill,” says Mears. “We still have a Stone Age body. We have modern minds, but our brains and bodies still require the same food.”
Right now Mears is perched on a leather-look sofa on the top floor of a hotel in central London. He has broken cover to promote his latest book, but you can tell he’d rather be off carving a shelter out of Arctic snow. He shakes my hand with the brute force of a man accustomed to coaxing fire from sticks for a living, and, eventually catching the attention of a waiter, he orders a steak sandwich, chips and a diet cola.
Er . . . excuse me? He grins apologetically. “I’m still a glutton for the bad things,” he shrugs. “We all crave fat and sugar because they’re hard to find in the wild. The problem is that we make them too readily available. Carbohydrates, processed foods, they are the easiest things to eat now, and we eat too much of them.”
Mears is not the first to take health tips from cave dwellers. The so-called Paleo Diet (from paleolithic, the period of early man) was first popularised by Walter L Voegtlin, a gastroenterologist whose book The Stone Age Diet: Based on In-depth Studies of Human Ecology and the Diet of Man, was published in 1975.
Applying principles of evolutionary medicine, Voegtlin took the view that modern human genetics has barely changed since the dawn of agriculture, some 10,000 years ago, and that the optimum diet for modern man is still that of the hunter-gatherer. The Paleo Diet consists of meat, fish, vegetables, roots, fruit and nuts, rather than the products of domesticated animals and cultivated crops – such as dairy, grains, refined sugar and processed carbohydrates.
A typical day for Mears begins with a bowl of fruit, followed by a lunch of salad, wild mushrooms and venison – usually from deer he has shot on one of the country estates near his home in Sussex. Having always been the slightly cuddly face of wilderness survival, he has hardly morphed into Andy Murray, but Mears says his new eating habits have already given him a new lease of life. “I’m not a nutritionist, although I have spoken to nutritionists about this. I’m doing this because it feels right. You can test it out for yourself.”
So what would Mears recommend from his extensive feasting among the fields and hedgerows of Britain?
“Some of the foods our ancestors ate were quite bitter and you wouldn’t like them,” he concedes. “But cooked hazelnuts are really good and wood bitter-cress is fantastic – you just chuck it in salads. You can get it all year round and it will grow in many back yards, even around here,” he says, gesturing to the forbidding concrete jungle that surrounds us (the only visible vegetation is a few yucca plants on an otherwise barren roof terrace).
For the past month, Mears has been filming a new television series in Canada (“I can’t really talk about that yet”), where good food was hard to come by. “Fortunately, I was canoeing for the past week so I worked off a lot of excess calories.”
Home is in High Weald, in the Sussex countryside, in “just a normal house” rather than a mud hut or a treehouse. Mears keeps fit by going to the gym. “I can’t run outside, I get distracted. I know I’ll end up watching some animal,” he says, laughing and rolling his eyes.
This fascination for the natural world began with Mears exploring the North Downs around his childhood home, armed with a book about animal tracks. “I was always interested in explorers,” he says. “For some reason, if I have an interest in something, I don’t just think about it, I do it. If it was snowing, say, and someone had a sledge, just for tobogganing, I’d stick a biscuit tin on the back with supplies [a few Oxo cubes], and off we’d go and have an ‘Arctic adventure’.”
That’s one reason why he’s not about to come over all Jamie Oliver and start trying to convert the nation to the wonders of the Paleo Diet. There won’t be a Wild Dinners recipe book any time soon, but he is convinced there’s something in it. “A lot of the indigenous people I meet are now supplementing their traditional diets with processed foods, sweet drinks, and replacing wild honey with refined sugar,” he says. “Diabetes is a major problem, the last twist of the knife.”
He grimaces as he takes a final mouthful of steak. “This meat is as tough as old boots,” he tells the waiter. A caveman could have done better.
EAT LIKE RAY MEARS
WHAT IS IT?The Paleolithic Diet turns our modern diet on its head by taking inspiration from our hunter-gatherer ancestors. It is based on the premise that our digestive systems have evolved very little in the 10,000 years or so since farming began, so our bodies are better adapted to a preagricultural diet.
WHO INVENTED IT?Cavemen, though a gastroenterologist called Walter L Voegtlin recognised its potential health benefits and wrote his book The Stone Age Diet, published in 1975.
WHY ARE WE TALKING ABOUT IT NOW?The rise of obesity and diabetes, and concerns about nutrient-poor western diets have revived interest in the diet.
WHAT DID CAVEMEN EAT?They hunted and foraged for meat, seafood, fruit, vegetables, roots, nuts and seeds.
WHAT DIDN’T THEY EAT?There was no refined sugar, no processed foods, little dairy and less of the grain-based carbohydrates that form the basis of our breakfast cereals, lunchtime sandwiches and pasta suppers. Not to mention our processed oils, fats and E numbers.
WHERE CAN I LEARN MORE?The Paleo Diet: Lose Weight and Get Healthy by Eating the Food You Were Designed to Eat by Loren Cordain. Wild Food, co-written by Ray Mears, is not a diet book but will teach you how to recognise edible plants such as hoary cress and sea plantain.
… FIRST SHOOT YOUR DEER
FLASH-FRIED VENISON AND WILD LEAF SALAD
Prep time Allow several hours to hunt the deer and forage for leaves (or take 20 minutes in an organic Fresh and Wild store) Cooking time15 minutes
2 venison steaks
6 tbsp of olive oil (okay, we cheated)
50g of wild mushrooms (buy these, unless you are an experienced forager and know which are edible)
8 juniper berries, crushed
2 tbsp of chopped thyme
1 wild garlic bulb (or 4 cloves of conventional garlic from the supermarket)
For the salad
Several handfuls of lamb’s lettuce
1 handful of watercress
1 sprinkling of wood bittercress (found in hedgerows or gardens; alternatively use mustard cress)
For the dressing
3 tbsp of olive oil
1 handful of chopped basil
1 tbsp of crushed mustard seeds
First make the salad and dressing. Mix the olive oil, basil and crushed mustard seeds, then sprinkle liberally over the mixed leaves. Be careful not to overdo the mustard seeds – too many and the salad will taste bitter.
Remove the excess fat then tenderise the venison by pounding it, or score it by lightly cutting the steak’s surface diagonally, making a diamond pattern on the top, bottom and sides. Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil in a frying pan with half the chopped garlic. Add the chopped mushrooms and fry until cooked through, then remove from the heat and mix with the thyme.
In another pan, heat 4 tbsp of olive oil with the rest of the garlic and the crushed juniper berries. Add the venison steaks to the pan and fry lightly for about 3 minutes on each side. Serve with the cooked mushrooms, a garnish of thyme and the salad on the side.
A cup of pine-leaf tea makes a good accompaniment. Chop up a handful of pine leaves, add boiling water, allow to brew for 3-4 minutes, then use a tea strainer to remove the leaves before drinking.