I don’t know whether to call them breakfast bars, protein bars or flapjack, but whatever they are, they work!
In my last post I described the catastrophic failure of my insides. Maybe that’s a little melodramatic, especially as it turned out to just be IBS, but I was really ill! I spent most of March in bed, and lost 20% of my body weight. Eventually, after a week of just simple smoothies and very careful eating after, my condition stabilised, but I was left feeling very weak. At which point I started preparations for walking the West Highland Way. I knew I wouldn’t be able to do anywhere near all of it, and wasn’t sure I would last more than one day, but I had a friend coming from Latvia to do it and I didn’t want to let her down.
I’ve done a lot of this kind of stuff before – backpacking, cycle touring and hillwalking – but never in this condition. Food was the main challenge. I needed to pack food that wouldn’t make me ill, and I also needed to make sure I was getting good nutrition. I was already clinically underweight and wanted to build myself up, not force my body to digest more of itself!
Shopping with IBS is a strange experience for me. I am fairly health conscious and normally go for whole grains and maximum nutrition in my choices, but suddenly I found myself searching for the bland and – weirdest of all – starch without fibre. I was also nervous about wheat; I didn’t know for sure that it was a problem, but I didn’t know that it wasn’t, and I was trying to avoid the most common trigger foods.
What I Packed
For the first night I brought a squash and sweet potato curry from the freezer and cooked rice. I often bring a meal like this for first nights as its not getting carried far or kept long.
For the other nights, I brought rice noodles for soup (the kind that just need three minutes in hot water) with miso paste and Swiss Vegetable Bullion (the vegan one, without lactose) and instant mashed potato.
For breakfast I made up individual baggies of hemp protein powder and Supergreens powder to mix up with water. That took care of half my protein needs and exhaustively covered vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Stupidly, I didn’t think to get some powdered juice mix, which would have added calories and made it taste better.
Incidentally, if you’re ever doing the WHW, don’t worry about water. I don’t carry any water on it as you are never far from a clear mountain burn. I carry a filter but rarely use it on the Way.
I also brought nuts, dried fruit and oatcakes, but my staple was these quinoa bars. They are packed with energy and nutrition, and taste amazing (this has been verified by my friend). We ate so much of them that we were calling them Lembas – the WHWaybread of the elves.
This recipe is an adaptation of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Peanut Butter Booster Bars. I owe a Huge thanks for this recipe, which I have been making for years, and which has seen me through university, cycle tours and every other activity which has required a good energy supply. My only adaptation in the past has been the addition of dark chocolate on top. I call them rocket fuel, and they are. If you’ve ever wanted to be a hero, all you need to do is break out a packet of these on top of a mountain and share.
This time I did a lot of tinkering with them. I was worried about oats, and originally planned to make them with half rice flakes (flattened rice) and half quinoa, but in the end I found that I could tolerate oats in moderation. I used quinoa partly to cut down on the oats and partly to up the protein. Quinoa is very gut friendly, so long as it is rinsed well – unrinsed quinoa contains saponins which can be irratant.
I had found nuts in general to be fine, but peanuts were a problem, so I substituted almond butter for the peanut butter. Almond butter is high in protein (like peanut butter) and very high in vitamin E – a potent antioxidant and essential for maintaining normal gut function. Vitamin E deficiency is very rare, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to load up as I hadn’t been digesting fats well for a while.
For the same reason, I substituted coconut oil for most of the butter. Coconut oil seems to be the miracle food of the moment, and as such its benefits are being vastly overstated. I started while I was concerned about gall bladder disease – I read an article saying that coconut oil is digested differently than other fats, and a good way to get enough fat in your diet without triggering gall bladder symptoms. The same article also recomended small amounts of other fats to keep the GB ticking over, which is why I used butter as well. I have to admit, much of what I’ve done to manage the IBS has been largely superstion rather than science, but when you’re ill, you try anything. In any case, I did find it much easier to digest.
Walnuts are a superfood in themselves, and apricots happen to be my favourite dried fruit, as well as being good for you. Ditto pumpkin seeds. Here’s the recipe:
Gut-Friendly Quinoa Bars
- 100g quinoa
- 25g butter (or coconut oil for vegan bars)
- 50g coconut oil
- 150g light brown sugar
- 75g honey
- 150g almond butter
- 100g oats
- 100g walnuts, chopped
- 50g pumpkin seeds
- 150g dried apricots, chopped
Rinse the quinoa well and cook (like rice). Drain and put in a warm oven (~125C) to dry out a bit.
Melt the butter, coconut oil, sugar, honey and almond butter in a saucepan on low heat, stirring to combine.
Measure the other ingredients into a mixing bowl. The apricots tend to stick together – crumbling them through your fingers with the other ingredients breaks them up.
Grease a 10″x 10″ baking tin. Don’t worry if you tin is a different size, but it will take more time in a smaller one and less in a bigger one. I use a silicon one, which is brilliant, so long as it has a tray underneath to keep it in shape.
Add quinoa to dry ingredients and mix. It will still be moist but shouldn’t be too wet. Turn the oven up to 160C.
Add the contents of the saucepan, mix and tip into the baking tin. Press down and smooth out the top.
Bake at 165C for approximately 30 minutes. It should be starting to brown on top when it is ready. If it starts to brown too soon it can be loosely covered with foil or baking paper.
You MUST let it cool completely before turning it out and cutting. Believe me, I know how hard this is, but it’ll fall apart otherwise!
These keep really well at room temperature and even better in the fridge or freezer (and travel better when chilled).
Please let me know if you try them!
More on tricky trekking food to come…
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