Forest Feasts: Nutrient-Packed Recipes Inspired by Nature's Bounty

Published on 20 February 2024 at 16:17

While it's true that some adjustments to our eating habits may be necessary for a hike, the essence of treating our bodies ”like temples” through the consumption of whole, minimally processed foods remains unchanged whether we are home or afield. In truth, what we do every day is going to impact our health, whereas altering our habits for one to three days while backpacking will not. Our bodies are resilient and prefer homeostasis to change; unfortunately, this often works against our best interest. We have all experienced the high of inspiration after an exhilarating adventure, but we have also experienced coming down off that inspiration, losing motivation, meaning and will to effort for what we desire.

This is where habit formation, repetition and practice come in. By incrementally changing our homeostatic condition, we can shift the needle toward healthy as normal.

In this blog post I will explore the interconnected aspects of mindful nutrition for home and hiking, considering the importance of intentional choices regarding fat, protein, and carbs sourced from fruits and vegetables.  I’ll send you home with some key tips for meal planning, including additional resources and recipes for you to explore on your own.

When it comes to healthy eating, we all have heard the saying “You are what you eat”. This takes on more significance and can sow resentment and guilt in many who experience their diets to be less than optimal. While the saying is nearly accurate, it is a challenging concept to adapt and accept in a benefic manner.

We are what we eat. This is a truth for most of what we consume. For the six years I studied nutrition, I went down a rabbit hole looking to understand on a molecular basis how food makes us. Protein becomes protein (and a thousand other things!), carbs become sugar which becomes fuel or fat, fat becomes fuel or is translated to more fat. This is not nearly a semblance of the complexity that is micronutrient metabolism of the human body, but the point is, we are what we eat. There are approximately 1.5 exceptions to this rule: indigestible fiber (debatable) and chemical toxins that enter our bodies through our food (partial).

It is important to note that indigestible fiber in fact does contribute to our body composition by fueling our gut microbiome. This occurs primarily in our large intestine where said fiber is fermented by bacteria which provide nutrients and other useful byproducts for our body.

Fermentation also results in gas, (how dare those bacteria cause flatulence! Submit to the rules of polite society and never, EVER pass gas) which often results in bloating and contributes to abdominal discomfort, painful constipation and other unpleasant bodily experiences for those with dysbiosis. Note: imagine you are the ruler of the domain that is your body, you should not punish the “backbone” of your domain for their dysfunction when they are fed horrible rations and worked to the bone without adequate healthcare. “Let them eat cake!” indeed. We all know how that one ended…

Environmental Toxins is a topic for an entirely different post, but for now consider avoiding cooking with plastics, non-stick pans and store your food in glass when you are able. Remember to be conscious of the products you use to clean and educate yourself on what’s in the products you use on or in your body. Also, consider learning to cook and eat without the use of a microwave. Click on the EWG Logo for more education on Environmental Hazards.

If we fuel our bodies with whole, minimally processed foods, we already decrease the statistical likelihood of exposing ourselves to the nasty consequences outlined above.

This is not to say eat only raw, whole food and never let your peas and potatoes touch. We can eat nourishing and healthy meals that provide maximal nutrition, friendly digestion and elevated mood when those are cooked (which is its own form of processing!). In many traditional medicinal systems, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is always recommended to eat cooked food, as raw food is cooling to the stomach and poor for digestion. Of course, there are many right ways, but there is also the possibility that 1) nutrients from raw food may have lower bioavailability, and 2) overcooked food loses nutrient value and therefore you get less value from your food due to degradation of nutrients. In all things, moderation, including moderation. A happy mix of fresh and lightly cooked foods may be the best option for overall health.

Because the focus of our work is on habits that we can sustain every day, I’ll refrain from discussing diets and dieting. It’s a controversial subject, but one thing is clear: diets are not sustainable for long periods of time, nor are they meant to be. Besides, if a diet is sustained for years, would it not at that point be considered a lifestyle?

Now in the case of hiking or extra exertion, it is common to find many products designed for athletes and replacing calories lost through exercise–think protein bars and shakes, sweet chewable gummies advertised to provide energy. These are highly processed foods. They don’t even resemble what food actually looks like. HOWEVER, this does not mean they do not have value. When on a strenuous hike or even throughout a busy day, these products can come in clutch, but I would argue that is inappropriate to include them on a daily basis and even more detrimental if they are replacing meals and whole foods. There are beautiful and beneficial options that provide ideal nourishment. Processed products should be a last alternative.

For a simple framework, consider the macronutrients commonly used on nutrition labels and in the fitness world: fat, carb, protein. Without going too deeply into the nutrition aspect, fat has the highest amount of energy, followed by protein, then carbs, but it is important to remember that these macros are NOT the only nutrients provided by foods. There are key vitamins and minerals that support healthy body function beyond the ATP-powerhouse analogy. While processed food products may list the macros and a few vitamins and minerals, the quality of said nutrients will always pale in comparison to whole foods. Simplified “education” around nutrition puts people at a detriment for their own health, leaving out essential aspects of what makes a food a healthy food. Personally, I feel that there is greater benefit to consuming a whole food than science has been able to identify, but the truth is that what science has provided says more than enough about what kind of foods are good for us, and which foods are not.

A final note on processed versus whole foods: hydration. As I said, there is more to nourishment than fat, carb, protein. Water is life, and it is important that we consume quality water. Avoid plastic water bottles, unfiltered water, Reverse Osmosis water. These can be detrimental in a number of ways, and there are sustainable and convenient alternatives. Plus, making a small investment in something like a quality water filter can have long term health benefits that pay for the investment over and over again. If you want to take this even further, research Structured Water and check out this resource for finding natural spring water near you.

Electrolyte Supplements. These can help replace electrolytes (think salts) that you lose through sweaty exertion. These salts are important for healthy cell function, and the minerals can be found in many whole foods. Sometimes, it is nice to know you can just hydrate with an electrolyte filled water and know you are taking care of yourself, especially on the trail. The special combination of water, sugar and salts can provide a major boost, helping with brain fog and energy. However, I’d caution you to be mindful of the ingredients (always), particularly the sugar content and any fillers or dyes. There are options for decent electrolyte products, my personal favorite being LMNT. In many cases electrolytes are extremely helpful and even the best option at the time, but always be intentional.

When it comes to meal planning, I often hear a number of objections from clients: “I don’t have the time,” “I get bored of eating the same meal all week.” and a handful more. Meal Prep done right can save you hours of work each week and loads of stress. If you meal plan in a way that prioritizes variety, you never get bored. I have spent years meal planning and am still learning, but I have found a couple of key tricks to keep food interesting, nourishing and time saving.

Nourishing meals usually mean cooking from scratch, and for those that already meal prep, this means cooking one recipe on a day off that usually takes a little extra time and effort. To add variety into your meals, it is best to prep meal components rather than a whole recipe–what i mean by this is:

  • A couple types of protein (such as chicken and fish)
  • A couple options for veggie-based carbs with the occasional starch thrown in (such as rice)
  • A couple killer sauces to dress your meal. SAUCE IS KEY.

Having a variety of components allows for you to mix and match, creating flavorful, nourishing and interesting meals for your week. It is important to note that these are most commonly adapted for lunches and dinners, but there is nothing stopping you from eating these for breakfast if you so choose. While we have cultural “breakfast foods”, food is food, and you should eat what will nourish and support you throughout the day. If you want to put a breakfast-y spin on meal prep don’t hesitate to add eggs to these meals if they are a part of your diet. 

Finally, there are plenty of ways to cut time and effort and still have a healthy meal. Consider buying pre-sliced veggies, frozen veggies and pre-portioned meats for shaving off that chopping time. Remember to use healthy oils such as olive, avocado or coconut oil and always spice up your food with plenty of herbs and spices. Fresh herbs are a fantastic way to add loads of flavor without adding calories or more bulk to a meal. Check out the links to some of my favorite meal prep recipes below.

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