The Gluten Free Grains

With so many people trying to go ‘Gluten Free,’ a lot of people wonder what to eat. Whether you’re vegetarian, vegan, or an omnivore, removing gluten containing foods can be easy if you keep your foods simple: keep them as whole, or as close to their natural form, as possible. Load up on veggies, fruits, high quality lean meats and dairy, nuts, seeds, and excellent starches such as potato and sweet potato. But if you’re looking for another source of food in grains, what should you choose? Which grains are gluten free?

Fortunately, the majority of grains in the world actually do not contain gluten. This is excellent for variety purposes. However, many of the most widely available grains do contain gluten. Grains such as wheat, rye, barley, and spelt contain this protein. If you’re not sure what gluten is, be sure to click here!

QuinoaQuinoa is a rising star in the grain world, though it is not technically a grain. Hailing from the desert highlands of Central America, quinoa is a pseudo-grain, a grain like seed of the Chempodium genus of plants — a relative of beets and spinach. Quinoa is highly revered in Central American tradition, largely in part due to its exceedingly high nutrient profile, especially in regards to manganese and magnesium. Additionally, quinoa is one of the few starches in the world to contain a protein profile said to be ‘complete.’ That is, containing all the amino acids required to support human life. Among grains, quinoa is especially high in the amino acid tryptophan. Quinoa can be found readily available in health food stores, but is becoming more a mainstream food stuff, and thus can also be found in many other grocery markets. Cook it as a porridge or keep it light and fluffy for a salad!

OatsOats have a long history for human consumption, being one of the first grains to be harvested in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East, though gained an even stronger foothold as a crop in Europe. Oats are widely touted for their unique fiber content, of which the majority if a soluble fiber, meaning it dissolves in water. As such, they are largely promoted for helping to lower blood pressure. Oats can be found on the market as either whole-oat groats (an unroasted variety, in it’s most whole form) or as rolled oats, the most commonly available form. Rolled oats are roasted, steamed, and then pressed to give them their distinctive shape. Oats are also a very nourishing grain, being high in manganese and selenium. It is important to note that oats are commonly grown alongside gluten containing grains, or processed in facilities that also process gluten containing grains. As such, if you are extremely sensitive to gluten, it is possible to find brands that process oats and other grains in a dedicated gluten free facility. Because of the soluble fiber of oats, it is frequently eaten as a porridge.

Rice is the third most consumed and produced crop in the world! It has a very long history of consumption in the Asian area of the world, largely due to requiring large amounts of water, in which it must be immersed, in order to grow — commonly called a rice paddy. Rice also has a history of being one of the first grains to be highly processed in the form of Brown Ricewhite rice, where the hull is removed and the grain then polished. While it is interesting to note that the nutritional deficiencies brought by polished white rice and far lower than that of any other grain (such as white wheat flour), brown rice is far more nourishing variation. Brown rice is nutrient rich in B-vitamins, higher than any other grain, and also a good source of manganese and selenium. Brown rice can be found in most any market, and can be paired with almost any other food for an excellent meal!

Blue CornCorn, or Maize, is the single largest most produced and consumed crop in the entire world! Corn likely hails from somewhere in Central America, most likely in the region of Mexico, and was originally used as a food crop by indigenous Native Americans. Since the arrival of the West, Corn has changed significantly. Corn was one of the first crops to be genetically modified, to have the genes of other organisms spliced into its own genome. I will touch on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in a future article, but for now know that it is best to find and consume only organic corn. There are many varieties of corn that exist, though the type we consume most is a sweet yellow corn variety. However, other varieties, especially Hopi blue corn, are gaining momentum for consumption. Corn is one of the few grains to be a decent source of Vitamin C, and like rice, can be paired with almost any other food for a delicious treat!

Millet in the United States is often considered to be and used as bird seed! Yet, this simple grain is one of the most widely consumed cereal crops in the world, frequently used as a staple food in regions in Africa and Asia. Like wheat and oats, millet was one of the first cereals to be cultivated as a food. Millet can come in a variety of colors, and looks Milletvery similar to quinoa. Millet can be found in many grocery stores, though you are more likely to find it in health food stores because of it’s lower demand as a food. Millet can be ground to make a bread called injera, a common food in Africa and Ethiopia, or can be made into a porridge. Millet has a slightly nutty flavor, but will take the flavor of whatever it is prepared with. Because of millet’s tendency to ‘cake,’ it is also excellent for use in veggie burgers or paired with other grains for a gluten free bread.

By expanding your pallet and trying new grains, going gluten free can be easy!

Food Spotlight: Asparagus

Asparagus was once considered to be a member of the lily family of plants, and while it is now considered to be in its own family, it is still remarkably similar to other lilies such as garlic and onions. When we consume asparagus as a vegetable, we eat the young shoot of the plant. Once the bud at the end of the spear we consume opens, the plant creates a fern-like structure that would be too hard or ‘woody’ to eat. The exact origin of asparagus is unknown. We do know that it originates somewhere in the Mediterranean, where it has been consumed for thousands and thousands of years. It may have been consumed and cultivated to some degree as early as 20,000 BP in Egypt. It is depicted in ancient Egyptian friezes dating to approximately 3000 BC, and was consumed and cultivated extensively in Greece, Rome, Syria, and Spain. The vegetable was so prized by Emperor Augustus of Rome that he created an ‘Asparagus Fleet,’ whose sole duty was to haul the vegetable from the fields for the wealthy. The oldest surviving cookbook, De Re Coquinaria by Apiucius, which hails from Rome during the 4th or 5th century AD, contains a recipe for delicately cooking asparagus.

Fresh, young, growing shoots of plants are some of the most nutrient dense foods, and asparagus is no exception. Asparagus is abound with the nutrient Vitamin K, an essential fat-soluble nutrient that helps your blood to clot properly, prevents calcification of your arteries, prevents bones from fracturing, aids bruising, and aids in preventing bone-loss. A single cup of uncooked asparagus contains approximately 70% of your recommended daily intake of Vitamin K! Asparagus is also rich in beta carotene, the precursor to Vitamin A, folate, iron, thiamin, copper, and manganese. One cup of uncooked asparagus contains only 27 calories, while containing 3 grams of protein, as well as 3 grams of dietary fiber!Asparagus has been so revered throughout the ages largely because of its medicinal properties. It is known as an excellent plant for detoxifying your system for numerous reasons. It contains large amounts of the amino acid glutathione, an important amino acid utilized by the liver as an anti-oxidant for cleaning up free radicals (toxins that create damage in your system). The large amounts of folate contained in asparagus have anti-inflammatory properties, helping to reduce pain and arthritis, as well as reduces your chances of heart disease and is essential for preventing birth defects for pregnant women. Additionally, asparagus has many diuretic properties, which help to aid constipation and keep you regular, as well as cleanse your liver and kidneys. Finally, asparagus contains inulin, a special form of fiber/oligosaccharide that help to feed beneficial bacteria in your intestines.

Asparagus can usually be found year-round with so many vegetables being imported from different localities and regions of the world. However, truly delectable and fresh asparagus is available only in the spring, when it is most abundant and thus also cheapest. Asparagus doesn’t face as many threats from pests as do some other plants, so it’s not absolutely necessary to get organic asparagus. That being said, the most nutritious and tasty asparagus can often be found only at a local farmer’s market because of freshness (where they tend to be less sprayed, anyway).

Asparagus is delectable simply steamed or baked, and is the perfect accompaniment to numerous dishes! Be sure to try Orange Roasted Tofu and Asparagus!

Food Combining

I’ve been trying to eliminate stomach-aches since I can remember…literally. In my long search, almost nothing has been as effective as proper “food combining.” That said…I don’t want you to run out and buy a long book on complicated food combining practices. Some people have made a complex science out of it…which is fine, except that adding stress to food planning can take away from its healthful benefits. There is just a plain and simple way to take advantage of this food philosophy, and I swear you can still eat yummy food.

So here is the basic Food Combining “equation:”
One Carb+One Protein+Fat+Lots of Vegetables (fiber)!!!!

OR

Fruits-All by themselves.

*Note: The ingredients used should be of good quality. Eating cheese is fine, but the plastic-like American stuff is barely more edible than plastic. So make sure your ingredients are fresh and chemical free. 

For the purposes of food combining, what food counts for which categories?
Carbs: For this purpose, carbs include: Potatoes, corn, corn meal, flour, oats, wheat, rye, flour, corn, very starchy root vegetables, some legumes, and beans. (For the purpose of food combining, beans and legumes are in both the carb and protein category).
Proteins include: Meat, soy, dairy*, beans, and some legumes.
Fat: Oil, mayo, lard, butter, avocado, nuts, seeds, nut and seed butters, etc.
Vegetables: All vegetables, like lettuce, greens, carrots, eggplant, tomatoes, etc. (Except veggies that are super starchy, like potatoes. Legumes, beans, edamame, and such do not count as vegetables.)
**Dairy: Though dairy is a general “protein,” in food combining, the different forms of dairy count as seperate proteins. For instance, sour cream, cheese, and yogurt would count as three different “types” of protein. So combining several different forms of dairy in one meal could equal digestive issues.

Some meals after they have been properly “food combined.” Although they say “tummy happy,” this may not prove true for everyone. You must pay attention to food allergies and sensitivities.

A Typical Burrito: Flour Tortilla, Rice, Beans, Meat, Cheese, Tomatoes, and Sour Cream=Digestive disaster.

3 kinds of carbs, 3 forms of proteins, and very little vegetables equals impending digestive distress.

Tummy Happy Burrito: Corn/Flour Tortilla, Grilled Veggies, Raw Cheese, and Avocado.

Typical Breakfast: Sausage/Bacon, 3 Eggs, Fried Hash-browns, Pancakes, and Toast w/Butter and Jam.

Tummy Happy Breakfast: Pan-Roasted potatoes with veggies and Himalayan Salt, topped with an Organic Free Range Egg OR Tofu Scramble.

Typical Sandwich: White bread, lunch meat, cheese, mayo, mustard, lettuce and tomato.

Tummy Happy Sandwich: Organic sourdough bread, raw swiss (or tempeh bacon), mixed greens, peppers, sauerkraut, avocado, and mustard.

Fruits: Fruit is an interesting food. It can be very good for you…but better for your tummy if eaten alone. Fruit digests very quickly…more quickly than grains, fats, proteins, and even some vegetables. So if you eat it combined with these foods, it will digest, than start to “ferment” in your stomach, since it can’t go anywhere until the other food digests as well. So fruit can make a great between-meal snack, or evening meal, but it can cause some unpleasant side effects when combined with other food (like fruit and cottage cheese).

*Note: the exception to this is pineapple and papaya. These tropical fruits contain natural digestive enzymes, and small amounts can be eaten after a meal.

Here’s a recipe for fruit salad!

Sunflower Cake: Gluten Free, Grain Free, and Delicious!

This is quite an amazing recipe; it simply stunned me to have a great dessert that is not only gluten-free, but has no grains whatsoever! I first experimented with this recipe for a small get-together, and it was a huge hit! Not only is it loaded with nutrition from all the wonderful ingredients (especially those sunflower seeds!), but it’s quick and very easy to make. I’m not much of a baker, but with this recipe’s flavor and ease, it’s now been added to my weekly repertoire.

Amazing Sunflower Cake!

Below is the basic recipe for the cake. The basic recipe serves as a base that can easily be used for other recipes, or that can easily be varied. Try cutting some of the maple syrup or honey, or even utilizing one or two bananas instead, to reduce the sugar and create more of a ‘bread’ for more everyday use. Consider adding a can of pureed pumpkin (or fresh if it’s the season) and an extra egg to create Pumpkin Sunflower Cake. If you’re going dairy free, you can even use all coconut oil instead of butter! There are numerous possibilities that are waiting to be found with this recipe!

*This recipe is adapted from the Internal Bliss GAPS Cookbook

Ingredients:

  • Sunflower Cake2 1/2 cups soaked Sunflower Seeds (soak at least 4 hours, better if overnight, strain seeds but allow them to be damp)
  • 2 Tablespoons Coconut Oil
  • 1-2 Tablespoons Butter (or all Coconut Oil)
  • 3 Eggs
  • 3 Tablespoons Honey
  • 3 Tablespoons Maple Syrup
  • 1.5 Tablespoon Cinnamon
  • 2 Teaspoons Nutmeg
  • 2 Teaspoons ground Ginger

Preparation:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350˚F.
  2. In a blender or food processor, grind sunflower seeds in batches until they form a paste.
  3. In a mixing bowl or in blender/food processor, mix all ingredients until well mixed.
  4. Grease a 9 inch baking dish or cake pan with coconut oil, and pour in mixture.
  5. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.
  6. Let cool, cut, and serve!

This cake is great warm, room temperature, or cold! Serve with fresh fruit, coconut cream, ice cream, or alone! Makes 12-16 servings.

Sunflower Cake

Menu Planning for Healthy Backpacking: How to Plan Meals for Your Hike.

Although there are many aspects of a thu-hike that would be considered “difficult, (planning for unpredicable weather, stream crossings, bringing enough TP, etc), for me the most stressful planning was food preparation. What if I run out of food? How do I know how hungry I’ll be? How do I find a quick-cooking gluten free breakfast? What if I become vitamin C deficient from lack of fresh vegetables?!?! Ahhhh!!!
My stress might have been lessened by a good JMT-food planning guide, but I couldn’t seem to find one that really spelled it out. So, I decided to write my own so that your food-planning stress may be reduced. And, of course, there is special attention paid to those hikers with dietary restrictions (gluten and dairy allergies, vegetarian and vegan, etc.)

First things first-Calories!!!!
A simple but effective way to plan your daily meals is by caloric consumption. You will be burning up to 6,000 calories a day, so plan for more calories than you would usually consume. (Don’t know your normal calorie consumption? Spend a few days keeping a food journal, and add it up! There’s some online programs that will average calories for certain dishes.)
Plan for about 2,500 calories of food a day. If that isn’t enough for you, I will list ways to amp up the calories in your meals.
There’s a few ways to do it…I would lay out a breakfast, lunch and dinner for each day, and add up the calories. My partner simply added all his food for each supply, and divided it by the number of days. (So for a 7-day food supply, he would add all the calories and divide it by 7 to get the average number per day.) Just make sure you have enough energy to get up those overpasses.

Weight/Dehydrated Food:
People seem divided over pre-made dehydrated food meals. They save a TON on weight, which will make a big difference. They also save on space and planning, since you don’t have to bring extra spices and ingredients. They also save fuel, since usually they only require boiled water. (Instead of having to boil or cook for an extended time.) They can save on having to do dishes, since certain ones can be cooked in their package, although that can create more waste. Some are chemical-free, which I can’t say for the standard grocery store dried mashed potatoes. Also, you can MAKE YOUR OWN dehydrated food, which is probably the cheapest option. (More info below.)
Cons: These meals can be VERY pricey, some $10-$12 apiece. (Certain brands are cheaper than others, and you can find sales on gear sites.) Also, since they are pricey, you may not be able to taste taste them before you go. If you’re picky, that may be hard, since you may get stuck with meals you don’t like.

Dehyrated Food Sources:
Outdoor Herbivore: Best for food allergies, vegetarian/vegan diet, organic, etc: This website and its meal options are simply awesome. Everything is certified organic and chemical free, and they pay special attention to dietary needs and nutriets hard to come by on the trail. The meals are also suprisingly calorie packed for veggie food, more so than even the meatier brands. There’re many gluten free breakfast options (brown rice farina with dried fruit, chia seed breakfast with dates and coconut.) For the nutrition junky, they don’t miss much. Many of their meals have nutrional yeast (B vitamins!) and special spices for imflammation and blood sugar regulation (tumeric and cinnamin.) The prices are the cheapsest that I’ve found, especially since you can get a double serving size for only $2 more. Only flaw…there is a lot of onion and garlic in their dinners, so if you’re sensitive be careful.
Mary Janes Farms: Best for taste and vegetarian items. This is one of the tastiest organic meals, even the  non-health concious backpackers really loved them. (ahhh, chili-mac…) They have a lot of veggie options, and they are organic and chemical free. Downside? Definitely one of the pricier brands, so watch out for on-line sales.
Pack Lite Foods: Another vegetarian dehydrated food site, with some tasty entries. I didn’t get much from them this trip, (I opted for the higher calorie choices from outdoor herbivore), but I will try more next time for variety.
My least suggested? The most popular brand, carried by most outdoor stores, is Mountain House. As a nutrional connoisseur, I coudln’t bring my self to buy a single package. Hyrdogenated oils, anyone? Many of the people I met ate them and said they were good, but they’re also pricey, and I think they are much better brands to choose from.

Other food sources:
Regular grocery stores carry things like ramen noodles, powdered mashed potatoes, and mac & cheese. These are usually not the most chemical free, but they can be a lot cheaper. (And Whole Foods often has its own versions.) Just be careful of cooking time, you don’t want to burn up your fuel. (Regular pasta noodles often need to boil for 10 min or more.)
Raw Food snacks: There are some caloricly dense raw foods containing nuts, which can also have some good nutrients (like dried kale, seaweed, raw almonds, coconut butter). These can be pricey, and some aren’t worth the weight/price/to calorie ratio. Remember, you have limited space in your bear canister!
Trader Joes: TJ’s has some of the best trail mixes! Get a variety, so you don’t have to eat the same combo every day. They also have the best prices for dried fruit (sans sulfites) and raw nuts.
Fishing and Gathering: I do not trust my plant-skills to forage for my own food, but many people go this route. Some people also brought tiny fishing poles, and caught some very fresh trout. If you live in the L.A. area, there is a guy named Christopher Nyerges who conducts edible plant workshops and wilderness survival classes. They’re very reasonably priced, and it’s a good skill to have.

Electrolytes and Missed Nutrients:The absence of fresh food can leave a backpacker without some important nutriets. This is not just important for health, but for energy and performance. There is a great article on Outdoor Herbivore that goes into detail of the foods that give specific vitamins, and here are some of the important ones:
Electrolytes: You may have heard a lot of hype about this little guys, but they are actually quite important to keep from muscle cramping and dehydration, and the body loses them as it sweatss. The tubes of tablets are more weight/space efficient, (compared to the individual packets), and can be added to your water bottle throughout the day. (The right amount makes you have to pee less and absorb more water, but be careful, too much can have the opposite effect!)
Potassium:  Potassium is an electrolite, but since you’ll probably be eating a lot of salt (from dried meals) be sure to keep up the potassium. You’re potassium/sodium balance keeps you probably hydrated. Potassium can be found in many dried fruits (like bananas) and potatoes.
Omega 3: Most nuts are really high in Omega 6, so you’ll have to purposely add ingredients with Omega 3 to keep yourself healthy. Omega 3 is important for energy and joint health. Include walnuts, avocado, hemp, chia seeds, or flax to certain meals.
Vitamin C: This is present in fruits and veggies, but can be lacking in dried dinners. Either eat a decent amount of dried fruit, or bring some Emergen-C packets with you just in case.
Dehydration: Water may seem like an obvious thing, but most people do not drink enough of it. At dry, high altitudes this can literally be dangerous. Drink continuously, even if you’re not thirsty. (You don’t need to go crazy, just sip all day.) Make sure the water is clear coming out, dark urine can be an indication of dehydration.

Doing your own dehydrating!
My hiking partner bought a dehydrator, and made his own beef jerky, pineapple, and apple rings. They were some of the tastiest dried fruit I’ve ever tasted, and he saved a lot of money doing it. You can even dehydrate your own full meals, so the sky’s the limit if you feel like going this route. You can try using a regular oven, or there are dehydrators for under $50.

Variety: I thought that I would be so ravenous after burning 3,000 calories that I would eat just about anything. So I packed one kind of trail mix, a couple kinds of dried fruit, and the same few dinners. This was a huge mistake. Hungry or not, you will crave variety and flavor. Pack a different trail mix in each resupply with different ingridients, and a mix of meals. Bring different freeze-dried fruit to add to your oatmeal (bananas, blueberries, strawberries, etc.) Bring a variety of sides to go with dinner. This is especially important if you have altitude sickness, since I had no appetite in the first place. Trying to choke down the same trial mix every day was torture.

Altitude Sickness:
I thought this would be a rare condition, but I suffered from altitude sickness the WHOLE HIKE, and met others who had the same issue. You feel dizzy, nautious, and fuzzy headed. The most dangerous side effect is that you can lose your appetite…which definitely happened to me. I had to force-feed myself every bite, and usually threw away my dinner after a couple bites. (When my hiking partner wasn’t looking, of course.) There were a few days I ate less than 800 calories for the whole day (even after hiking 12 miles.) To keep yourself from losing energy or becoming malnourished, you should keep eating small amounts. Listen to your body, and don’t stuff yourself when nautious, but eat little bites of things all day. Put protein mix in water, and add olive oil to your meals. And most importantly, don’t panic. Although I was eating half as much as normal, I actually did fine on the hike. Just recognize when your truly sick or need help.

Meals:
Frequency and Calorie dispersement: Go with your appitite, but I had a specific way I ate my meals. We all forced ourselves to eat something decent in the morning, so we weren’t hiking on zero energy. But I feel sluggish and bogged down if I eat too much before hiking up a hill, so I ate a decently light breakfast. Throughout the hike, we took breaks and snacked every hour or two. We would munch on a few handfulls of dried fruit and trail mix, the quick sugar in the fruit helped to give me immediate energy, and the nuts kept me full longer. I’d also eat the occational protein bar for the same reason, plus the variety. Then, after we’d set up camp, I’d eat over half of my calories for the day, since I didn’t have to worry about being bogged down or tired. I would sometimes eat an entire rehydrated meal, plus a side of soup, rehydrated potatoes, or rehydrated dip and crackers. Sometimes we’d even eat twice after setting down for the evening.

Breakfast:
Normal: Oatmeal with freeze-dried fruits added, dehydrated eggs with a tortilla, dehydrated breakfast meals, protien powder and water, almond butter w/honey and tortillas, quick-cooking pancake mix.
Gluten Free: Chia seed coconut mix, dehydrated egg/veggie mix, NuGo Go free chocolate energy bar, MacroBar, brown-rice farina, rehydrated blueberries and brown rice.

Lunch-Cooking vs. Snacks:
It’s important to be realistic…the only meal I usually heated and cooked was dinner. (And sometimes breakfast.) For the entire hiking part of the day, you probably won’t stop and bust out your stove set. So a large portion of your calories should be in the form of ready-to-eat, dense snacks.
Normal: Kraft cheese and crackers, mini pack of fig nutens, snickers bars, peanut butter and tortillas, fruit roll ups,
Also, those little snack-packs you ate in lunch when you were little are great. (They don’t need to be refridgerated, and they’re decently high calorie.) Starchy snacks won’t be enough, you really need the caloric density of a walnut, not a cracker.  And be realistic…more than a third of your daily calories will come from these trail-ready snacks! Bring enough.
Gluten free/Vegan: Brazil nuts, dried pineapple, dried apples, trail mix, dried ginger, chili mango, TJ’s Fiberful fruit leather, dried seaweed, and protein bars.

Dinner:
Normal: One of many dehydrated meal choices, regular mac&cheese, ramen soup, re-hydrated potato flakes, pasta with dehydrated Alfredo sauce, dried pasta sauce packets. 

Gluten Free and Veg Friendly: One of the many Outdoor Herbivore Meals (Freckle burrito, chickpea pasta, vegan mac&cheese, pesto pasta, etc.) A Mary Janes meal: (ChiliMac, pesto pasta, etc.), rehydrated chili soup, bean dip and crackers.

Treats!
There are many dehydrated desserts, (cheesecake, freeze dried ice cream, fruit crumble, etc), but you may get pretty sick of your dried food. When you pick up your resupply package, a good idea is to put a treat for yourself. It can be something that would be too heavy to carry (like a pudding), but you’ll be eating it when you arrive so it doesn’t really matter. I put chocolate macaroons, a gluten free brownie, and other goodies in my resupply. Variety will keep you from sponaeously throwing your meal off a cliff due to extreme food boredom.

Please see the “Packing List” post for fuel usage.