This has been long time coming, but I think I’m finally in a place where I can speak openly about the dietary changes I have implemented in my WOE on this blog. For over 2 months I have been lowering my intake of carbohydrates to about 50g or less a day all coming from plant sources – this means no sugar, no grains (no bread, pasta or rice), no starchy vegetables, fruit limited to berries (if that). You might know it as a low-carb diet, but it goes a little bit further than just low carb – it’s called a Ketogenic Diet and it’s been around for quite some time but has been stifled by the low-fat dogma propagated by pseudo scientists in the 1950s. The idea of removing those pesky carbs from one’s diet dates back to 1800s, actually, when a certain caretaker by the name of William Banting wrote his Letter on Corpulence addressed to the public based on his own experiences.
I’m not going to devote any time analyzing Bantings’s writings, as others have done it before and moreover it is not the purpose of this blog to seek the earliest sources of any type of diet. But if you are interested in the history of this WOE, you may find Bantings’ writings quite fascinating. What I am going to do though is to show you why I (and a slew of other followers, scientists and even doctors) believe this is the way to go for wellness, longevity and good health.
If you have ever been on a quest to lower your body weight you are probably quite familiar with the idea of lowering your intake of starchy carbohydrates in order to achieve this goal. This idea has been around forever and a day and nobody disputes the fact that it works – if you limit or completely eliminate mostly simple carbohydrates from your diet you will lose inches around your waist, no questions asked. The reason for this is simple : if you are not eating carbs (or very little coming from green leafy vegetables only) you will not induce an insulin response in your body and hence will not prompt fat storage. Let me explain:
Every time you eat a carbohydrate heavy meal (think pasta, rice, potatoes or other starches), the carbs from your meal raise your blood sugar, pancreas releases insulin to deal with this surge of sugar by transporting it to your cells for energy. Because you can only store a limited amount of this energy in the form of glycogen in your body, if you eat more carbohydrates than your body can use, the excess is going to be deposited on your body as fat. And as long as you eat more carbs than you can use (and let’s be honest most of us do), you will never start burning body fat for energy and lower your weight.
“OK” – you say – “so the answer is to eat less carbs than you need and fat won’t accumulate anymore and the body will start burning it for energy.” – In principle, yes, this will work. However, you have drastically eliminated the conventional energy source and if you are able to maintain this low-carb intake for long enough to burn though most of your body fat (remember the goal is not to burn it all, as there is an essential body fat level needed to maintain good health) you will eventually crash because you won’t be providing ANY energy source in the form of food or body fat to fuel your daily activities. That’s why, once you lower your carb intake, you will need to increase fat intake to keep fueling your body. And hence a Ketogenic diet : low-carb-high-fat diet aka LCHF.
Here is a neat little video explaining the role of insulin in making us fat for all of you visual types:
You might be asking yourself why do the switch if everybody is eating low-fat high-carb? Why should you care to switch your energy source from carbs to fat? You might have heard somewhere that carbs are very accessible for your body as energy source, so why complicate it and make it more difficult for your body? Your body has been using carbs for so many years to fuel itself, why switch now?
Well, the truth of the matter is that we turned to carbs, grains in particular, for energy with the onset of industrialization. In the past, our ancestors and native people never ate the amount of carbohydrates that modern people eat today – they used to eat fatty meats, an odd berry and herbs and wash it all down with an exorbitant amounts of full fat milk.* They did not suffer from the modern aliments that we are plagued with today such as diabetes, heart attacks, obesity etc. So given this simple detail, my question is: “Why wouldn’t we want to go back to the way we used to eat before most of the grocery store got packaged in cardboard boxes?”
The answer is we have an innate fear of the alternative energy source – FAT. We’ve been literally programmed to believe that the fat we put in our mouths will make us not only fat, but also sick. Yet, every single packaged food in the grocery store claims it is “low-fat” – so if we are consuming a low-fat diet already, why are we still fat and sick? Wouldn’t the opposite have to be the case? We are avoiding dietary fat as prescribed by various nutrition governing bodies, so shouldn’t we be all thin and healthy? If all these recommendations were based in science and research we would be walking examples of health and wellness, but as we are finding out now the low-fat dogma is not based in science but only in wishful thinking and manipulative tactics employed to make us believe fat is enemy number 1….
Stayed tuned for the FAT instalment of this series where I will try to convince you to give fat a chance.
If you remember my quick post about produce – From Farm to Table – you might be wondering how I use those precious Farm finds, or maybe not. Maybe your culinary genius has already created some scrumptious dishes with the produce you have acquired at your local farm. Whatever the case may be here is what I use my carrots and beets for:
This is nothing spectacular but when you “limit” yourself to fresh, natural food items you will realize that there is not much you need to do to your food to make it taste delicious.
I quickly peeled a bunch of beets and carrots and grated them in my 12 cup food processor – it literally took me 5 minutes. I transferred the grated mix into a large plastic container and put it in the fridge. In the meantime in a smaller food processor I put the following for the dressing:
Process everything on high and transfer into a jar for storing in the fridge. When you are ready to serve your meal scoop out as much of the carrot and beet mix as desired, pour some of your dressing over it and let sit for 5-10 minutes – for the vegetables to absorb some of the dressing goodness – and you are set. This is so simple, yet extremely satisfying.
In short the sugar industry knew all along that consumption of sugar should be minimal, but they did not want this to come out in public so they paid the equivalent of today’s 50k to some University scientists to fudge the data and point the finger at dietary fat and hence the fat phobia era had began. Since then just about every packaged product started displaying in bold letters “low-fat” or “no fat” making people believe that it is a good choice since everybody “knew” that fat was the enemy and should be avoided. However, nobody really questioned what the food manufacturers replaced the fat with, because let’s face it, if you remove the yummy stuff (aka fat) you end up with food products that taste like cardboard. Nobody was really concerned with this question, because all they knew was that the bad stuff has been removed so whatever remained was OK to eat. But we know now that the replacement – sugar – is far more dangerous to our health than a bit of healthy fat.
The truth of the matter is that when fat is removed it is in 99% of cases replaced with some form of sugar. Today we know that it’s the cane sugar that is responsible for most of the ills of the world, so people in the know – scientists such as Robert Lustig, David Ludwig, Gary Taubes, John Yudkin, Tim Noakes, David Perlmutter and many others – are trying to teach about the importance of switching from carb-high diet to high-fat diet that is very low in starch in order to live long, healthy lives. Just Google William Banting to find out how it all started.
So a natural progression for my browsing habits is to seek out information on a KetogenicWOE – I’ve even joined several Facebook Groups that focus on using fat as fuel and eliminating starchy carbohydrates from ones diet in order to achieve a ketogenic state. I will admit that some of these groups, IMHO do not recognize that calories still matter and people in these groups go overboard with fat consumption which really doesn’t help with attaining the goal of bodily fat loss. Very few and far between actually understand that if you carry a lot of fat on your body your goal should not be to douse every meal in tons of fat, because the excess will still be deposited as body fat regardless of whether or not its consumption is accompanied by carbohydrates – total calories still matter with this dietary approach. Now, there are a couple of groups that promote fat-centric diets but also promote adherence to macro oriented eating and monitoring calorie uptake. However, one of these groups that I really enjoyed visiting also goes the other extreme way where natural foods such as carrots and beets are deemed unacceptable because they contain fructose….
Yes, all vegetables will contain a certain level of fructose (it’s more obvious for fruits) but they are also accompanied by fibre, vitamins and minerals that will make the consumption of such fructose acceptable, at least in my books. However, certain proponents of the Ketogenic Diet shun everything that contains fructose, unless it’s less than 1g per 100g – if you are interested in exploring the different levels of fructose in fruits and vegetables to see how they compare there is plenty of resources out there. However for me, this is where I draw the line – I consider this way of thinking extreme and therefore dangerous and if carrots and beets are not allowed on any WOE then maybe it’s the wrong way of eating. I understand the concept of banning processed sugary junk from ones diet, but in terms of vegetables there is only one that I consider unworthy of my plate and that’s a potato.
I’m proud to say that I’ve been making a conscious effort to include myself on our weekend’s hikes and this past Sunday I finally figured out a way to not let unaccomplished tasks ruin my enjoyment of the hike. You know the saying “If you want it done, do it yourself”? Not that I ever wait for anybody else do my shit, but when I woke up at 5AM to head out to the gym to get my dose of endorphins prior to the hike it suddenly dawned on me that going to train at the gym will not get my shit done (d’oh) – what will is actually dong it. So I decided to yet again skip the gym (Jeez I have to stop the skipping or I’m going to lose all my muscle mass – JK) and instead get my food ready for the coming week. By the time I was done – at about 8AM – I was in a great spirits and was actually looking forward to some leg exercise on the trail – funny how it works sometimes.
I was somewhat disappointed when I heard from my partner that we might not go out after all because there doesn’t seem to be much sun outside. Let me elaborate: he has done this trail many times before, so for him to go on any trail he’s visited before the weather must be splendid because it’s an opportunity for photography. With an overcast sky it seemed like pictures might come out only mediocre. So when I heard him say it might not happen, at first I felt bummed out, thinking that now I wouldn’t get any exercise in at all that day. But my mind works in mysterious ways and can quickly switch gears – I immediately started planning all the things that needed my attention and I was quickly off in the land of cookery and blog writing…. That was short lived because within an hour the sky cleared up just enough for us to decide to head out anyway, plus he needed my help with the custodian report. So just like that we decided to go.
It is our attitude at the beginning of a difficult task which, more than anything else, will affect its successful outcome. ~ William James
You might be wondering about the mysterious title of this post, so let me explain as none of my posts would be complete without some food talk. As I have mentioned before I have been running a small experiment on my body – I’m trying to become fat-adapted. In a nutshell it’s a WOE that involves lowering the carbohydrate intake to about 50g total and 30g net. This means that one has to derive energy from fat, so fat intake increases to make up for the missing carbohydrates. This in turn makes the body utilize fat as a source of energy – however the process does not happen overnight and requires a strict adherence to one’s diet. It takes on average about a month for the body to create ketons as a result of reducing the amount of carbohydrates and those ketons are then utilized for running the body. Why am I trying to do all this? Well, it turns out that fat adapted body will burn body fat more efficiently than a body that runs on carbs and don’t we all want to get rid of some jiggle from our frames?
So, at about 8AM I had a fat hearty breakfast that consisted of 2 eggs, 50g of ground lamb, 120g Keto Buns that I made into a loaf and some low carb veggies: 15g carbs, 25g fat and 33g protein and it looked like this:
The slice you see to your left is not a conventional type of bread. It was made with almond flour, ground flax seed, coconut flour and psyllium husk powder. This makes it a high fat bread that will not raise your insulin levels in response to carbohydrate intake.
We then went out at about 11AM and hiked close to 10KM. All throughout the hike I did not feel that I needed to stop for a snack in order to keep going. In fact, only after arriving home at about 3PM did I feel like I could eat again. Why I am saying this? Well, like I mentioned above, fat-adapted people are able to utilize the already present source of fuel – body fat. So what that means is that when exerting yourself the body turns to available fuel source instead of making you feel weak – you certainly know the “hitting the wall” feeling when you run out of steam and just have to eat. Well, I did not get that feeling even though I spent a span of 7 hours without food. This is quite liberating if you ask me and on top of that – if this is what’s happening – I’m getting rid of the jiggle without the hunger pangs! I don’t know about you but I’m willing to limit the chew factor if I’m getting two birds killed with one stone :).
For the past couple of years I have been saying that the seasons have officially shifted their positions. It seems that summer only starts in August these days, but as a result it sticks around much longer than it used. So, this past weekend it seemed like a no-brainer that we would head out into the woods – since the weather gods blessed us with some sunshine. May I add that it’s like a religious ritual in our household to compare notes on the weather systems and whenever one of us gets some good news about the upcoming weekend’s weather we share it with the other person with the understanding that something might be happening outdoors. And so it did – Saturday was the day.
We were planning to come back to Picco’s Ridge Path for a while – it being Randy’s favourite path to hike mostly due to its roughness and high difficulty level. So the verdict was in – we were going to tackle it again. We parked one car at each end, which meant we were going to hike it one way – that would give us roughly 14.5km. To me, that’s a good hike that requires a better part of the day to be completed – this is probably due to my European origins. Randy tells me that European style of hiking limits how far they can go since they do not attach particular attention to the weight they are carrying, shoes or clothing they are wearing etc – this slows them down greatly making them unable to cover great distances and 14km becomes a full day of walking – think multiple rest periods, slower pace, etc. American style long distance hiking, on the other hand, focuses greatly on weight of pretty much everything hiking related – I’d call it a minimalist approach. Whereas the Europeans will carry everything they feel is necessary to make them feel comfortable while camping (not so much while hiking), Americans are prone to prefer to do without some amenities for the sake of being able to go further. So, you see, even though I carry absolutely nothing on our day hikes and my clothing – including shoes and any layers – are the lightest they can possibly be, my European roots are stronger than that and for now I consider 14km a pretty good hike. Rest assured that I’m working on my endurance daily, so just watch me – I’ll toughen up soon enough. But of course, I digress…
It was a pretty rough start to this hike at about 11:00AM by the time we got the cars situated and ended up at the South Trail End in Portugal Cove. That day I decided to skip the gym visit that I would ordinarily have on a Saturday morning to train legs – I figured that I was going to be using my legs all day long so I might as well preserve my energy for the walking and so I slept in and did not get my dose of endorphins first thing in the morning. That was a mistake, because in consequence all I could think about as we were getting ready for the hike was the fact that this was going to be it – we would hike the remainder of the day and nothing else would get done in the house. You see, I’m not very productive during the week in terms of household duties – I am way too beat out at the end of the workday to do anything after work (after all, my day starts at 3AM) – so the weekend is when I can catch up with stuff. That morning I let this simple thought overtake my mind that I almost ruined the whole experience. Thankfully I didn’t – I had enough sense in me to not take the bailout offer from Randy when he realized something was off – I simply said we were going to do it.
I thought my mood was going to be sour for the duration of the hike but it turned out not to be the case and the moment my feet hit the trail I was good to go – I’ve forgotten all about the household chores! I don’t know if it was the outdoors, the company or the fact that we started the hike at our most recent shakedown spot where we camped out back in late August – maybe it was a combination of all three and the fact that I’m starting to be more accepting of this activity being a part of my life now. I’ll never know, because what’s the point dwelling on figuring out things that finally truly work? Isn’t it better and easier to just enjoy them as they are? I think it is…
I’m both saddened and happy to say that this is as far as we have gone on this hike – we turned around here and headed back to the car parked in Portugal Cove. It made me sad because I think I’m slowly catching the hiking bug – the one that makes you push and challenge yourself to see how far your body can take you. It seems that the body can, in fact, go to great distances if you only let it – if you limit it with your mind you will only go so far, but let your mind be limitless and the body will not stop – mind over matter, they say.
What made me happy about this unexpected detour was the realization that my partner has my back at all times. When you realize that your safety and your comfort are far more important than any challenge, adventure or CPH you become truly happy and at peace. For me, this happened at this little, yet quite monumental river where Randy scoped the crossability of the river in two different spots only to come back across and say “This is pretty shaky and the water level is quite high – I’m not risking you falling in a getting soaked. We can go back the way we came.” I didn’t object, because I knew if I was to be stupid stubborn about it this hike could have ended up quite terribly – so without a word I agreed. We will certainly come back when the temperatures allow for some toe dipping (intentional or not)!
You know this post would not be complete without some food talk, so here it is. I decided to take only fat high snacks on this hike as I am actively trying to switch gears nutrition-wise to become a fat burner. I have mentioned this before in my recipe post for these crackers. – so this was the first time I tried getting all my energy predominantly from dietary fat during a hike. Pretty much everything we eat has traces of carbs, unless of course you are eating pure coconut oil. A serving of these seed crackers has 15g of fat, and both protein and carbs are around 7g each – so most of the energy comes from fat. And let me tell you something, you don’t need a lot of these to feel satiated which is both a curse and a blessing. I don’t know about you but I enjoy the act of eating – I think most everyone does, so the fact that volume-wise there is not that much to chew on takes away from this pleasure. However, from the hiker’s perspective this is a blessing because less volume equals less weight on their back and that would make any hiker happy. But this is a topic for a whole new post….
On this hike I had 30g of these Seed Crackers, 30g of another type made out of chia seeds and 1.5oz of cashews, which I only ate because I felt I wanted to chew for a bit longer – yes, I know, the carboholic in me is strong and is dying a slow painful death, but it’s on its way out, I promise.
I’ve been diligently working on developing trail worthy snack foods that will also fit into the type of foods I am willing to eat and I’m happy to say I’m finding ways of making this a success. I should also add that I have been slowly moving away from deriving my energy from carb sources and turning toward fats for energy – hence you will see more fat oriented recipes in the future. The reason for this is simple – I feel better running on fat rather than carbs. Carbs make me sluggish and make me crave more of them as opposed to making me feel satiated. Fats on the other hand keep me satiated longer and I don’t get those common stomach pangs that you get a couple of hours after consuming a meal when you fuel yourself with carbs. The thought of being able to go without having to eat for longer periods of time without the discomforts of hunger is quite liberating, if you ask me. Hence these Seed Crackers are very high in fat.
The idea of making my own Seed Crackers came to me when I spotted this bag at my favourite retail store – Winners.
Winners is a place where I go for a dose of things I can’t find anywhere else. I usually don’t bother with the Snack Isle and only scope the Spice Shelf of the Food Section – as I consider the Snack Shelf nothing more than a glorified Candy Isle from the local grocery store. However, on one of my recent visits I found this bag on the Clearance Shelf and picked it up to see the ingredient list – fully expecting to have to put it down. Often times, I will pick up a product just to see what’s in it and then promptly put it away because I deem it unworthy of my digestive system. 😉 However, this time I had to read the list twice to consider wether I wanted to put it back or purchase it. Have a look… these actually don’t contain anything that is bad strictly speaking – no questionable oils, no added sugars, just various seeds and grains :
So I decided I’d give them a try for the sole purpose of trying to replicate them – because let’s be honest, I will never again find another bag of these at Winners and who wants to pay $4.99 (regular price) a pop for a bag this small? Not me.
So next time I needed some hike food I came up with my own version of these – I call them Spicy Seed Crackers. I have recently made a huge batch of them to be available when hiking happens:
Spicy Seed Crackers Recipe Type : Snack Cuisine: Hiking Snacks Author: Angelika Prep time: 5 mins Cook time: 30 mins Total time: 35 mins Serves: 37 These are crunchy and crispy little crackers, but what's most important they are quite suitable for taking on long distance hikes 🙂
70g Pumpkin Seeds
80g Chia Seeds
72g Raw Sunflower Seeds
25g Ground Flax Seeds
30g Toasted Sesame Seeds
5g Himalayan Crystal Salt
5g Ground Pepper
5g Garlic Powder
5g Chilli Powder
5-6 Cloves of Roasted Garlic
Put all dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.
Add garlic and water and mix well.
Set aside for 10 minutes for the chia seeds to absorb some of the water.
On a baking sheet lined with some parchment paper spread the mixture evenly from edge to edge. You can use your fingers to do so or a large spoon. Make sure you spread the mixture evenly so that it bakes evenly as well.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 30-40 minutes checking occasionally to make sure it's not burning up on the edges. You can also flip it half way through, but it might be difficult to do if the cracker isn't yet somewhat baked through.
Remove from the oven and crack into pieces. I make them uneven, but you could score the raw mixture before putting in the oven and then crack them at the predetermined score lines for an even looking cracker.
Hope you enjoy making these yourself, as they are so simple even a 5 year old would be able to put them together 🙂
It boggles my mind how smart marketing can make us believe a food item is a healthy choice. Think about it; simple placement of the product in the store will lead the consumer to believe that it is in fact better than the same type of product that’s placed in an obviously unhealthy section of the store. Think Organic Isle sporting all the KIND type bars versus the Candy Isle with all the Snickers type bars. The obvious thinking from a consumer point of view will be to put Snickers type bars into the unhealthy category and the KIND type bars into a better (maybe healthy) category. But clearly, if you take the time to look at the contents of the KIND type bar you will quickly see that it does not differ that much in the nutritional breakdown from the obviously naughty bar. KIND is higher in fat whereas Snikers has more sugar added.
My verdict is that if I was in a dire need of food and all that was available was the choice between supposedly healthy bars and candy bars, I would opt for getting more fat than sugar and pick a KIND type bar to fuel myself. However, I will not be fooled into thinking that there is something inherently good and healthy about a KIND bar. It is for all intents and purposes a candy bar in my books – it has 4 different types of sugar added to it – hence it is a candy bar.
*Please note that the KIND bar is a smaller bar than the Snickers bar in weight, so in order to be accurate in comparing the nutritional value of both I adjusted the weight of the KIND bar to match that of the Snickers bar.
We have all heard complains about the price of produce – it’s been even in the news for crying out loud. The infamous price of cauliflower has been making rounds over and over. Now, granted there are some valid stories about prices of food in the rural areas of the north – I won’t dispute them. However, if you live in the metro area of St. John’s, Newfoundland there is no reason that you should complain about the price of produce, its availability or quality – you just have to know where to find it and not settle for less.
It’s been a tradition of ours to drive up and down Route 60 to visit local farmers to get the best quality of produce at fraction of the cost our local grocery store sells it. May I just add that the local Sobeys and Dominion are proudly sourcing a section of their produce from those same farmers and charging the client sometimes twice the price of what you pay to the farmer. I digress, I will instead show you how farmer’s produce is better than the regular store bought stuff .
So let me show you what I bought last weekend from our local farmers and compare it to the regular stuff you would usually get at Dominion and how the prices compare:
Total Farmer’s price : $11.50
Total Dominion’s price : $20.51
Shopping for these at Dominion you will pay 78% more than at the Farmer’s stand! Some items are comparable, but the total speaks for itself. Even if you take away the most expensive item, which is zucchini, you are still going to pay 38.5% more at Dominion. So, the choice is yours – go in and out of Dominion in 30 minutes flat and pay through the roof, or make a date out of it with your spouse and go visit your local farmers along Route 60. To me the choice is simple: not only am I getting quality, non-certified organic produce from the farmer at a great price, I am also supporting local economy and to top that off I’m spending quality time with a loved one. What could be better than that?
Exactly a year ago we were doing some car camping – after coming to the realization that I might not enjoy hiking/backpacking the way my partner does – I gave it one more try by switching gears a bit. He was resolved to the idea that I would never again accompany him on his hikes. It was a sad day, but he tried to accommodate and in an effort to keep some type of activity in common he offered to take me car camping to see if maybe I’d enjoy that better than hiking. I knew this was not something he was devoted to doing full time, but I appreciated the sentiment. So, on Labour Day Weekend of 2015 we went to La Manche Park to enjoy each other’s company. Long story short – I was one miserable creature – I failed yet again. Everything seemed to be an issue for me : the ground under the tent was slanty, it was cold, it rained quite a bit, I was chewing too much gum and that made me bloated… You name it, anything that could bother me, did – and it showed in my demeanour, I was awfully crooked the whole time. It was probably the last time I went out in the woods for any amount of time. I gave up trying because I simply did not enjoy myself and found all sorts of reasons to dislike it – it didn’t help that I was being accommodated in all sorts of ways – I just didn’t have it in me to let myself enjoy it. So I called it quits – that is, until now.
My partner had organized a backpacking trip to the Outport Trail in Terra Nova National Park for this year’s Labour Day Weekend. I knew a couple of people had signed up and as the day approached I toyed with the idea of joining in as well. Why all of a sudden I’d sign up for a 50km hike, you ask? Well, I’ve been reevaluating everything I knew about myself, my attitude and most importantly I’ve been awfully jealous of all the photos I’ve been seeing my partner bring home after each and every hike! They were simply spectacular – I didn’t realize Newfoundland scenics could be this beautiful! Every sunset and sunrise, every coastal shot made me ache with longing- my inner photographer missed the time of photo taking trips, the joy of seeing a story unfold in front of me as I reviewed pictures I’d taken that day. Taking pictures of your surroundings and then going through the processing phase to arrive at the final product is such a rewarding act. You feel like a creator of sorts.
As the day of the trip approached I expressed the idea of joining in. My partner was a tad surprised (and probably a bit sceptical ) by my sudden interest but instead of dismissing it he embraced it and offered to do a couple of shakedown hikes to prep me and when the departure day came we packed up and left for Terra Nova.
I should mention that the 50km that we were originally planning to do consisted of: 16km to the first campsite in South Broad Cove to stay overnight, the following day we were going to continue for 8km into an area that was officially closed to hikers so it would have involved a lot of bushwhacking to get through the overgrown parts (think: no board walks and having to cross various streams) – the final destination that we were trying to reach was Park Harbour. The same day we’d turn around in Park Harbour to make it back to South Broad Cove to camp again and the following day return to our cars. I will spare you the mystery right now and let you know that I chickened out when we started on the overgrown section of the trail. We crossed couple of small streams and all I could think of was “We’ll have to cross all this again…” – that thought made me uneasy. I felt very shaky every time crossing the streams – the rocks that we were using to help us cross were very slippery and I remembered the last time I slipped and fell into a stream was not very pleasant. So I pointed it out and just like that we turned around. On the way back we made it as far as Minchin’s Cove – 14km from the trail head – so a little bit back past South Broad Cove. All in all we hiked about 33km during the weekend.
The verdict is in and it’s a positive one – we are already planning the next backpacking adventure and I started reading the Appalachian Trail book my partner tried to get me to read so many times before.
I’ve learned that – like with anything in life – attitude is everything and it can make you or break you. I learned that if I accept the small discomforts of the trail (like wet feet) I am more likely to come out the other end victorious and ready for the next best thing. Same as taking the picture when the light is right – I simply decided to enjoy the beauty of the trail and the company of a loved one – and I’m glad to say that I found my happy place on the trail. The food was right if not a tad too plentiful, the weight on my back was manageable and my shoes were 100 times better than what I was used to wearing before. Not counting a couple of minor breakdowns along the way and the fact that I made everybody turn around before we reached the end, I still deem this expedition a success and one of many more to come.
If you are planing on a day hike all you really need to take with you on the trail are some snacks and you’ll be set. I talked about some options in my first instalment of Second Chances – showing you how you can easily create your own snacks without having to resort to store bought ones that are full of sugar and other unnecessary ingredients (having said that, if you are really strapped for time one healthy alternative in my books would be the LaraBar). However, if your partner is a crazy thru-hiker you might end up having to accompany him (or her) on overnighters to protect him from various predatory “animals” that might show up on the trail ;-). As a result you’ll find yourself in a situation where snack food is not quite enough and you’ll need some cooked meals with you as well.
Normally, healthy nutrition is not an issue for me – I am quite comfortable in the kitchen – a typical meal would contain baked sweet potato wedges, sautéed onions and mushrooms and grilled salmon. As you can see this is a simple meal that is minimally processed – the food is cooked with the use of natural herbs and spices. However, as you can probably gather – if you have any experience hiking and/or backpacking – a meal like that is not suitable for the trail mostly due to its weight and portability. If you are hiking long distances the goal is to try to minimize the weight on your back, so that you can be comfortable and be able to travel far. So, my challenge with the meals was to come up with something that meets 2 main criteria:
1. Lightweight – to minimize the weight on my back (or my partner’s back – depending who carries what) as this directly corresponds to the likelihood of my enjoyment of this activity,
2. Nutrition – to make sure I don’t internally resent the activity for eating foods I normally wouldn’t touch with a 10 foot pole – of course, I am exaggerating, but I do want to eat as close to my regular meals as possible to help me succeed in making backpacking enjoyable.
I’m happy to say that I think I have found a solution, but in order for you to understand my dilemma let me show you why I don’t want to settle for a typical, no brainer trail food that many hikers /backpackers take with them.
Typically a backpacker’s meal will contain some type of pasta or rice dish that is light and easy to cook. I can only speak for the thru-hiker I’ve observed so his meals are going to be the examples I give. I’ve seen him buy the Knorr Sidekicks pasta or rice dishes as they are quick to prepare, weigh very little and are calorically dense. At first sight there is nothing wrong with a bit of pasta or rice with some added flavour. But if you are like me you will head straight to the ingredient list which is quite lengthy for a pasta dish. I will highlight in bold the ingredients that are questionable to my digestive system for ease of reading.
As you can see out of 22 ingredients (which is a lot for a pasta dish BTW.) 14 are unnecessary in my books – that’s more than half of the ingredients. I am not going to go into detail of why each of these ingredients should not make it into my pasta meal – I’d rather concentrate on showing how can get a better meal without them. But just for argument’s sake I will say that if an ingredient’s list contains all types of sugars unnecessary in my savoury meal and if I can’t pronounce an ingredient’s name or don’t recognize it as a food, I don’t want or need to eat it. The entire packet will run anywhere between 400-600 calories with most of them coming from carbs at about 100g-120g.
So to make this dish more up my alley I was initially going to use a veggie soup mix – while ingredient-wise it was a perfect choice, I got stumped by the cooking directions that required simmering for 30 minutes (see bullet number 2 for reasoning behind the unsuitability of such a long cooking time). So I decided to assemble my own pasta dish that was both light and contained only the ingredients I am willing to eat and here is what I came up with:
For my pasta I opted for bean based pasta that you can easily find in specialty stores such as the Bulk Barn, but you could also substitute for flour based pasta if you prefer higher carbohydrate content. Since there is nothing in the pasta other than water and the beans there is very little flavour in it per se – so I decided to create my own flavour packet composed of: spices found my my kitchen (salt, pepper, Mrs Dash) + miso soup mix + dried veggies + mushroom and quinoa cream (pictured below). The last one is a very interesting ingredient that will give my pasta dish some umpf and will thicken it up a bit without adding any chemicals, preservatives or sugars. You can really play around with the flavours though – in my book the sky is the limit.
And this is what my meal looks like assembled and prepared on the trail:
Let’s move on to my other cooked meal which is breakfast – it is still a work in progress, but an improvement on the typical instant oatmeal that you see people eat – instant oatmeal such as the Quaker Harvest. The ingredients in these packets are as follows:
The problem in here is high content of sugar in various forms. I know you need energy while preforming physical activity and sugar will give you lots of energy, however with simple sugars it will be short lived – you will experience so called sugar crash. In addition, oats are already a complex carbohydrate that will provide you with the energy you need to push through during your hike or other physical activity, so why would you want to spike your blood sugars unnecessarily high and then crash and crave more sugar? Even my thru-hiker admitted to his breakfast being cloyingly sweet and he has a sweet tooth.
My first take on breakfast on the trail is a mix of oat bran and quick oats with the addition of protein:
2. COOKING TIME AND WEIGHT:
Another issue to consider is the amount of cooking the food requires which directly corresponds to the fuel you’re going to need to carry- and the more fuel you need the more weight you will carry. So when considering the food, you need to keep in mind the duration of cooking. So for example brown rice would be a clear choice for anybody who cares about nutrition (brown better than white for the fibre content). However, I cannot bring brown rice on the trail because it needs a simmering flame for about 20 minutes! So I needed to come up with something much less fuel dependent and maybe even modify the cooking method to use as little fuel as possible. Both my meals required a cup of water to be brought to a boiling point and then for the main meal I had to simmer for about 5 minutes and for my breakfast I had to simmer about 2-3 minutes. So all in all minimal time on the stove. Plus, we alternated between an isobutane-based stove and an alcohol stove to make best use of both fuels.
You might be thinking that you could eliminate the cooking time on the trail by cooking rice/oats/pasta at home and packing it already cooked. Trust me, I’ve thought of this as well just to be told it’s a good idea in principle but not in application. By cooking a relatively light ingredient such as rice you’d be adding weight to it and that will make your pack heavier. Try it – weigh a cup of dry rice, cook it as per directions on your bag of rice and weigh it cooked – it will be much heavier because you’ve just added water to it. Backpacking commandment number 1 is to never carry water – it’s heavy – instead you find your water sources on the trail and treat your water.
And this is how I made sure my hiking experience was a positive one – I made my trail food meet my nutrition goals.
I do have to add, though, that I had taken too much snack food with me and did not really mathematically determined what exactly I would need to eat during this backpacking trip – the same way I do it at home. The reason for that is my inexperience in hiking long distances. I’ve naturally overestimated the food I would need to consume to keep walking. While at home and preforming my regular activities such as work and gym training I know exactly what my body needs, but I don’t know what it needs to feel good and at highest performance when hiking. So, there were moments when I ate just became the food was there and needed to be eaten, rather than because I needed the nutrients. A lesson for the future – bring only what you need, not what you think you will need. This will minimize both the weight on my back and prevent from an expanding waistline 😉
Stay tuned for my final word on whether or not hiking is in the cards for me…
As I’m sitting down to write this post I’m coming to the conclusion that my blog has become somewhat hike-centric – yet again the topic of this post is hiking – and more precisely why I haven’t yet taken to hiking, even though I’ve had plenty of opportunity to join in. If hike blogging is to continue I might have to change the tag-line in the description of the blog 😉
The truth of the matter is that I am a whimp when it comes to physical exertion. I tire quickly and then become a whiner with an occasional outburst of “drunken giggles” – It had to be said to give you a true picture of me. I can lift weights all day, but when it comes down to endurance I falter very quickly. Having said that, I should also say that unbeknownst to anybody I’ve been on a quiet mission to change this state of affairs for some time. I’ve been secretly hopping on a bike first thing in the morning before I do my weight training. It’s not much but I have gradually been increasing the duration of my cardio sessions and I have been building up endurance. Now, don’t get me wrong, I realize that 60 minutes on a stationary bike in the gym does not compare to hiking in the woods with weight on your back and the force of nature. I understand that. However, I do believe my bike sessions are helping me to work on my endurance level more-so than not doing any cardiovascular exercise at all.
Why all of a sudden all this interest in hiking? Well, I do like a challenge and I’ve also come to realize how unfit I have become by sticking to weight training only. Training with weights shapes the body, develops muscle that look appealing to the eye, but it does not equal fit, unless one is engaging in another form of exercise… Weights are for the looks, which I don’t think is wrong – but to be fit you need to do more. I want more, plus hiking will definitely help me to lean out (with proper nutrition that is) and what better way to make my hard earned muscles pop.
If you’ve been reading my blog or social media posts you might have noticed that I have tried to engage in hiking a while back and have failed miserably, so miserably that I have lost my hiking partner who tried to get me on board in the first place! As a result he has had to resort to hiking solo, because after trying the overnight hammock-hike I waved the white flag and finally said “You’re on your own, buddy.” And here I am starting over. So why am I hoping for a different outcome this time? For starters I won’t repeat the same mistakes, but let me tell you why I think I failed the first time…
There were 2 main reasons why I believe it didn’t work out for me the first time around :
1. Comfort level and,
1. As I said earlier, I am a whimp and feeling uncomfortable makes for an even bigger whimp. When hiking in the past my biggest mistake was to go into it with a typical hiking pair of shoes. I know now that it was the wrong choice. A typical hiker shoe is bulky, heavy and tight on your foot. Your feet are doing most of the work when walking, so you should take care of them first and foremost. I don’t want to sound like I am an expert, because I am not, but I’ve been observing the shoe choice of a thru hiker at home and I can safely conclude that the less shoe you’re wearing, the better! It needs to be fast drying, so no waterproof material and it needs to be as light as possible. Of course, I’m assuming the grippness of the sole of your hiker is a no brainer. So after some research I’ve been gifted yet another pair, hopefully a successful one.
This weekend is a test for these before I set out on a crazy Outport 50k hike. They had better past the test is all I can say. So far I have worn them at home and they fit perfectly with plenty of room for swelling. They run very low so the mobility of my ankle shouldn’t be an issue. They do have a bit of a lip on the heel which I’m told might be an issue with hooking over branches or tree roots, but I am yet to experience it. The material the shoe is made out of feels very breathable and fast drying. Other than that I wish the colour was darker all around as I know they will not look as pretty as they do in the pictures for very long. Will report once tested.
2. The second reason why hiking has not stuck with me in the past is the food related. Let me elaborate for those of you who might be confused. If one is to enjoy long distance hiking it is crucial that everything you take is as light as possible. Believe me, I’ve witnessed the joy in the eyes of a hiker who was able to shave off a couple of ounces from the base weight – it’s unmistakable. And even though most times I roll my eyes when I see the scale coming out of the cupboard, I do realize it’s necessary to put in the effort to make your load light. So, now my shoes are 33% lighter than the pair I was wearing before, but food is not that easy to master. It’s fairly easy if you don’t care what you eat on the trail, but you know that this is not the case with me. I do care what I eat and I see no good in hiking if I am to put junk in my trunk.
In the past I found it exceedingly difficult to stick to my clean diet while hiking. I wanted to eat my regular yummy food while hiking only to realize that it weighs a tonne. When your shoes are heavy and uncomfortable and your pack is too heavy you are bound to be an unhappy hiker and the activity will not stick. You need to enjoy whatever it is that you’re doing. So, I know I can’t bring my regular food on the trail because of the weight – that is not going to change. And I am still not willing to eat whatever is most calorifically dense (read: sugar) regardless of the quality of its ingredients because it might fit the weight criteria – it simply makes no sense to me. A Snickers bar on the trail to me equals a bottle of vodka at an AA meeting – just simply wrong (I can hear all the hikers gasping at my criticism of the Holly Snickers Bar).
On top of that I’ve been told we’ll only be cooking 2 meals on the trail and the rest of the calories will have to come from snacks eaten while walking or on quick stops without pulling out all the cooking gear. So, I will resort to some bars that I deem least processed and containing the least number of ingredients (Lara Bars, Quest Bars and Yup Bars). But one can’t possibly just eat bars all day, so I set out on a quest to make some crackers. They are a work in progress, but my first batch came out rather well. I made the mistake of leaving them out on the counter and they did absorb some moisture and became chewy. Note to self: put next batch in a plastic resealable bag!
And there you have it, this is how I am dealing with the food issue – I’m making it as trail friendly (light) and diet friendly (clean) as possible. It’s a work in progress, but I am most positive the second time around hiking will stick. I have a better appreciation of this activity than I did in the past and a different kind of motivation to make it succeed.
Please stay tuned for the next episode of trail food entry in which I will show you my cooked meals. I have already figured out complete, nutritious meals that are light – therefore suitable for hiking – and I didn’t resort to questionable ingredients.