Paleo Meat-up Hay: July

paleo poster July



A Meetup group in Hay on Wye has organised an evening of talks and discussion about the Paleo lifestyle and the nutritional treatment of depression. The evening will aim to widen peoples’ knowledge about this increasingly popular movement and to discuss some of the latest research into understanding depression as a metabolic disease.

The group, Paleo Meat-Up Hay, meets once a month and has been running since April. It is the first Paleo Meetup group in Wales and the first outside London. The informal monthly meetings bring together anyone that is interested in learning more about the Paleo or Ancestral Health lifestyle. Activities include watching films, running lectures, sharing food, exercise sessions, organising restaurant visits and forming a buyers club.

Tess Stabb, founder of the group, says: We are very excited to have Owen Raybould, Nutrition Coach and founder of Ancestral Health and Nutrition speaking at our meeting. Owen has been working with mental health charities such as MIND and Depression Alliance on nutritional treatments for depression. Nutrition is often overlooked but may prove to be the next big breakthrough in the treatment of mental health issues.

There will also be an introductory talk on the Paleo lifestyle by Tess and a question and answer session with both speakers. Tess says: Everybody is welcome. We hope to provide people with a good introduction to the Paleo lifestyle and hopefully show that it is more than the usual ‘Caveman diet fad’ headlines. It will be a chance for people to chat to followers of the lifestyle (we don’t like to use the word ‘diet’) and find out about the potential benefits; not just for depression but for a range of illnesses.

‘An Introduction to Paleo: what we can learn from our ancestors about eating, moving, sleeping and stress’ by Tess Stabb and ‘Depression: The Paleo Approach: what the Paleo/Ancestral Health movement can contribute to treatment of this growing problem’ by Owen Raybould will take place on Friday 4th July from 7pm onwards at Cusop Village Hall, Hay on Wye, Herefordshire HR3 5RW. Free teas and coffees will be available and there is a suggested donation of £3.

Paleo Meat-Up Hay takes place on the first Friday of each month at Cusop Hall.

For further information, please email


The Wahls Protocol by Terry Wahls, M.D.

Wahl's Protocol Book picI first heard of Dr Terry Wahls from the excellent Ted talk* she gave in 2011 called Minding Your Mitochondria. The talk caused quite a stir as Dr Wahls, who was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2000, explained how nutrition and lifestyle changes helped her to radically transform her life. Her return to walking and even biking after being confined to a tilt-recline wheelchair is at once inspirational and fascinating. I had stumbled across the video shortly after starting Paleo in April 2012 as I was looking for every available resource on the lifestyle. Dr Wahls’ story was particularly relevant to me as I had suffered with ongoing gut issues for over 20 years, followed by neurological symptoms such as Trigeminal Neuralgia and Facial Palsy. My consultant had warned about keeping a look-out for symptoms of MS, so I was intrigued by Dr Wahls’ story. I had also read the brilliant Grain Brain by Dr Perlmutter and the link between the gut, neurological problems and auto-immune disease is a topic that I find fascinating. When I learned of Dr Wahls new book The Wahls Protocol, I ordered it immediately.

The book begins with Dr Wahls’ story of diagnosis and decline. A clinical professor of medicine and a previously active marathon runner, mountain climber and tae kwon do black belt, Dr Wahls was seemingly fit and healthy individual with a full (although at times stressful) career and loving family. She writes very movingly of her diagnosis and the realisation in hindsight that something was wrong many years ago; the clues that appeared but were not investigated, the warning signs, the niggling problems… Post-diagnosis, and as her condition declined, Dr Wahls discovered the work of Ashton Embry and Loren Cordain. She began to adopt a nutritional strategy based around the Paleo diet but sadly her decline continued. Undaunted and with a thirst to find out everything that she could about her disease, Dr Wahls went on to study MS in more detail – in particular the relevance of healthy mitochondrial function – and eventually devised a treatment plan that incorporates food as the core component, along with electrical-stimulation, targeted supplements, exercise and stress management. The Wahls Protocol outlines this plan in an easy to read, incredibly practical way.

‘When chronic disease is the result of a deficiency, drugs aren’t going to solve the problem.’

The importance of food and other lifestyle factors in the treatment and prevention of disease lies at the heart of this wonderful book. However, Dr Wahls’ message is bigger than this. There is a power that lies within each of us to overcome symptoms and to improve our condition, if we adopt the right methods. The Wahls Protocol is about reinstating that power to individuals. It is about giving control back. It is not about throwing away medication, or ignoring your doctor. It is about working gradually to reclaim health; seeing how things improve, how you feel, monitoring symptoms. It is about ensuring that your illness no longer controls your life. A reduction in medication may be part of this – or it may be not – and Dr Wahls makes it very clear to discuss this carefully with your doctor. Testimonies from ‘Wahls Warriors’ – people who have adopted the Protocol with excellent results – are placed throughout the book. These moving accounts stand as a reminder that things can improve, even when hope has been lost.

‘A genetic propensity may never come to anything if the body stays healthy and fully  nourished nourished.’

Dr Wahls stresses that tackling MS or any other major disease starts with the realisation that ‘Genes are not your destiny’ p.25. The importance of environmental factors in switching on genes for disease is huge. Although Dr Wahls discovered that she had a genetic vulnerability for MS, she reminds us that ‘scientists believe that environment determines 70-95% of the risk of developing autoimmune problems’ p.24. In the same way that environmental factors can ‘switch on’ these genes, so they can influence whether they remain ‘switched off’.  The lifestyle choices we make can mitigate our genetic propensity for disease and merely possessing the gene for a particular illness is not an automatic route to that disease.

‘Cellular nutrition is everything’

So how do we ensure that we make the correct choices that enhance our genetic make-up? Dr Wahls argues that healthy cellular activity should be at the root of all such choices. ‘Cellular nutrition is everything. It is the very basis of all health.’ p.26. Healthy cellular function is dependent upon the correct workings of our mitochondria, the energy power-houses within cells that also regulate cell signalling, cell death and cell growth. Their optimal function is of critical importance to cell health and mitochondrial breakdown leads to chronic disease. I was fascinated to read that the ‘the cells that do not die when their time is up will continually grow at the expense of all other cells, becoming cancerous tumours.’ p.29. Making sure that we do everything we can to look after our mitochondria – particularly when it comes to neurological conditions – will ensure that cells function properly. One of the most important ways we can achieve this is through our diet and Dr Wahls urges us to remember this vitally important piece of information: Our cells are ultimately fuelled by what we eat.

‘The highest bioconcentration of toxins are in your fat, and remember that your brain is 60-70% fat’

Recognising that we can target our nutrition for brain health is one of the first steps in successfully applying the Protocol. Dr Wahls goes on to describe how MS is caused by a faulty immune system which attacks the myelin sheath (the fatty insulation that surrounds the nerve cells), resulting in damage to the nervous system. Dr Wahls looks at micronutrients that are essential for making myelin and for healthy neurotransmitter function, both of which contribute to brain health. Her exhaustive work in compiling this range of nutrients and her years of research, first upon herself and her own condition, then followed by her patients and Wahls Warriors, are brought together in an extremely detailed and easy-to-follow plan.

‘In a very real sense, we all have the same disease’

One of the most memorable passages of this book is when Dr Wahls explains the problem with naming and treating diseases based on symptoms. In reality, we are experiencing the same disease with different symptoms. Auto-immune diseases, along with the major diseases of Western societies are the result of ‘mitochondrial dysfunction, excessive inflammation, high cortisol levels and other markers of broken biochemistry. In a very real sense, we all have the same disease…’ p.47. I found this way of thinking about disease very interesting. By treating the various symptoms, conventional medicine names and classifies the disease yet fails to address the underlying cause. It treats auto-immune diseases by prescribing drugs which – in many cases – undermine the natural functioning of the body, and as a consequence inhibits the very immune system that needs help. An alternative, functional medicine approach which treats the whole person rather than the symptom, involves ‘optimizing the body’s environment to minimize immune hyperactivity’ p.55.

Just as we cannot separate ourselves from the world we live in, so we cannot isolate a disease from the functioning state of the whole person. If the environment we live in is polluted and sick, we cannot survive. If our bodies are sick, then disease takes hold. Our bodies are a microcosm of the world. We talk about environmental pollution and yet we find it so hard to look after our own bodies and give them what they need. If we cannot help ourselves, is it any wonder that we cannot help the world we live in? Symptom-based management will never solve the problem of our major Western diseases. At best it prevents a bad situation getting worse. Only through the optimization of health for the person as a whole can we begin to prevent some of these diseases taking hold in the first place. As you read The Wahls Protocol, there is a realisation that our whole medical system is based upon treating disease from completely the wrong angle – damage limitation rather than prevention. It’s depressing to think about, but maybe we can begin to turn things around.

‘Medications for autoimmune disease do not cure the disease. Their only purpose is to make you feel a little better, which might work, and possibly slow the progression, which also might work. Or not.’

The Wahls Protocol gives an excellent breakdown of the causes and characteristics of autoimmune disease, as well as explaining the conventional vs functional medicine approach. I found this to be an extremely fascinating part of the book. Dr Wahls explains the different types of MS and very interestingly looks at the CCSVI theory of Dr Paolo Zamboni, which suggests that MS is caused by a narrowing of the veins supplying blood to the brain. As Dr Wahls argues, if this is true then surely we need to examine the root cause of this narrowing. The inflammation that narrows the veins (don’t forget that inflammation is the body’s natural response to a problem) is triggered by things such as toxins, chronic infections, insufficient nutrients, food allergies/sensitivities, hormonal imbalance and sleep disruption. Dealing with these inflammatory triggers rather than operating to correct the narrowed veins (angioplasty or bypass) makes much more sense. The link between inflammation and disease is explored and we learn that ‘excessive inflammation is a factor in many if not all psychiatric disorders.’ P.65. Dealing with inflammation is at the heart of the Wahls Protocol and addressing this important issue is a must if we are to tackle diseases such as MS.

‘The root of optimal health begins with taking away the things that harm and confuse our cells while providing the body with the right environment in which to thrive.’

There are three levels of diet to the Wahls Protocol, increasing in strictness: the Wahls Diet, Wahls Paleo and Wahls Paleo Plus. Paleo diet principles underlie all of these and Dr Wahls gives an excellent background to Paleo nutrition with thorough explanations of issues such as leaky gut: a potential disaster for health.  However, the Wahls Protocol is specifically tailored to address chronic disease and to maximise nutrients for mitochondrial function – taking Paleo principles to a whole new level. At all 3 stages, the diet centres around a diverse range of vegetables, together with pasture-raised meat, and wild-caught fish and eliminates gluten, dairy and eggs.  I could write that the Protocol increases in strictness, but instead I like to think of it as becoming increasingly liberating. Depending on which stage you choose to follow, additional foods (such as all forms of grains) are eliminated and others increased (coconut fats).  I was happy to see that those who experience difficulty digesting large amounts of raw vegetables can also scale the quantities down to suit and as the gut heals, reintroduce them.

At the Paleo Plus level, smaller quantities of vegetables are desirable. The highest stage of the Protocol takes the basics of a ketogenic diet but modifies it to include a slightly higher carbohydrate content from non-starchy vegetables. Staying in mild ketosis is possible due to the liberal use of ketone-producing MCTs from coconut products which are essential at the Paleo Plus stage. Some measurement of blood ketones may be desirable to track progress. At this stage of the Protocol, meals are also reduced to two per day (something that many Paleo followers find happens naturally), fat is increased, carbohydrates are decreased and protein limited.

As a Paleo devotee, I naturally slotted in to the Wahls Protocol. I had already eliminated all grains and dairy. After reading the book I cut eggs out too and I have got to say that I feel so much better for doing that. Eggs always made me feel slightly sickly – I can’t quite describe it – and I had read that they can provoke an immune reaction in some people. I hesitated for ages about eliminating them from my diet but when I read Dr Wahls’ book, I did it immediately and didn’t flinch. Likewise with dairy. We learn that ‘gluten and casein molecules have a similar amino acid sequence, and so to our immune cells they are often equivalent.’ P.129. I had cut dairy out completely before reading the book but the difference is that where I once found it hard to have it in the house or felt like I was missing it (definite opioid receptor response for me!), after reading The Wahls Protocol I am so completely resolved never to touch it again.

‘It provides more structure and guidance to help you maximise your nutrition, which is critical for those with any chronic disease.’

I have never found that following a Paleo eating template is hard, restrictive or unenjoyable. It is the complete opposite. However, sometimes I feel like I need help with structuring my food choices in a more systematic way to ensure I receive the full benefits of a wide range of foods. I have to say that this is one of the many things I found invaluable when reading The Wahls Protocol. Dr Wahls gives a very detailed explanation of the importance of foods such as seaweed, bone broth, organ meats and fermented foods and gives practical steps for integrating them into your diet on a regular basis. There are fantastically comprehensive lists of nutrients too. There are also full lists of the three vegetable groups that form an essential part of the Protocol (greens, sulphur-rich, colour), making it easy to plan shopping lists etc. as well as lists of foods permitted for each stage of the Protocol. There is even a handy recipe section. In addition, the book is filled with tips and advice for ensuring you get the full range and correct amounts of various foods. I have found this so helpful as I begin to implement changes. The Wahls Protocol is bursting at the seams with helpful information and the whole book is geared towards making your transition as easy as possible.

‘Brains depend on exercise for growth and maintenance.’

Of course the Wahls Protocol is about more than food. We are encouraged to keep a Wahls Diary in order to monitor progress, feelings, symptoms, etc. and to help us focus on the changes that we need to make. Dr Wahls also urges us to look at the toxins that surround us – in our home, even in our mouth – and look at ways to eliminate them. Natural detoxification through sweating and skin brushing is also encouraged. Exercise is a major part of the Protocol, in particular stretching, strength training (interestingly Dr Wahls explains that ‘strength training generates the largest gains in nerve growth factors’ p.234) and gentle cardiovascular. There are also many helpful illustrations of stretching exercises to supplement the text. Electrical stimulation is advised for MS sufferers to improve mobility and Dr Wahls also discusses when – and if – to reduce medication.

‘Vitamins and minerals act together to facilitate the chemistry of cells and must be kept in balance, but it is far better (if not easier) to achieve this balance through food.’

The Protocol provides extensive information on supplements but Dr Wahls always maintains that the majority of nutrients should come from food first and foremost, listing the various food sources to increase. If supplementation other than the basics (Vitamin D, Magnesium etc.) is desirable, there is a wealth of information here regarding the research and recommended doses, but Dr Wahls stresses  that supplementation should be carefully individualised.

I found the section on alternative therapies extremely interesting and as someone who was previously rather sceptical of such things; Dr Wahls takes a measured and considered viewpoint on some of the treatments available. She provides a helpful list of questions to ask before embarking on such therapies but always stresses the underlying importance of healthy cellular function; maximise this first through food choices and lifestyle changes and then consider some alternative therapies as a helpful addition.

There are some great tips on stress management and the connection between stress and insulin resistance is explored. Reading this section made me realise how I was caught in a cycle of carbohydrate dependence that was inextricably linked to stress, with each feeding off the other and leading to all sorts of health problems over the years.  Quality sleep is also a vital component of the Protocol and Dr Wahls explains the effect of sleep deprivation on stress levels and general health.

‘I believe the public will soon be far ahead of the medical community when it comes to understanding the power of food to reclaim and maintain health.’

The depth of detail and the sheer amount of information contained in this book is fantastic. It really is a bible for brain health. I read it once and then went back and read it again. Everything is so clearly and comprehensively explained and you will find yourself referencing it time after time. In my opinion it is not only a ‘must read’ for anyone who suffers from MS or other auto-immune conditions, this book is for anyone who wants to do as much as they possibly can to avoid these conditions and live a healthy life  (that’s everyone right?).

The Wahls Protocol is also a testament to one woman’s determination to fight and transcend her disease and to help others do the same. Dr Wahls’ story, along with the story of her many Wahls Warriors, is inspirational and gives hope not only to those with MS, but to all of us. Taking control over our health and recovery begins with the Protocol set out in this book. Let’s pray that Dr Wahls gets the funding that she needs to expand her research even further and I look forward to reading more about her work in the future.

*This Ted talk now contains a warning: ‘This talk, which features health advice based on a personal narrative, has been flagged as potentially outside of TED’s curatorial guidelines. Viewer discretion advised.’ Hear Dr Wahls talk about this in this excellent inetrview with Robb Wolf here.


Paleo f(x) London Meet Up!!


Paleo f(x): Ancestral Momentum - Theory to Practice Symposium's photo.

12 June at 20:45

Reebok CrossFit Thames (London, UK) in London, United Kingdom

See here for directions.

Paleo f(x)™ founders Michelle and Keith Norris are visiting London and Swindon this month and would love to connect with members of the Paleo community and Strength & Conditioning community.

This meeting is an informal get together, for us to learn about the Paleo movement in the UK, and to explore the possibility of bringing Paleo f(x)™ there. If you’re interested in helping to bring Paleo f(x)™ to the UK, or if you simply want to learn more, we’d love to meet you.

Mark Alexander, owner of Efficient ExerciseARX Fit, and an advisor to Paleo f(x) will also be attending and available to discuss ARX Fit.

Join the get together, and learn about the World’s largest Paleo event! You can also RSVP on Facebook, and feel free to bring your friends.

You can also reach us at, or get in touch on Twitter:
Michelle Norris - @EclecticKitchen
Keith Norris - @KeithNorris
Mark Alexander - @EExercise@ArxFit

Look forward to meeting everyone and a huge thanks to Phil Morton at Thames CrossFit!

A Golden Chain

‘Sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together’. Thomas Dekker

Are you getting enough sleep? This is one of the most important aspects to living a Paleo lifestyle yet for many people; it could be one of the hardest. Good sleep is critical. It is on par with food in terms of its importance. You may have the best Paleo nutrition in the world, but consistent lack of sleep will seriously impede you. See the Sleep pages for more on this.

For most people life is busy and stressful and despite all good intentions sleep inevitably suffers. Obviously there are situations when a good night’s sleep is just out of the question – babies, air travel, lambing, night shifts, any other important event in our lives, the list goes on and on… However, if in time we do get the opportunity to improve our sleep, then it is surely one of the most beneficial things we can do for our health. Sometimes you just have to stop, take a step back and focus on the area that you want to improve really, really hard…

Recently, Richard and I have been making a really concerted effort to improve our sleep and I thought that I would let you know how we are getting on.

For many, many years I had odd sleep patterns, particularly when I lived alone in London in an extremely noisy block of apartments with music blaring at all hours from the flat below and crazies living all around me. I started to wear ear plugs and also used to sleep with noise reduction headphones on top of them. My sleep was disturbed regularly and I would wake at all hours of the night (completely stressed), switch on the light, get up and make tea (caffeine!) and even sometimes something to eat (toast!!). Then I would try to get back to sleep – often unsuccessfully – and spend the rest of the night awake or dozing lightly. I now know that this contributed to a general state of stress and illness but at the time I just carried on because I felt like I didn’t have an option. Good riddance to all that…

I’ve always been an early riser as mornings are my favourite time of the day and I’ve never been one for staying up late at night (save the odd night out!). On the whole, I would say that my body clock naturally follows the sunrise and sunset and I have always been like that.  I just love the sunrise and the birdsong and the stillness of the mornings. Richard is the opposite and through most of the time we have been together he has preferred later nights and later mornings. Years in the media industry did not help as Richard inevitably ended up working until all hours of the morning, so our sleeping patterns were almost polar opposites.

It is only since being Paleo – and particularly in the last month or so when we have really focused on ways to improve sleep – that we are moving to similar patterns. I still go to bed usually an hour before Richard and wake about an hour or two before him at the weekend but during the week we are more in sync. One of the things that I heard Dr Parsley say at his excellent talk on sleep at Paleo f(x) – see notes here – is that it is best to stick to roughly the same times each day rather than stay up later at the weekend. I seem to do this naturally and find it very hard to stay up past my usual bedtime.

Here are some things we have found helpful:

We  turn all computers and hand-held devices off a couple of hours before we go to bed.

We installed f.lux on our computers which is free. This turns down the blue spectrum on the screen in line with the sunset and increases it in line with sunrise, timed according to your location. If for whatever reason we do need to look at a screen, it is suitably dimmed.

Richard has bought some orange-tinted glasses for work. As he looks at computer screens for most of the day, he finds it much easier on the eye with the tinted glasses. They also help to mitigate the effects of the fluorescent strip lighting in his office, which tends to make his eyes sore. Richard bought this brand and also wears them around the house before bedtime if he needs to. However, these seem to get very good reviews and you can pick them up on E-bay quite cheaply.

Gunnar GlassesWe have changed the lamps in our living room, kitchen and bedroom to red bulbs and make sure that we avoid switching all blue-spectrum light on in the hours before bedtime. This takes a bit of getting used to but I am certain that it is making me sleepier. We just popped into Homebase and bought some red light bulbs that I think are supposed to go in electric fires. I don’t know if they are the recommended type but they seem to be doing the trick. At 40 watts though, we are thinking about getting dimmers.

Red light bulbsWe checked the colour content of the light using an app called Luxmeter Pro. If you are using this as a light meter then it needs to be correctly calibrated first. However, for approximate colour content readings, it works fine. Other software may be available.

I have heard some people on forum discussions recommend the new generation of oil lamps but have not tried them. Anyone out there have one?

We have been making a real effort to go to bed at roughly the same time each night.

We have been monitoring our sleep patterns on a programme called Sleep Time from Azumio. This is a free app for the iPhone – see here. It allows you to check how much light sleep and deep sleep you have and coordinates your alarm with a light sleep cycle if possible. The iPhone is switched to Airplane Mode and is placed face-down on the bed near to you. It is so interesting to look at your sleep patterns (ok – I’m sad!).  I find that having a visual representation of my sleep quality in front of me makes me even more determined to do everything I can to ensure a good night’s sleep.

I bought an eye mask to wear as we do not have blackout lining on the curtains upstairs. I looked at all sorts of eye-masks including some quite expensive versions but this one looked the best value by far. I’ve got to say that it is so comfortable and I can’t fault it! Complete value for money.

Eye maskAs well as that, I wear ear-plugs which I have always worn as a hangover from days in London. Again, I have tried so many brands but I find these from RS Components to be the best for both noise reduction and comfort. Much better than the average ear plugs in the high street that cost a fortune in comparison and that fall out!

Recently, a lady I met was telling me that each night she sprays her bedclothes with lavender spray as this is a well-known aid to a restful night’s sleep. I had heard about this many years ago but never tried it. You can get various sprays that incorporate lavender but they often have other strange things added or if not, are extremely expensive.  Instead I have ordered some lavender essential oil and will let you know how I get on.

Of course, no amount of tricks can compensate for an over-active mind and a stressful life. Sometimes you just have too much on your mind and sleep is difficult. I will be writing about stress reduction techniques in the coming months but in the meantime we are trying as hard as we can to make the little improvements that are within our control.

Reading about the importance of sleep, I realise that it is about reconnecting with who we are at the very core of our being. We are inextricably linked to the cycles of the earth but we have forgotten this. We conduct our lives as if we are somehow distinct from every other living creature whose existence is governed by their environment. We think that we can ‘cheat’ sleep, that we can make up for it’s absence at some vague point in the future and everything will even out and be fine. Unfortunately for us, it just doesn’t work like that. However, we can do everything in our power to mimic the way our ancestors slept. It may not be perfect and some of the methods may seem ridiculous, but all we can do is try. Sweet dreams…

For further information, please see the Sleep page.

 © Past Present Paleo 2014. All Rights Reserved.


Coconut Coffee Creamer

We have stopped the dairy altogether – apart from butter – for a while now and we are feeling so much better. We were having cream in coffee and occasional hard cheese, as well as some goats milk too. Richard ate quite a bit of Greek yoghurt. We both found that dairy produces similar symptoms to gluten – really strong cravings, difficulty in knowing when to stop eating, digestive upsets, bloating, etc. I know dairy is a ‘grey area’ in Paleo and is a contentious topic. Many eat high fat dairy and can tolerate it well, but for those with auto-immune issues dairy can be a trigger. Listening to some of the talks at Paleo f(x), dairy was consistently mentioned (along with gluten) as a problem. I guess the same RW rule goes for everything – cut it out for 30 days and see how you look, feel and perform.

Going back to black tea is fine and one of the things that I would like to do is explore the range of exotic teas available that are specifically not for drinking with milk. When you eliminate milk, obviously the more delicate, perfumed tea becomes more attractive and ordinary breakfast tea tastes quite harsh. There is a lovely old-fashioned tea shop in Hay on Wye and I have resolved to try all their wonderful teas.

With coffee, I can drink it black when out and about. I always think of this quote on cutting out dairy from Melissa and Dallas over at the excellent Whole 9:It is not hard. Don’t you dare tell us this is hard. Giving up heroin is hard. Beating cancer is hard. Drinking your coffee black. Is. Not. Hard.’  I love that! I guess that puts it into perspective. The nicer the roast, the nicer it is to drink black so in a way it is a real test of the quality of coffee served.

For coffee at home, we have been experimenting with coffee creamers and after much internet scouring, finally found a recipe that works and tastes great from the excellent blog Following my nose. I reproduce the recipe below – thank you so much Patty! Make a batch of it up and store it in the fridge for a few days or more. It doesn’t separate as much as pure coconut milk and you don’t end up with bits floating around your cup. It will firm up in the fridge to a lovely mousse consistency.

Coffee creamerIngredients
1 can of coconut milk
1 or 2 eggs (we use 2)
Vanilla to taste – we have been using the upgraded vanilla that I brought back from Austin and use around half a teaspoon
2 tablespoons of coconut oil (melted)

Put the coconut milk, eggs and vanilla in a blender and mix thoroughly.
Add the melted coconut oil and blend for a couple of minutes.
Store in the fridge.

We did try this as a ‘cream’ for serving with fruit by blending 2 egg yokes, the cream only from a can of coconut milk, vanilla, coconut oil and a little lemon zest. In a separate bowl we whisked 3 egg whites until stiff and then gently folded them into the coconut mixture. Chill until firm and then use as a cream substitute on berries – delicious!


Paleo f(x)

Paleo f(x) 2014 Palmer Events Centre, Austin, Texas

Although just recovering from the journey and the jet-lag, I am still on a high from Paleo f(x) 2014! What an experience! I travelled to Texas for three days of listening to the most exciting speakers, meeting fantastic people, and total immersion in all things Paleo. I had desperately wanted to go to Paleo f(x) last year but couldn’t get there, so I was hugely excited to make it for 2014. For once I could talk Paleo non-stop to people without their eyes glazing over and share my experiences of Paleo with people who really understood (apart from Richard of course, but even then there is only so much he can take!). I was particularly moved by those people who (like I) adopted Paleo after many years of illness, and whose lives have been changed for the better in so many ways. You are so inspirational. I was also touched by the people who took the time to make me feel so welcome knowing that I had travelled from the UK and that I was alone; your company – for however short a time – was delightful. In particular, my love goes out to Paleo Boss Lady, Genevieve, Tess and June. I didn’t expect it to be so emotional – but it was.

Thanks to Paleo Boss Lady, I met Dr Terry Wahls, a truly inspiring woman who took the time to chat to me about her own condition (MS) and the digestive and neurological problems that I have experienced over the years. I had seen her TED talk and listened to many interviews with Dr Wahls since discovering Paleo. On return, I immediately ordered her book and look forward to reading it. Thank you Dr Wahls, for taking the time out to chat.

I was able to briefly meet Robb Wolf, who very interestingly recommended the work of Allan Savory in terms of sustainable farming systems, as well as chatting to the lovely Melissa and Dallas Hartwig of Whole9 about the UK Paleo scene.

I had a great conversation at dinner about fitness with Roger Dickerman of Relentless Roger and the Caveman Doctor podcast. I have been listening to the podcast for some time and rate it highly, but rather stupidly failed to realise who he was until I saw him sitting up on the stage the next morning! I blamed it on the jet lag…

I was struck by how strong the Paleo community is and at the high levels of entrepreneurship – most companies that I spoke to were less than two years old. They were answering a demand that is only ever going to increase. I felt that there was a buzz and excitement about the future for Paleo and it made me very happy to see.

Mark RobbI attended talks from 8.30am to around 5pm each day (with a lunch break) and tried to cram in as much as I could. I took notes – sometimes pages and sometimes a few lines – and I have included links to them below. The fact that sometimes I made only a few notes (or even none at all), does not indicate that I didn’t find the talks extremely interesting! Sometimes I was thinking so hard about what was being said that I just did not have the time to write things down, or perhaps the speakers had such a huge amount of information (for instance, the consistently excellent Nora Gedgaudas) that I decided not to attempt to keep up but refer to their websites/books etc. later. With some (like Cholesterol Clarity), I had to leave half way to rush to another talk, even though I wanted to stay. If only I could have split myself into three!

The issue of GUT HEALTH came up again and again. The effects of a leaky gut on physiological and neurological well-being CANNOT BE UNDER-ESTIMATED and healing a leaky gut is of the utmost importance. See the notes for further information.

The other big take-away is the importance of SLEEP. Please see my notes from the excellent presentation by Dr Kirk Parsley. I first heard of Doc Parsley in this fascinating interview on Robb Wolf and thought that it was one of the best interviews that Robb had done.

I was especially impressed with Michelle Norris, who organises Paleo f(X) with her husband Keith. Michelle moderated a few discussions and participated in the Living a Happy, Intentional Life panel and I was struck by what she had to say, as well as her thoughts in the talk Catalyst for Change. I would have liked to have heard more from Michelle as I found her to be extremely motivational. I was able to chat briefly with her during my stay and there are exciting things on the horizon for Paleo f(x) – stay tuned…

As well as fitting in all those sessions, I attended the opening night cocktail party with excellent nibbles supplied by Caveman Cafeteria and a host of entertaining slide presentations. The charity dinner on the Saturday was in aid of Urban Roots Austin which has a 3.5 acre sustainable farm in East Austin and encourages paid internships for local children to learn about food production. The farm provides sustainable and healthy food to local soup kitchens and food providers, as well as selling at nearby farmers markets.

Two of the children involved with the initiative gave very moving speeches about the impact that Urban Roots has had on their lives. It struck home just how important it is that children learn from an early age about the wonders of growing their own food (no matter how big or small the available space) and about sustainable methods of food production, as well as the untold benefits of connecting with nature. I would be interested in finding out about similar charities over here in the UK.

As you would expect, the food at the charity dinner was entirely Paleo-friendly. The lamb shanks were delightful and the roasted brussell sprouts with bacon were heavenly (I can’t believe that I said that about brussell sprouts but I wasn’t the only one!). Desert was chocolate and coconut fudge balls and chocolate-dipped fruit – I can’t describe how wonderful these tasted!

Picnik Shop FrontPicnik 1I noticed that there were many food outlets in Austin that served Paleo-friendly menu options. There is even a dedicated Paleo food truck called Picnik that I made a journey to (despite the rain) on the day before I left. I had a great lunch of pulled turkey, fennel mash and broccoli, together with some bulletproof coffee and chocolate brownie (ok – it was a treat!). I also bought some Upgraded Vanilla to take home and try in my coffee creamer, which is actually very good. I met the owner Naomi Seifter and we had a chat about how she started Picnik and about the UK Paleo scene. It was wonderful to know that everything in Picnik was Paleo friendly and it was a relief not to have to inspect ingredients lists and ask endless questions before eating. Definitely check it out if you go to Austin!

As one of only two people from the UK (the other was a speaker), some people expressed amazement that I had travelled across continents to attend Paleo f(x). I could only say that it was a mark of how strongly I feel about Paleo and how much it means to me. I would definitely recommend Paleo f(x) to anyone who is interested in the Paleo lifestyle and the added bonus is staying in the fantastic city of Austin. Hopefully see you next year?

Austin City


These are just some of the sessions that I attended:

Gluten and the gut

Cultivating the well-adjusted male

How to answer a Paleo critic

Becoming the Bridge: A Practical Approach to Aligning Western Medicine and Ancestral Health

Ketogenic Diets for Traumatic Brain Injury: Keeping the Baby with the Bathwater

Ask the Paleo Experts Mastermind

US Healthcare: In Crisis or Chaos?

The Robb & Mark Show

Clearing Up Cholesterol Confusion

The Importance of Sleep

Think Tank: Catalyst for Change

Perception is reality: the biggest lie in the fitness industry

Apologies for the bad photos – I didn’t take my best camera with me!Sustain fat Loss PanelAbove: Sustainable Fat Loss Panel, Jason Seib, Dr. Lane Sebring, Dan Pardi, Dr. Lauren Noel, Camille Macres

DNA Dallas


Left: Genes Aren’t Destiny (But They Do Matter) Dr. Helen Messier, Dallas Hartwig






Paleo for Women PanelAncestral Health for Women, Diane Sanfilippo, Stefani Ruper, Dr. Lauren Noel, Dr. Ruthie Harper, Dr. Deborah Gordon

© Past Present Paleo 2014. All Rights Reserved.


A Butcher’s Tale: Interview with Bryan George of George’s Butchers, Talgarth

Eating Paleo means caring about the source of your food and going to great lengths to secure the best that you can get (not necessarily the most expensive either). This is especially important when it comes to meat. Knowing that the animals are reared and slaughtered locally is a real bonus and finding a great butcher makes things so much easier.

Butchers are incredibly important but often overlooked in comparison to chefs and food producers. Some may argue that the craft of butchery is dying out as the big supermarkets move in and attempt to obliterate local trade. However, across a selection of villages, towns – and even in some cities – the craft of butchery is still alive and even thriving. In the wake of scandals and increasing concern about the provenance of our food and the ethical means by which it is produced, many people turn to their local butcher as a guarantee of quality and for reassurance about the food on their plate.

The enormous negative publicity regarding meat over the last few decades has obviously had an impact on the trade, with nonsense headlines such as those recently condemning protein diets (see here) making matters worse. But hopefully we are living through a period of change when people are beginning to realise that the advice on nutrition has been inherently flawed and that eating real food – including real, quality meat – is the best that we can do for our health.

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Situated in the small town of Talgarth at the foot of the Black Mountains in Wales, is W.J. George’s Butchers and Deli Pot delicatessen. A family-run business, George’s is renowned for the quality of its meat and skilled staff with customers travelling from far and wide. They also run a small abattoir; one of the very few local abattoirs left in the county of Powys. I decided to interview Bryan and Gaynor George about their butchery and delicatessen business, which they run with eldest son Christopher and his wife Georgina.

I wanted to learn as much as I can about the source of our meat, how it is raised, slaughtered and butchered, and to find out how things have changed over the years for this fantastic business and butchery in general. What I discovered provides a fascinating insight into butchery over the decades from a true master craftsman.

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Bryan (pictured left), tell me a bit about how you started in business and the history of the shop.

Well it was my father’s business and he started in 1935. His uncle had it before him on the same site. It used to be a pub called the Lower Lion. Gaynor has a fantastic photograph taken in 1904 I think and all the butchers are lined up outside. It was a slaughterhouse then too so all the slaughtermen are there as well.

My father was orphaned when he was 9 or 10 years old and the children were put out to relatives so he was sent to his uncle in Talgarth who was a butcher and auctioneer called Frank Price. I don’t think my father had any intention of being a butcher. He wanted to be an auctioneer but his uncle became ill and at 18 my father had to go down to the market to select stock and it went from there. After his uncle’s death, he naturally took over. It was a rented property then and was owned by Parry’s the old chemist shop. I remember that chemist – it had all the big bottles in the window.

Bryan's Dad website copy

My father, William John George, known as Billy (pictured right) had the chance of buying the shop in the 1950s. And of course meat was on control until about 1954. During the war years it was allotted to you because people obviously had ration books. I think the allowance was about 4oz each per week per person and corned beef could be counted in that. So of course, the larger the family the bigger the joint and had they had to eke it out. I can well remember them saying ‘Oh god we’ve got nothing for so-and-so’ and there used to be very good people living down here by the petrol pump so we had to go down and ask them ‘Can you manage this week?’ and they would say ‘Yes, we’ll be ok.’

So when did you actually start to work in the shop?

I left school at 15 and went in to the shop and thought ‘Oh my god, I don’t like this job! I’ll never stick that’. And that was it! I hated it because it was long hours and as the son I was expected to do those long hours while all the other kids had finished and were off to Brecon cinema. It was really long hours in those days because we had lots of rounds, which was the thing then because people didn’t have cars so you had to take the meat to them. As soon as I was 17 I was out on the van and out on a Friday until about 7 o’clock at night. Nearly every house had meat and it was really hard work. Conscription was on then and I went down to a medical in Cardiff and I got into the RAF. My father applied to the local MP to get a deferment for two years as he needed me in the business. During those 2 years they abandoned conscription.

Bryan Pic 1 jpeg working copy JPEG

I took the shop over in about 1988 when my father became ill and we kept up the slaughtering side of it. I used to do all the slaughtering on a Monday and Tuesday. I didn’t like it to start.

Bryan pictured left.

In my father’s day there were 5 butchers’ shops in Talgarth. There was a lot more meat about and there were 3 slaughterhouses in the town, so things have really changed.

Gaynor (who is also a keen restaurant reviewer on Trip Advisor with thousands of hits!) has an amazing scrapbook full of press cuttings she has collected regarding the business. She showed me the photo from 1904 that Bryan mentioned. The shop was then called Price & Son (Price is the name of Brian’s father’s uncle). The beef carcasses hang around the outside of the shop and the butchers and slaughtermen stand proudly in their striped aprons. At the front are two little girls in frilly dresses and bonnets. The shop looks practically the same as it does now. It is a wonderful photograph. Below is another photograph of the shop, taken at around the same time.

Butchers Shop Talgarth MASTER COPY JPEG 70

We haven’t changed the appearance purposely. We haven’t had a lot of cabinets in the shop which people like. And if we were to change it, for instance if legislation said that that we can’t have meat out in the open, people wouldn’t like it. People like to see the meat. People come in and they want to see us cutting it.

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How many staff do you have in the shop?

Eight altogether including the delicatessen staff. New recruits are Paul who has been with us for 12 years (pictured centre) and Jay has been with us for 8 years, the most recent (left). They were both Saturday boys and they decided to carry on. Paul started at the Welsh Venison centre and lived next door to us but one. We have known him since a little boy and he always wanted to work in a butchers. Jay has come on a lot too. Christopher (Brian’s eldest son, pictured far right) joined as he didn’t want to stay on in school, so he came into the business too. Chris doesn’t have children so unfortunately after him the George name will cease. I also have a daughter Janet, who is married with 3 daughters and lives in Singapore and my younger son, Robert is an accountant so things will change.

Can you tell me a bit about your customers, are they mostly local?

They come from a fair way, London even. We get quite a lot of people with weekend cottages and they come in. Dylan Jones from GQ who has a place up near the Black Mountains is a customer. He wrote the excellent article in the Mail called ‘Don’t mess with the man in the apron’ (see here). There’s a follow-up as well. It was funny because he said it was like walking into the OK Corral and everyone had their knives in their hands. He asked for salt marsh lamb! An article like that, I mean what would it cost in a national newspaper? It was great for business. I didn’t even know about it!

Of course, I had to give him a treat back so I took him out for lunch with his wife and daughters and the follow-up article is also up on the wall in the shop. I had a Lexus at the time and he met me at the house so I said ‘You follow me’. We got on the A70 and I thought that I had been dawdling a bit so I put my foot down and left him behind! In his article he said that I drove like I was training to be in the Welsh Grand Prix! He said that if you do happen to be on the Talgarth bypass and you see a white Lexus behind you – get out the way! He’s a fantastic bloke and he has a big do after the Hay Festival (a Groucho club pop-up) and uses our meat.

Yes, our customers come from Cardiff too. People in the cities know that they can’t get that sort of quality where they are and so they are prepared to travel. All they get offered is supermarket meat and butchers that don’t have any carcass meat and it all comes in plastic bags. And they don’t know the origin so they could be eating anything, so they make the effort to come. We have an old boy who comes over from Aberdare and another who rings up and gives us an order and then he’ll be down. You’re talking about £200 – £250! And the retired bank manager from Brynmawr who brings the whole family, they fill the shop! They come at least 8 times a year from Ebbw Vale and he tells all his friends, aunts and uncles. It’s real word of mouth – you can’t beat it. We don’t advertise much. But locals – a lot of them do go to the supermarket. Maybe it’s on price, I don’t know but I’ve looked in supermarkets and thought that they’re not that much cheaper than us.

We did supply the River Café in London with the late Rose Gray (where Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall started). Rose actually came into the shop on a Saturday afternoon around festival time and I didn’t know who she was. She asked for a leg of lamb and told me that she had been recommended to come here so it better be good! I said ‘Oh yes – it will be good’. I thought she was a housewife you see. And she wanted some pork as well so she said ‘Is that good too?’ And it just so happened we had some pork from St Fagan’s. So as I was cutting the leg of lamb she said again ‘You better mind its good!’ and I thought ‘Oh my god she keeps going on’. And then she added ‘I do happen to have a Michelin Star.’ I said ‘Oh, that’s not bad work for a woman!’ That was when she told me who she was and I said ‘Oh, I didn’t realise’. I invited her to come and have a look at the lambs at the back which had just been killed. They were Texel lambs from Gwyn Davies at Caebetran Farm, Llandefalle. Lovely lambs, everyone a picture because he does breed a good lamb. The legs are big and the shoulders stick out, fantastic. She said that she had never seen lambs looking like that. So off she went and then she emailed us and asked to do business with us. That’s how it started and we began to supply them. She wouldn’t buy whole carcasses but have say 30 legs of lamb, fillets of beef and a side or whole pig.

We used to drive it up there on a Sunday and we were invited to lunch one day. We sat near to a doctor who had brought his wife all the way from Edinburgh for a birthday treat, so we knew it would be special. He said to us ‘Whatever you have – it will be good.’ He was right – it was lovely food. We’ve been up several times since then and also went to the launch of her book. We even sat near to the late Michael Winner one day with his 3 female companions! The service was fantastic, you didn’t have to call them, they were right there. It was so sad when Rose passed away (Rose Gray died on 28th February 2010). We lost the connection after that which was a shame.  Interestingly, the Head Chef Sian (Sian Wyn Owen) is Welsh.

So yes, we have a diverse client base!

What would you say your customer age range is?

I would say quite a lot of people over 40. Youngsters go for convenience.

Can you tell me about the meat that you sell? Where does it come from?

Yes – all from local farms. We might go say 15 miles away. We get some from Amberley the other side of the border. We get pigs from St Fagan’s Museum in Cardiff and they have a very good home there. They are looked after like babies and the pork turns out fantastic. It’s thanks to people like St Fagin’s that we get – whenever we can – the Welsh Breed pigs which had almost became extinct. The London chefs love the rare breeds. We don’t buy Welsh Black beef and my father would never buy it. He used to say that it is more of a dairy breed than a beef breed. It’s a hardy breed and stays out all the winter. But they don’t normally mature until close to 30 months old. Every time we have tried it, it has been too tough but of course it became trendy with the chefs.

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Can we talk about the abattoir? What are the benefits of slaughtering on the premises?

Well first of all, in an abattoir like ours we can choose the quality that goes into the shop. I mean if I was in a position where I relied on people to just send it in I would be getting some cattle and sheep which I wouldn’t normally buy. Say if we go on to a farm and they have 6 cattle there, there might be 2 that don’t suit us, so I’ll say that we’ll have the four. So we go to the farm to select the animals that we want. That’s what you have to do. And then we pay for them on the dead weight price. Sheep – they usually come to the market here every Friday. Those are usually off customers or those that we know who have got the right type of lamb for us. People say ‘Oh you had the dearest lambs again today – you only want the best!’ so people do notice. There’s one farm, Caebetran, that is over 1000ft up – or over – and he does superior lambs – Texels. And we have one farmer that does only Hereford cattle. But of course Herefords are really not commercially viable if the truth be known because these continental cattle have come along with a bigger yield of meat. (Gaynor adds that you can’t beat the Hereford meat!) The trouble is tastes have altered and the Hereford does carry more fat. I had one Hereford last week and also a Limousin cross. The Hereford was very nice but it was shot with marbling and of course people look at that.

What causes the marbling?

It’s the breed and this is what you don’t get with the continental. We have become so obsessed with lean meat that is why the continentals have become so popular. And of course the cattle come on quicker. They will get to weight quicker than a Hereford but, as one farmer said to me, they eat more as well. It takes longer for the Hereford to mature but perhaps it doesn’t cost as much to feed them. You do notice it over the loin; the sirloin. If you have a sirloin off a Limousin it will be big but with a Hereford it will be narrow.

What do you think has caused the decline in local abattoirs?

Cost! And people are frightened out of it. Bureaucracy has played a big part.

In 1995, in the wake of the BSE scandal 2 pieces of legislation were put in place; the Meat Hygiene Rules and Regulations and the Meat Hygiene Service.  Officers and vets were appointed to carry out tests on livestock and meat to ensure welfare standards and to prevent BSE.

How did the new rules and regulations affect the business Bryan?

Yes before this, local authorities inspected the meat but now it is local vets. Ours comes from Cardiff. Nearly all the vets are Polish. They phased out the meat inspectors in favour of vets but really they are only glorified meat inspectors. It came out that you had to have a vet pre and post slaughter. So in other words a vet looked at them to see if they are fit to kill to start. But that came in even when the local authority was doing it. I used to have to get my vet from Brecon and he would look at them. Then it changed and I couldn’t choose my vet and they fiddled about with it – and they’re still fiddling about with it.

If they were to charge full cost meat inspection then the business would close as the cost would be phenomenal and we couldn’t afford it. We get what they call ‘full cost recovery’ so it’s not quite as bad (around £300 month). That is to pay the vet to come out (which is subsidised) every day that we slaughter. You can’t start without him. There are lots of hidden expenses that you don’t expect. For instance, he wanted plastic on the walls even though they are scrubbable surfaces. Stupid things like sealing the doors. On a hot day as you can imagine it generates quite a bit of heat (especially with pigs) but we are not allowed to kill with the door open in case a fly comes in. Obviously they haven’t got flies in Poland or Spain! There was a fly in a cobweb that they complained about. And they complained about the cat walking around. Chris offered to buy the cat some wellies for the slaughterhouse.

We almost got closed down in around 1997. A chap came round and he was a cocky little devil. He was representing the chief vet in Cardiff, Mr Thomas. Anyway this little chap came along – as they do with a clipboard – and said ‘Well, you can forget this place after April’. This was around the time of new EEC regulations coming in. He said ‘You’ve got plenty of room down the bottom – just build a new one or send in some plans and see if they get passed.’ So I employed a firm and the estimated cost was at least 80k. So we submitted the plans to them and every month I would get a bill for £1100 until eventually I gave up.

April came and went and we were still slaughtering until one Monday we received a call from Mr Thomas on the phone and told us that the plans were not feasible. I said ‘That’s what I thought but one of your lieutenants said that’s what I would have to do or else I would get closed down.’ He said ‘Listen, would you be willing to spend 20k and we’ll give you 3 years?’ He was a chap that saved the day which you don’t get very often. He was obviously on the side of the small abattoir people. I said ‘Thank you very much’. He advised that we needed to extensively refurbish, including bringing the lairage (where the animals stand) up to date and  and installing an electric hoist instead of the old rope one. So we went ahead and did it and we never looked back, because it would have broken the tradition if we had to close the abattoir.

Where are the nearest abattoirs?

There is one in Raglan (the other side of Abergavenny) and one in Machynlleth. Every town used to have its own abattoir and they have decimated it really. I suppose those high up would like to see them closed down. Rather like the milk. We used to have 3 different milk suppliers in the town and it’s all gone. Now we are all drinking the same milk driven for miles and miles. That’s what they would like to see with the meat – nobody really standing out.

Can you say a bit about how the abattoir works for someone who has no idea?

We slaughter one day a week on a Friday. The animals are brought in by trailer behind a vehicle, unloaded and usually put on a bed of straw. They are there overnight. We are not allowed to keep cattle overnight so they need to come in on the day but sheep and pigs can stay. You don’t feed them but there is water for them. And then they are driven into the stunning pen and stunned with a gun. The sheep and pigs are stunned electrically with tongs and cattle with a gun.

With the cattle, they are obviously restrained with a yolk to come down over their head and they go into a pen. Then they are processed. Pigs are taken up on a hoist and then they are bled and go along a rail and drop down into a tank which is an automatic process. A pig de-hairer and scalder all in one. They go in; you shut the lid, press the button and wait 3 minutes. Usually all the hair is off providing the water is not too hot. It’s important that it doesn’t overheat otherwise it will scald the hair on and there will be a terrible job to get it off – a lot of knife work involved. And then they are gutted and that’s it. Then the meat inspector inspects them and if they are ok he puts a stamp on them that they are fit to eat.

How long do you hang the meat for?

Beef is usually hung for two weeks – maybe three – but I don’t like hanging it too long. Myself I don’t like a strong taste of hung meat really. Pigs, you wouldn’t hang too long. I think it is better if it does go into the second week and of course lamb you don’t hang.

What age are the animals when they come in for slaughter?

Pigs usually 16-18 weeks, with lamb we had one this week that was born before Christmas but that was very early, but usually the new season lamb starts around Easter which is the tradition. On the other hand you get people asking for something more mature (over 12 months) and we call it hogget. So it’s lamb, hogget and mutton (which became very trendy). Mutton is only to a limited audience but I suppose if we were in London we would sell more. And Smokies which are of course illegal. Smokies are old lamb which is smoked with the skin on. We also get the Ghurkas coming in for pigs. They like goat too for their curries.

Can you tell me about the importance of grass-fed meat?

Yes, but of course it is limited as you know. I would personally prefer completely grass-fed beef but we won’t be getting that until about June. Before then they are grain finished – grain, silage or hay. Really it’s a job to beat the grass fed beef. It’s yellower in colour. It is nice and natural.

 In the US, there is an American Grassfed Association, dedicated to promoting 100% grass-fed meat. Do you think that in the future, it would be possible for more Welsh farmers to transition to 100% grass-fed? How realistic is a Welsh Grassfed Association?

I think they would need some grain finishing to get them in condition. Of course they could feed silage but I’m not keen on that (a mixture of hay etc.) Grain finishing is salvation in times when there is just not the weather to keep them out.

Do you notice anyone asking for 100% grass-fed meat?

No – it’s not something that we get asked for.

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What do you think of organically raised meat?

I think it’s overrated. How do you really know that it is 100% organic and from what I have seen of the samples, some of them are not finished. They are bare if you like. It sounds wonderful but I think there is an element of doubt. I suppose you have to put your faith in it because they are regulated. The organic meat used to have to be slaughtered on a different day to non-organic. They are a little more lenient now in that you can slaughter and have them in the same fridge providing the meat is clearly stamped. And of course there is a market for it. We very rarely get people asking for organic meat but when they do, I say that it is as close to organic as they can get. They are locally raised on the hills and the animals are not factory farmed and growing up on a few foot of concrete.

How hard is it to currently make a living out of farming?

The farmers are getting a good return now. If we look back to an ox roast we had for the coronation this should tell you something about prices. It was a fantastic Hereford beast – just over 700 weight and it was £11 a hundred weight (live weight), so the beast was roughly £80. You would pay that for a lamb now. It was a great event and we had to slaughter it in a particular way (I didn’t have to cut the H-bone or anything like that) as the shaft had to go straight through from the front to the back. A firm came up from Oxford and they put it on the spit. They did a similar event in Cardiff with Aberdeen Angus beef, but they told us that the Hereford beef was superior!

Do you think that people spend less on meat now that they did, say 20 years ago (proportionally)?

We don’t sell the big joints like we used to. They used to have big joints in the old days, big ribs of beef and things like that but now only at Christmas time and special occasions. I don’t think that people have the big family get-togethers like they used to. It is a shame really. People from London will buy a whole leg of lamb or something like that and say that it’s a lot cheaper than what they pay in London. It’s a different ball game up there with the high rates and other costs.

 What about organ meat, do people still buy that?

No they buy less – a lot less. When I was slaughtering on a Monday, my mother would be cutting the liver up and we would sell out completely by the Tuesday afternoon. The liver used to be all sliced up and gone. It used to be recommended by the medical profession – good for anaemia and things like that – but not anymore. We very rarely eat liver ourselves.

Mince is very popular, probably because of the foreign dishes like chilli and Bolognese. Plus it’s a cheap, versatile meal. There’s also a big demand for minced lamb, although we mince that to order.

Television plays a big part. If a chef is pushing something on television we notice the demand for a while and then they forget about it!

Would you say that people are less adventurous in the cuts of meat they are buying?

Definitely – they’re not as educated as they used to be! Definitely not!

So you think it’s because they don’t know rather than they know the cuts and don’t want to buy them?

Yes, it’s because mother hasn’t told them about it. For instance, brisket of beef. How many people buy that? Plus they are timid of asking but they shouldn’t be! They shouldn’t be ashamed of asking because we can give them better advice than the supermarket.

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How do you think that local butchers can compete with supermarkets?

Only by quality and the relationship we have with our customers. Price doesn’t come into it really but quality is the thing. Of course you do get a certain section of people that just want cheapness and will buy their meat anywhere but then you don’t know where the meat comes from really – or what’s in it. For instance, with minced beef they might be adding extra fat or putting lights (lungs) in the mince to give it a good colour (only for so long and then it fades). Then the supermarkets use tricks like lighting of course.

What do you think of some of the campaigns over the last few decades telling us to avoid red meat and saturated fat?

Gaynor: When I was in hospital to have a kidney out I was the first to recover. The nurse said to me ‘My god you’ve got a healthy body – what is your secret?’ and I said ‘Plenty of meat!’ and I believe that my body healed quicker because I was stronger.

Brian: From time to time these campaigns raise their head. People might think ‘I’ll cut back’ but that’s only for a while. I think if you have a meal without meat, there’s something lacking. We are traditionalists. We like Sunday lunch and if we don’t have it, by Wednesday we think there’s something missing. I suppose I am fortunate in having someone that is such a good cook!

Do you think that people have become disconnected with the source of their food? I was thinking of the story in about the butcher’s window recently? (see here)

Yes I think we are breeding a nation of wimps. The chap in the article said he hated walking by with his daughter because she was upset.

I think people have become disconnected. Years ago when I used to be slaughtering there used to be gangs of kids come down to the slaughterhouse and watch it. They used to know exactly what was happening. Girls and boys would be watching for hours and they didn’t mind. The children weren’t squeamish. It’s like now, children think that milk comes from Tesco. Now we are not allowed to let anyone watch unless it is pre-arranged and you would have to wear a white coat and wellies and a hat or hair net. It’s so stupid all these health regulations.

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How do you think we can re-connect people then?

Through education really. Years ago things were quite open. For instance nobody kills a bacon pig anymore. That used to be a big event. I used to go and watch when I was young. They would kill it and then hang it for a few days depending on the weather and then cut it up. It was a big job and they didn’t used to waste a thing. But that’s all gone. Sometimes when I was out on the rounds, people would say ‘No meat this week. Our neighbours killing a pig and they are going to give us some meat.’ My grandfather always kept a pig. After the war you were only allowed to keep one pig and the inspectors used to come round. I remember they came round to Bill Herrin at his farm and he had just slaughtered two pigs. The police found two plucks (lungs) and two hearts, so Bill said ‘What do you think – the pig had two hearts and two sets of lungs!’ That was all the evidence they had. There was a good telegraph system involving everyone – even the local policeman – so we had plenty warning!

How did BSE impact on you?

I think there was a lot of propaganda. That Professor Hugh Pennington got his sums wrong because he forecast thousands would die from CJD but it didn’t happen. It did a lot of harm at the time and there was panic. We were even on Australian TV (ABC). They rang me from London and asked me how we were managing for meat as they had heard about us. They filmed us and asked a lot of questions and we had people ringing us up to say they had seen us. They banned us from selling anything on the bone, and even today we still have to run the spinal cord out of the cattle. And of course anything over 30 months were sent to be destroyed but now you can sell them and that filters back into the system.

How about Foot and Mouth? How did that impact?

That was horrible. What went on was criminal. You had to stick up for the farmers that stuck to their guns. Some barricaded themselves in and refused to let their stock go because there was no sign of it. We were in New York on the way to Michigan at the time of 9/11. If you remember, they were going to take more sheep off the Beacons but they stopped because of what happened with 9/11. Foot and Mouth was no more! Of course there was a lot of racketeering going on, dealers saying that they had a prize bullock when they didn’t, to get the compensation. But of course you had to admire the people that stood up to it because they didn’t want to lose their stock. There was needless shooting – terrible to see.

Was the horse meat scandal beneficial to you in the sense that people returned to local butchers?

It was in a way but people soon forget. People were especially cautious with mince but then they just drift back. But where were all the people that are supposed to police us then? They had been getting away with it for years.

Butchers 14

Butchers 15










You recently opened a delicatessen sourcing fantastic produce from local producers. How is that going?

Very good. That came about because of the environmental health as they didn’t want us to sell cooked meat next to raw meat. You can do it but it is awkward. It was the youngsters’ (Chris and Georgina) idea really and we had the box room spare. You do get a bit staid – as I am – and they pushed for it. They’ve done a great job and it’s going really well. Of course it pleases environmental health no end! Christopher prepares foods such as the hams, haslets, black pudding and he is so busy with it. He would like to do more if he gets the time.

Do you think butchery is promoted enough as a career for young people to go into?

No, I don’t think it is really. If you were in school you probably wouldn’t even think of butchery really – like fishmongers. It’s not given the status it deserves. They talk about chefs – why not butchers? It’s a skill (although that is going out of it). The butcher is left out but really we deserve more speciality status.

There was a very interesting programme on radio 4 recently regarding butchery (listen here) and they interviewed a young woman who became a butcher and now has her own shop. Why do you think that so few women go into butchery?

My mother used to but that was only a family thing because my father was there. I believe that there is one down in Cornwall that has her own butchers shop and slaughters but you don’t see that very often. I suppose the slaughtering is not a nice job for women to go into.

What more do you think could be done to promote Welsh meat?

Every month we have to send off details of what we slaughter (say 16 cattle, 30 pigs and – at the peak – 70 lambs) and you pay a levy on each beast you kill. There is quite a lot of expense incurred. These people (Hybu Cig Cymru) take the money but I don’t think they do enough for the meat trade. They make a few leaflets and booklets but nobody picks them up. They promote the wrong sort of things. We would like to see them promote the cheaper cuts. They promote sirloin steak and fillet steak (which we can always sell) but not the cheaper, fattier cuts and this is where it links back to the scare stories about fat. Eblex in England do a much better job and do far more for butchery. They have videos on their website and show a lot of unusual cuts such as flat-iron steaks (a tasty cut off the chuck), but our lot don’t promote the right cuts. They should be promoting liver, ox cheeks, pigs cheeks, ox hearts… We sold some ox cheeks to a lady recently and she said how marvellous they were. Rather like ox tail, that has a lovely flavour too.

Yes, we tried stuffed lambs hearts and they were lovely!

There is a young girl, Julia, just started a restaurant in Hay on Wye called St John and we deliver there. She uses a lot of different cuts of meat such as tri-tips (an American term for a cut that is seamed off the top of the rump). We did those for her and the customers loved it. She is a hard working girl and is willing to try something different. Everyone that’s been there has said how good it is. It is a limited menu too which is a good thing and means that everything is cooked fresh.

People are willing to try cuts of meat at a restaurant that they maybe wouldn’t try at home. I had pigs cheeks for the first time at a restaurant and they were lovely. Do you sell those?

Yes Julia cooks those! Another thing that is coming back into the restaurants is ox cheek which are lovely, and breast of lamb – Julia has those too. Shanks of lamb are good for the restaurants too – very popular. We do sell them to customers if they are in the cabinet but not many people ask for them, but of course we can do them. We are supplying Julia with grouse next week which is also quite reasonable.

Yes, we had been buying breast of lamb for the dogs and Paul (a butcher at George’s) recommended that we try it (also my Mum had said that they used to eat it years ago) and it was lovely! You can buy the stuffed breasts of lamb now in the supermarket.

What is your favourite cut of meat?

A sirloin steak or roast beef. As I’ve got older, I love lamb as well – the best end of neck boned out and rolled. I like pork as well.

Brian then asked me a question! How is it that you come out to Talgarth for your meat? How did you find out about us?

Actually I can’t remember how we first found out about you. We were coming on holiday to Hay on Wye for about 8 years before we moved here. We wouldn’t go anywhere else on holiday – we just kept coming back to a beautiful cottage at the foot of Hay Bluff. And of course the local producers – the meat especially – was so good and we have always loved our food. We used to go to the food festival at Abergavenny too. We had heard about George’s and so we came over to buy meat. We remember before the bypass was built and we used to drive through the town and Talgarth seemed very busy. It’s important for us to travel to get good meat if we have to because meat is such a big part of our diet now and we want it to be the best that we can get. We come from Brecon now but we don’t feel like it’s a long way to travel.

The thing that we loved when we first came to your butchers was how it is set out and how you can see the big slabs of meat and the big butchers block and people carrying carcasses back and forth.  And of course watching the butchers cutting the meat – we love to watch that – and everything is in front of you. I remember the first time we came in and thought ‘This is a real butchers!’ I was brought up in London and we just didn’t see butchers like that, although when my mum was young they did have them. She knows all about the cuts of meat and they were very knowledgeable back then. Richard’s father trained at Smithfield too.

Back to Bryan:

Yes, you can’t beat London training for the butchers – especially Smithfield.

We did have the chance of getting somewhere in Brecon and in Hay. Of course Hay would have been good but then you can get too big. We would have to put a manager in each shop and then you get too big and lose control. We do get people come over from Hay. I think that the heart of the matter really is the slaughterhouse – choosing your own quality. It comes back to that every time, even though it’s a lot of hassle and a lot of expense. We have levy payments, offal disposal fees (£170-£250 per week, and sometimes over £300), meat inspection charges etc. all before it reaches the shop. Even a new pair of pads for the pig machine costs over £1000. That is why we kill some privates as well. If people have a couple of sheep to kill we do it for them because it needs to be done on licensed premises. Then they might sell it via the farmers market, at the farm gate or between friends. We do quite a bit of that and it helps to pay the overheads.

As this fascinating interview came to an end I thanked Bryan and Gaynor for taking the time to speak to us. We could have carried on for hours but of course they needed to be up early in the morning to start again.  As we left, it dawned on us how lucky we are to have people such as Bryan and his family. As Paleo becomes ever more popular and people strive to access the highest quality meat they can find, butchers take on an increasingly important role. Local butchers need supporting and their craftsmanship and history recognising. Speaking to Bryan and Gaynor confirmed that the art of butchery is not lost – it is alive and well in Talgarth.

 © Past Present Paleo 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Chilli Heaven

I love Mexican food but have no idea about cooking it. I’m afraid to say that chilli, guacamole and salsa are the limits of my repertoire. Nevertheless, this chilli is gorgeous and a new favourite meal. It is made up of various recipes that I found on the net. I have no idea if it is: a) in any way authentic or b) if I am committing chilli murder by using these ingredients. All I know is that it tastes great. It has a kick but it is not too hot and you definitely won’t miss the beans. As always, it tastes even better the next day.

Chilli 1

We found some dried chipotles and ancho chillies in the supermarket, so we experimented with them. You could adjust quantities to taste and depending on how hot you like it. We didn’t bother pre-soaking them as the chilli was cooked for quite a long time. Remember to use gloves for the anchos. Richard chopped them without gloves and then – despite washing his hands – touched his face and got burnt. If that does happen, rub with olive oil as apparently the capsaicin (the chemical that makes chillies hot) dissolves in oil. It worked!

If you cannot find the dried chillies in the supermarket, there are Mexican food suppliers on the net but I thought these two looked particularly good:
Mex Grocer
Cool Chile

2lb minced beef/diced beef
Large onion
4 large garlic cloves
Red pepper
3 tsp smoked paprika
3 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1-2 tbsp tomato puree
Glass of red wine
3 tsp oregano
1 desertspoon of ground coffee
Few large squares 85% chocolate
1.5 cup beef stock
1 dried ancho chilli de-seeded
2 chipotle chillies de-seeded

Dice the onion and fry until transluscent.
Add the chopped peppers and mushrooms and fry until soft.

Chilli 2






Add spices and fry until aromatic.
Add beef and fry until gently browned.

Chilli 5






Add chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, vinegar, oregano, coffee, chocolate and stock.

Chilli 7






De-seed and chop the dried chillies using scissors and add to pan.

Chilli 3

Chilli 4





Bring to gentle boil and then gently simmer for a few hours or more.

Chilli 6






Serve with coconut cauliflower rice, sour cream (if you tolerate dairy)/guacamole/salsa, a wedge of lime and of course, a margarita.

Chilli 8









© Past Present Paleo 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Protein as bad as smoking – a ‘steak through the heart’?

‘High protein diet as bad for health as smoking’ – 348 news articles UK/ 15,400 news articles worldwide

‘Saturated fat is not bad for health’, says heart expert’ – 67 news articles UK/ 2,640 news articles worldwide

Two very different headlines and both in the news last week. You can guess which of the two dominated conversations in the workplace, on radio and tv, at the supermarket checkout, even between random strangers on the street…. Yes, the ‘eating meat kills you’ line rears its ugly head again.

My first reaction to this headline was to take a look at the original paper, ‘Low Protein Intake Is Associated with a Major Reduction in IGF-1, Cancer, and Overall Mortality in the 65 and Younger but Not Older Population’. You can find it here.

The study combined data from 6,381 US men and women over 50 with ‘mouse and cellular studies’. Data collected from people was based on a 24 hour recollection of what they had eaten. This data showed an average consumption of 1,823 calories, the majority of which came from carbohydrates (51%), then fat (33%) and protein (16%), with most of it (11%) derived from animal protein. That is by any description a high-carbohydrate diet although 1,823 calories seems very low, so I wonder how accurately people reported their eating.

The people were followed up for 18 years and results showed 40% overall mortality (2553 people), 19% cardiovascular disease (CVD) mortality (485 people), 10% cancer mortality (255 people), and about 1% diabetes mortality (26 people). So, data from one day’s eating was extrapolated over an 18 year period to help us understand why people died. One day of eating sure gives us an awful of information, but on we go…

The results of this experiment are written here as follows:

‘Using Cox Proportional Hazard models we found no association between protein consumption and either all cause, CVD, or cancer mortality (Table S2). However, high and moderate protein consumption were positively associated with diabetes – related mortality. One explanation is that diabetes may be more prevalent in these groups, possibly because of a switch to a higher protein, lower fat, and lower carbohydrate intake following a diabetes diagnosis. Finally, high versus low protein consumption was found to be associated with an over ten-fold increase in the risk of diabetes mortality for subjects age 66 and over.

However, the much higher prevalence of subjects with a history of diabetes in the high protein group and the small number of subjects dying of diabetes in the low protein group may account for this, thus emphasizing the need for additional studies to determine the role of protein intake on diabetes incidence and mortality.’

From that, I take that there is NO association between high to moderate protein diets and death by cancer, CVD or all cause. Also, that any rise in diabetes deaths was so small and inconclusive that further studies are needed.

However, finding no overall link between protein consumption and these diseases, the study then goes on to isolate the findings according to age. They are broken down into two groups: 50–65 and those aged 66 or over. The people in the former group had ‘a 74% increase in their relative risk of all-cause mortality’ and were ‘more than four times as likely to die of cancer’ during the following 18 years. How this conclusively proves that moderate to high protein consumption causes cancer and death is a mystery. There could be a myriad of confounding factors and as we know so well, correlation is not causation. Nevertheless, the study finds that ‘high levels of animal proteins promote mortality and that plant-based proteins have a protective effect.’

The study then looked at IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor), which is a hormone that regulates the effects of the growth hormone (GH) in the body. When we are young, we need this hormone to generate growth in our bones and organs but as we age, cell proliferation also carries with it the risk of genetic mutations that may lead to cancer, so there is an argument that high circulating IGF-1 levels pose a risk. Obviously we want the right amount of IGF-1 at the right time and not levels that are abnormally high. Dairy products have been linked to high IGF-1 levels and calorie restricted diets have been found to lower IGF-1 levels.

Levels of IGF-1 were only available for 2,253 people. Although the study states that for those in the 50-65 bracket on a moderate to high protein diet, the risks of all-cause and cancer mortality were increased further with high levels of IGF-1, it also confusingly states that ‘IGF-1 did not account for the association between protein consumption and mortality’. Next they ran ‘predicted hazard ratios’ on the IGF-1 and protein groups to calculate risks.

The data was then combined with ‘mouse and cellular studies’ to look at the effect of IGF-1 levels.

The mice in the high protein group were fed on Harlan AIN-93G (see contents here – just scroll down the page to find the AIN-93G pdf). The diet was 60% carbohydrates, 7% fat and 18% protein (from casein – a milk protein) and contained corn starch, Maltodextrin, Sucrose, Soybean Oil and Cellulose. The study states that ‘additional diets with contents ranging from 4%-18% kcal from protein were created using either the AIN-93G purified diet or the Soy protein diet (93G, G) as reference standards’.

How can we derive data regarding nutrition when mice are fed food filled with such as corn starch, Maltodextrin, Sucrose, Soybean Oil and Cellulose? How can we isolate protein as the culprit against the background of such a combination of other foodstuffs? What does this tell us about meat consumption when the protein used is casein? How can this tell us that consumption of beef in the context of a healthy, real food diet such as Paleo will give us cancer? I just don’t understand the giant leaps that this research makes. But once all of the confusing data, tenuous links, projections, risk analysis and hazard ratios are combined, we end up with a headline that equates high protein with cancer and ultimately that is what makes the news.

The study was funded by NIH/NIA grants to V.D.L. V.D.L has equity interest in a company called L-Nutra. The company make plant-based ‘anti-aging’ replacement meals that mimic the effect of a calorie restricted/fasting diet for chemotherapy patients or for anyone that wishes to ‘increase healthspan’. It makes sense that the research findings are clearly in favour of a predominantly plant-based diet, with the study stating that ‘… associations were either abolished or attenuated if the proteins were plant derived.’

The possibility of using calorie restriction as a way to treat cancer is certainly interesting. There is some very exciting research taking place by Professor Seyfried at Boston College using ketogenic diets (extremely high fat, moderate protein and very low carbohydrate) in conjunction with calorie restriction to treat cancer – see the Resources page. Calorie restriction may be easier in the context of a ketogenic diet as the body is satisfied with very high levels of fat and low levels of carbohydrates, removing the need to eat frequently. However, calorie restriction is not the crux of the argument put forward by this research. This study was clearly intended to promote a plant-based diet while vilifying protein-based diets. Sadly, those hysterical headlines are what people remember.

In the same week as the above story appeared, I was so pleased to see this article about a paper written for the BMJ journal Open Heart by Dr DiNicolantonio, of Ithica College, New York. Dr DiNicolantonio discusses the vilification of saturated fat and the dangers of high carbohydrates. Read the original paper here. It is an excellent summary of the misleading dietary advice adhered to over the last few decades. Many of the issues that Dr DiNicolantonio discusses are touched upon elsewhere on this site (and on other sites that I have recommended over in Resources) – the unfounded fears over saturated fat, the dangers of a high refined carbohydrate diet, the misinformation regarding cholesterol… So refreshing to see this reaching the news but as I said at the beginning of this post, you can guess which of the two stories generated the most publicity.

© Past Present Paleo 2013. All Rights Reserved.






Grain Brain

There are many great books that I have recommended – see over in the Resources section for further information – but I wanted to dedicate some time talking about Grain Brain as it is a relatively new and generated much debate in the ancestral health scene upon its release.

Brain Grain

I first heard of Dr Perlmutter after listening to this fantastic discussion with Robb Wolf. I was very interested in what he had to say and like many others, I was intrigued to hear his advice to limit carbohydrates to around 60g per day for optimum brain health.  I have a particular interest in the effect of nutrition on the brain as I have previously been diagnosed with Trigeminal Neuralgia and presently have facial palsy. I have undergone brain scans and my neurologist stressed the need to keep a look-out for symptoms of MS in the future, so I guess that worried me quite a bit. My diet was excessively grain and carbohydrate-based with low fat and low cholesterol for most of my life and I suffered low moods for as long as I can remember. This was also coupled with severe digestive issues – see here. Since going Paleo, I am always interested to read about the food/brain/gut connection as I have seen such fantastic improvements since starting the diet and want to find out more.

Of course in addition to this – and like many others – I am concerned about the rising number of people suffering with dementia. This is something that I not only find sad and worrying, but I am convinced that dietary elements are hugely significant in the sudden rise of this illness and that dietary intervention could at least improve the condition, and certainly help to prevent it.

‘The origin of brain disease is in many cases predominantly dietary.’

After listening to the podcast, I ordered Grain Brain immediately (not something I do often) and read it cover to cover. I have just finished a second reading and I would like to share some information on the book. As expected, Grain Brain did not get any publicity here in the UK, even as we struggle with soaring rates of diabetes, Alzheimers and obesity. Though some may disagree with Dr Perlmutter regarding the role of diet in causing these diseases or the amount of carbohydrates Dr Perlmutter recommends for brain health, Grain Brain remains an important book that is essential reading for anyone who has suffered from neurological disorders or indeed anyone that is concerned about protecting the health of their brain.


Dr Perlmutter is a practising Neurologist and also a fellow at the American College of Nutrition. His credentials are impressive – see his C.V. here – and he has devoted his career to working with patients who have neurodegenerative disorders. He has a particular interest in the role of nutrition in brain health and has written and presented widely on the subject.  Dr Perlmutter’s father also practised in the field of Neurology. A former Neurosurgeon and 96 at the time of the book’s release, he now suffers from dementia and Dr Perlmutter touchingly describes how he still dresses to see his patients every day. In both interviews and writing, Dr Perlmutter is passionate and persuasive and my only reservation before reading the book was that he acts as medical advisor to the Dr Oz show (check out the reception that Gary Taubes received on Dr Oz here). However, this concern was set aside once I started reading…

Brain disfunction is not normal

Grain Brain argues that the obesity and Alzheimers epidemic is predominantly due to a diet that is high in carbohydrates but low in essential fat and cholesterol. This diet has starved the brain of its necessary nutrients and overdosed it with sugar which, together with the ever-increasing use of statins to lower cholesterol even further, is causing a brain health disaster. This is not meant to happen. Something is seriously amiss and Dr Perlmutter states that ‘We are designed to be smart people our entire lives. The brain is supposed to work well until our last breath.’ So what has gone wrong?

Gluten – a ‘silent germ’

Dr Perlmutter argues that the presence of gluten in our foods has had an insidious effect on brain health, causing inflammation and infiltration of the blood-brain barrier. He describes it as a nervous system ‘irritant’ and gluten sensitivity as the ‘most under-recognised health threat to humanity’ .

‘one of the largest and most wide-reaching events in the ultimate decline of brain health in modern society has been the introduction of wheat grain into the human diet’.

Gluten is linked to a range of illnesses including dementia, diabetes, depression, inflammatory diseases, schizophrenia and ADHD (the list is much longer). Dr Perlmutter uses examples of patients such as Kurt, whose distressing symptoms (in the case of Kurt, convulsive tremors) were greatly improved – if not cured – by the elimination of gluten from their diet. There is a wealth of information on the internet regarding the possible link between gluten and brain disorders and I am surprised at the lack of attention this receives outside of research/medical/dietary circles.

One of the most important things that Dr Perlmutter stresses is that gluten damage is not necessarily experienced through stomach problems but can often be undetected for many years as it silently affects the brain: ‘99% of people whose immune systems react negatively to gluten don’t even know it’.

Blood sugar chaos

Along with the problem of gluten, Dr Perlmutter stresses that high blood sugar levels and the ensuing insulin resistence cause mayhem within the body over time. High blood sugar should be avoided as much as possible to limit the deleterious inflammatory effect on the brain.

Dr Perlmutter tells us how vascular dementia, which occurs with the hardening and subsequent narrowing of arteries in the brain cause ‘blockages and strokes which kill brain tissue’. The oxidation and inflammation which leads to this state of atherosclerosis is a direct result from high blood sugar levels and it is essential to do everything we can to prevent this occurring. In order to achieve this we need to cut carbohydrates.

‘the link between sugar and oxidative stress cannot be overstated.’

Grain Brain explores the links between diabetes and dementia and quotes research that suggests diabetes doubles the risk for Alzheimers. It is the production of Advanced Glycation Endproducts (AGEs) that links the two diseases and we read an excellent description of how these ‘deformed proteins’ are able to wreak havoc on the body. Dr Perlmutter argues that a high sugar diet ‘speeds up’ the glycation process (itself a natural part of aging) and that the best way to reduce AGEs is to reduce the amount of sugar in the diet.

Cholesterol is critical

We learn that cholesterol is essential for brain health and low levels of cholesterol are potentially dangerous for the brain. Dr Perlmutter explains the myriad ways in which cholesterol is used by the body and argues that people with low cholesterol levels are at much greater risk from diseases such as dementia and other neurological problems as the brain is unable to function properly. He quotes studies that point to high levels of cholesterol being associated with better memory function and increased longevity, while other studies show that low levels of LDL are linked to an increased risk of Parkinsons disease. Dr Perlmutter stresses that cholesterol – in particular the so-called ‘bad’ LDL – should not be feared. It is only when this becomes oxidised (as a direct result of a high carbohydrate diet) that problems occur.

Fat: ‘our brain’s secret love’

Fat is extremely important for brain health and Dr Perlmutter discusses the massive error that our governments have made by advocating low-fat diets. The hysteria surrounding fat and heart health is examined, as well as the history of our fat phobia and the erroneous lipid hypothesis that spurned decades of low-fat diets. Dr Perlmutter quotes a study ‘involving more than 340,000 subjects followed from periods of five to 23 years’ which failed to show that saturated fat intake was associated with ‘an increased risk of coronary heart disease, stroke or cardiovascular disease’.  Good fats that are high in Omega-3s reduce inflammation, boost the immune system and transport essential vitamins. There is an excellent overview of the importance of fat in just about every area of the human body. However, it is the brain where the consequences of our lack of dietary fat is felt so acutely.

Statin madness

Dr Perlmutter discusses the rise in the use of statins to lower cholesterol. It is this phenomenon, combined with a typical low-fat, high carbohydrate diet comprised chiefly of gluten-containing grains that has, according to Dr Perlmutter, created the ‘perfect storm’ for brain health and contributed to the dementia and diabetes epidemic (diseases that he argues are inextricably linked). We read about the deleterious effects that statins have on brain function and Dr Perlmutter states that statins ‘may cause or exacerbate brain disorders or diseases’. For instance, by inhibiting the production of cholesterol, statins affect the release of neurotransmitters which are directly linked to memory function. Statins also inhibit the production of Enzyme Q-10, deficiency of which is linked to a host of problems, especially fatigue and muscular pain (common complaints of statin-users) and even heart failure and Parkinson’s disease. These are just some of the many problems brought about by statin use that Grain Brain highlights.

I have to say that anyone who has watched ‘Statin Nation’ will agree that the proposed mass-medication with these drugs is downright scary – see recent UK headlines here. Any favourable outcome they do show with people that have already suffered heart attacks is down to the fact that they are anti-inflammatory, a preventative effect that could be replicated through diet – and without drugs with the ensuing harmful side-effects – if there existed the impetus from the medical profession (and without the pressure from pharmaceutical giants).

The argument that people are not able to follow dietary advice and so need to be pumped full of drugs instead crumbles when we know that the dietary advice churned out for decades has been not only been downright wrong (low-fat, high carbohydrates, margarines instead of butter, trans-fats…) but has led to even further deterioration in our nations’ health. As Dr Perlmutter argues, because cholesterol is essential for so many processes within the human body and especially the brain, using statins to reduce cholesterol is not only madness, it is downright dangerous.

Inflammation: silent and devastating

As we know, inflammation is a symptom of many of the major diseases of mankind. Rather than the underlying cause of disease, inflammation is a natural response by the body when something is wrong but itself acts as a trigger for further damage. Irritants to the nervous system such as gluten and high sugar diets turn on the inflammation response and this is constantly maintained throughout a lifetime, leading to a reduction of cellular function.

We read how oxidative stress and the ensuing creation of free radicals which generate further inflammation leaves us open to a wide range of diseases. Remember that it is the oxidized LDL that causes the problems in our arteries. Inflammation is the body trying desperately to cope with a problem and can be triggered by the body’s immune system trying to deal with a foreign ‘invader’ such as gluten.

 ‘No organ is more susceptible to the deleterious effects of inflammation than the brain.

The problem that Dr Perlmutter stresses throughout the book is that unless we experience neurological problems or headaches, it is difficult to find out what is wrong until late into the condition. Inflammation cannot be ‘felt’ by the brain and so by the time we experience symptoms, the damage may already be well advanced – a worrying thought.

The gut: ‘our second brain’

The chapter on the role of gluten in mood disorders and neurological problems such as persistent headaches is particularly fascinating. I do believe that what we eat has a profound effect on our mental state both in the short and long-term and I have read about the links between schizophrenia and gluten/leaky gut (I first read about this in Dr Loren Cordain’s Paleo Diet book), so I was very interested in hearing Dr Perlmutter talk about this in detail.

The increasing rates of depression and the prescription of anti-depressants in both the US and UK is a worrying trend, along with the increased use of drugs to treat disorders such as ADHD. Recent headlines such as this in the UK suggest that in the case of depression, targeting potential sufferers with drugs at an earlier age will become increasingly common. Dr Perlmutter argues that often, these problems can be alleviated by the removal of gluten from the diet.

I was surprised to read that autism has also been linked to gluten sensitivity and Dr Perlmutter states that ‘As much as celiac is an inflammatory disorder of the gut, autism is an inflammatory disorder of the brain.’ I was also surprised at the link between depression, low cholesterol and celiac disease. As the gut lining is damaged by gluten, the absorption of nutrients essential for brain health is inhibited, setting off a chain-reaction of adverse effects. Dr Perlmutter also tells us that the nerve cells in the gut manufacture ‘an estimated 80 to 90% of our body’s seratonin’ (our ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitter). I had no idea about this. The role of the gut in our brain health (and happiness) cannot be over-estimated and I felt that this was one of the strongest chapters in the book.

Additional brain boosters

Dr Perlmutter also covers calorie restriction and the benefits of a ketogenic diet for patients with cognitive decline. He also talks about the importance of exercise and intellectual stimulation for brain health.

I was also interested in his discussion of anti-oxidants. Dr Perlmutter stresses that we need to stimulate the body’s production of anti-oxidants such as Glutathione (which fight oxidative damage and free radicals) rather than consume anti-oxidants through diet. This boosting of anti-oxidants is possible via the Nrf2 pathway which triggers cells into anti-oxidant production. Dr Perlmutter highlights the importance of foods such as oily fish (high in DHA or Docosahexaenoic acid which is essential for brain health), turmeric, green tea extract, broccoli and coffee which can all activate the Nrf2 pathway. Dr Perlmutter also gives us lots of advice on supplements, recipes, and sleep to ensure optimum brain health.

Final thoughts

I found this book absolutely fascinating and I have to say that I couldn’t put it down. I do understand the issue that some have with Dr Perlmutter’s recommendations for only 60g of carbs a day, particularly for those who are healthy, with no signs of metabolic syndrome and who exercise vigorously, although Dr Perlmutter states that in the case of athletes, ‘pushing your daily allowance to 90 or 100 grams of carbs/day is certainly acceptable.

Along with others, I am reluctant to think that consuming 100g of carbs a day – we are talking vegetables, sweet potatoes, limited fruit – when seen in the context of a clean Paleo diet would be dangerous in terms of brain health but of course this depends on the individual.  For someone coming from a standard UK/USA diet, following Dr Perlmutters recommendations but eating 100g of ‘good’ carbs may indeed produce dramatic improvements, but is it too much? As Dr Perlmutter states throughout Grain Brain, the problem is that when it comes to the brain, how can we know before it’s too late?

I do feel that people have to find what carb level works for them. The lower end of the scale is definitely the place to start for those with neurological disorders such as those discussed in the book but it is important to remember that Dr Perlmutter makes it clear that he believes all people should err on the side of caution and cut carbohydrates to the 60g level (apart from athletes as mentioned). However, if this level really doesn’t work for the individual and they feel like they cannot function, then perhaps it needs to be revised.

The elegant simplicity of Paleo appeals to people on an instinctual level and the personal experimentation needed to tweak the diet is central to its success. What works for someone in their 60s who has spent a lifetime consuming carbs with all the signs of metabolic syndrome compared to someone in their 20s who works out and is super-fit may be different. But in the scheme of things – and in comparison to the average UK or US diet – these tweaks (40-odd grams of carbohydrates?) are ‘small-fry’. The similarities of two such approaches outweigh any differences by miles. Many of us come to Paleo with a history of problems or with a background of family illness so I guess it is up to us to weigh up the pros and cons of Dr Perlmutters advice on carbs and tailor our diets to our profiles.

I do think it is a shame that for many people, the ‘take-away’ from this book is centred around the carbohydrates issue, when really most people would agree with Dr Perlmutter on many things – the need to keep blood sugar in check, the importance of fat, the unfounded fear of cholesterol etc. The book is full of excellent explanations of what are – to many people – fairly complicated topics and the research papers that Dr Perlmutter references are fascinating. Of course, some of the issues have been covered elsewhere but they are necessary to explain and support the central thesis of the book regarding brain health. It is when Dr Perlmutter explores the complex and fascinating relationship between diet, gut health and brain disease that this book really shines and where it becomes so thought-provoking. I do think that the link between these will become ever-more apparent and perhaps Grain Brain is one of many steps towards bringing the issues to the public. Because of that – and despite the heated debate over carbohydrate levels – for many people this is a must-read book.

For further discussion see the following blog posts and comments:
Robb Wolf, Low Carb and Paleo: My Thoughts Part 1
Robb Wolf, My Thoughts on Low Carb and Paleo, Part Deux
Robb Wolf, My thoughts on Low Carb and Paleo Episode 3: A New Hope
Chris Kresser, Do Carbs Kill Your Brain?