Nutrition on the Trail: Gluten Free Snacks for the Back-Country
First off what's gluten? A substance present in certain grains, especially wheat, it is a mixture of two proteins; it causes illness in people with celiac disease and many more people are finding that they have a slight intolerance. Those with intolerances find that gluten can cause fatigue, upset stomach and lack of a restful night's sleep.
So, why go gluten free if you don't have obvious issues? It can be a dietary choice, which in some cases has proven to ease digestion and in some cases help with weight loss. The weight loss, isn't directly attributed to lack of gluten but more so the reduction of bread and pastas in the diet. First of all, let me say, I am not a doctor or a specialist in the field - so I can only attribute my minor bit of knowledge based on personal outcomes and a way of life. I am not 100% gluten free, but I don't need to be. I just reduce the amount I eat. I feel that I have a slight intolerance to gluten and the defining choice came when I met my wife and her development of a severe intolerance. I would say that I am 75% gluten free and since doing so, I feel like I have more energy and feel less fatigued throughout the day. Have I lost weight? No, but I haven't cut back on portion sizes either.
Ingredient swap tips for the trail
If you are gluten free or maybe want to cut back, you could do so on the trail by swapping out a few key ingredients. You can also be a label reader with trail snacks and stay away from pastries, granola bars (most have traces of gluten) and breads made with white or wheat flour. There are many gluten free breads that can be purchased "over the counter," so to speak; meaning you don't need to look too hard or make them yourself. Same goes for pastries – but a bit harder to find. The gluten free food industry is booming and you will find special sections in pretty much all general food stores dedicated to gluten free products. And options in many aisles can be discovered throughout the store if you look close and know what to search for. Meats, cheeses, fruits, veggies, and hummus are just a few examples. However, beware; what you think might not contain gluten, could. For example soups; many use gluten as a thickener. You will notice even brands that have been around forever are now advertising on their boxes that they are gluten free; Chex for instance now advertises this in huge letters. Gluten free is a new advertising campaign for many staples in the food industry, and they are going with it.
When I am on the trail, I am 95% gluten free, mainly because some of my favorites might have traces of the proteins. A few examples of what I frequent in my pack are: chocolates, Kind bars, Epic bars, energy gels, energy chews, fruit, cheeses (cheeses don't spoil on a hot day), jerky, fresh meats (watch out for deli meats, wheat and gluten are often fillers that hold the meats together), rice crackers, hummus, veggies, homemade GORP; and the following which is a recipe that I worked on to make some pretty darn good granola. So don't think you can't do it, or that you will be missing out on something good, or the common misconception that gluten free food is similar to a cardboard box or a leather shoe, it's none of that. In fact, a cardboard box might not even be gluten free.
The following recipe is rather large, but I also use it for breakfast cereal too. Make half the batch chewy by leaving it in the oven for 30-40 minutes. Make a crunchy batch for cereals by leaving it in the oven for longer. You could also half the recipe, or split it for two flavors. I hope you enjoy this taste treat for the trail as much as we do. Do you have gluten free recipes to share for the trail? We would love to hear about them.
Gluten Free Granola Bars
• 8 cups of rolled oats (some brands can contain trace amounts of gluten)
• 3 eggs
• 1 cup gluten free baking mix
• 1 cup canola oil
• 1/4 cup molasses
• 1 cup honey
• 1 cup brown sugar
• 1 tablespoon vanilla
• 1 teaspoon salt
• Chocolate chips
• Peanut butter (this can be mixed right in or melted and drizzled over the top)
• Chia seeds
• Dried fruits
• Ground Clove
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. Grease 2 - 9 inch baking pans
3. Mix all base ingredients in a mixing bowl or deep pot. Don't be afraid to get in elbow deep – it's best mixed by hand.
4. This would be the time to split the contents of the bowl if you want to make different flavors.
5. Mix in optional ingredients to taste, again use your hands.
6. Spread evenly in 9 inch pans
7. Place in oven for 30 minutes - wait for a nice golden brown around the edges. Ovens range with their temperatures, 350 in some ovens just doesn't cook the same as others. Don't be afraid to keep in the oven a bit longer or less, depending on the consistency you want.
8. Cut into bars, but do not remove from pan – they will fall apart.
9. Let cool, this will let the ingredients firm up for nice bars.
Now that you've got your granola ready - where will you hike or snowshoe? Not the type to cook up your own delicious trail food, or need something to satiate for your post-hike hunger - check out these dining options!