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in defense of fresh foods?
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K Magz
(lapedestrienne) - F

Locale: somewhere without screens
in defense of fresh foods? on 08/26/2013 13:29:15 MDT Print View

On short trips, I've really moved away from eating typical "hiking foods" and pretty much avoid bringing anything I wouldn't eat at home. For overnights and weekends, the menu often includes things like apples and plums, berries, carrots, avocado, hummus, fresh bread, nuts and chocolate, cheese and boiled eggs, leftovers from last night's home-cooked meal. Essentially, picnic food. Aside from Clifbars and Probars, I don't keep a lot of premade or processed food in my pantry, and I rarely go out of my way to buy specialty foods just for hiking, when I know that once I'm on the trail I'll miss things like fresh fruit and salad.

On long trips, I put weight first, not to mention convenience, and find myself eating things like fig newtons and instant mashed that I never eat in "real life". And I often wonder how deficient I'm becoming in certain micro-nutrients. It's not like I see a decrease in immune function or anything, but I do crave fresh fruit and salad more than anything else (which I think is a good indicator that I'm not calorie-deprived when I hike, or I'd be scrounging for pizza and ice cream instead!).

What I want to know is if there's any hard science on the nutritional difference between fresh veggies/fruits and freeze-dried? I've heard it said that fruits can lose up to 50% of their vitamin C when they're dried, that sun-drying removes more nutrients than a low-heat dehydrator, etc. But does someone have any good research to prove or disprove these numbers?

There's so much talk about fine-tuning macronutrients (proteins, carbs, fats), but I wonder if we're not skimping on other, less-obvious dietary needs when our only vegetables are the freeze-dried bits in a Mountain House meal. OTOH, maybe my perceived need for apples and carrots is purely psychological, and I "need" them the same way some folks "need" a hot cup of coffee in the morning. Maybe food is just my luxury item. ;p

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
Hiking food data on 08/26/2013 13:56:55 MDT Print View

You ask some great questions. Unfortunately, there is very little real data (a whole lot of opinion.) dealing with backpacking nutrition especially the particular angle that you are interested in. I do believe however that your body will "talk" to you through cravings. I have run the full spectrum with food cravings from carbs to protein to salads to fats, all within a one month period on a long hike. I think there is more to the cravings than it just tastes good.( my opinion!)

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: in defense of fresh foods? on 08/26/2013 19:45:07 MDT Print View

You know, eating is probably one of the biggest pleasures on a backpack trip so I figure that saving weight on the gear leaves you more room for better food and for musical instruments or cameras.

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: in defense of fresh foods? on 08/26/2013 20:10:25 MDT Print View

I always bring some carrots, bell peppers, oranges, or whatever - to get vitamin A and C and also they have other nutrients.

But, for those of us that spend only a small amount of time backpacking, probably the micronutrients aren't critical.

I think it's important to eat enough fiber for digestion system - dried fruit, beans, nuts, oats,...

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: in defense of fresh foods? on 08/26/2013 20:12:33 MDT Print View

Three thoughts:

On short trips (1-2 nights, a 40-mile day hike) - where weight doesn't matter so much - I use foods much like I eat at home.

Life (and clean-up) goes better in the dog yard when I vary the dog's diet slowly without sudden changes. To wit: I start off with more fresh, every-day food (weight I won't carry for long) and transition to more dried and preserved foods as I go. It seems to help my GI tract not to undergo sudden, complete changes in diet.

P.S. Rather than carry fresh foods, I'll often graze on berries, roots and greens as I go. They add no weight to my pack and add nutrients that are probably lacking in my long-term food.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Re: in defense of fresh foods? on 08/26/2013 20:26:54 MDT Print View

"I think it's important to eat enough fiber for digestion system - dried fruit, beans, nuts, oats,..."


I have found this to be my most difficult problem as I work to reduce my carried food weight.

K Magz
(lapedestrienne) - F

Locale: somewhere without screens
in a similar vein... on 08/28/2013 16:40:27 MDT Print View

"...How to Tell What You're Really Eating":

Not a lot of hard science, but some good points. I think right now we're only seeing the tip of the iceberg when it comes to phytonutrients. Hopefully the research will keep coming.

just Justin Whitson
Re: in a similar vein... on 09/02/2013 16:17:16 MDT Print View

I hear yah Kate and i think a lot of traditional or common hiking food isn't all that healthy or nutritious.

Occasionally i supplement with things like green drink powder (i particularly like the Garden of LIfe perfect food--yes, i actually like the taste of that stuff), goat milk powder, parsley flakes, dried figs (quite nutritious--underrated imo), nutritional yeast (can only use it in small quantities and occasionally) and similar nutritious but lighter weight foods.

At home and not hiking, i noticed that my body feels a lot better when i'm eating lots of fresh, deep green or otherwise pigmented salad greens and other easier to digest fresh foods like some fruits.

I sometimes pack and use the further above foods, to help cut down some on the weight of bringing fresh, water laden veggies and fruits. I also try to do what David Thomas recommended in eating local "flora" foods (i gotz my flora and fauna's all mixed up, i did).

When i went to AK and British Columbia a couple of months ago, boy was i gorging myself on Salmon berries (and to a lesser extent on Huckleberries). I'm glad i didn't directly run into any black bears because yeah, we would have had problems "grrrr, my salmon berries!"

Edited by ArcturusBear on 09/02/2013 21:06:44 MDT.

Derek M.
(dmusashe) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Food cravings as nutritional signals on 09/06/2013 01:51:43 MDT Print View

"I do believe however that your body will "talk" to you through cravings. I have run the full spectrum with food cravings from carbs to protein to salads to fats, all within a one month period on a long hike. I think there is more to the cravings than it just tastes good.( my opinion!)"

Hiking Malto,
You are not alone in this opinion. There is a fair amount scientific evidence to back this idea up as well as a plethora of anecdotal accounts of this phenomenon of craving certain foods that contain nutrients our diet is lacking.

For instance, it is relatively common for castaways stranded on lifeboats in the middle of the open ocean to start craving the eyes and guts of fish that they catch more than the fish flesh itself. It is thought that this is a way for their body/brain to guide them into eating food that contains something that they require but are not getting otherwise. In the case of the fish eyes, this is, among other nutrients, vitamin A. The eyes are rich in this vitamin but it is relatively scarce in the rest of the fish, so the castaways begin to crave the fish eyes when their own vitamin A levels dwindle.

Survivors will often talk about how their preferences change over time: so at the beginning of their journey, they are disgusted by the eyes and the guts of the fish, but by the end of their drift, they actually end up craving everything but the flesh, all that other stuff actually even tastes great to them too! Of course, they still eat the fish flesh, but they crave the other stuff more.

Anyway, this is just one of the more colorful anecdotes to support the idea that our cravings can really tell us something about our nutritional needs at any given time. When backpacking, I think it is wise to listen to your food cravings and respond accordingly.

Edited by dmusashe on 09/06/2013 01:52:42 MDT.