Monday, March 1, 2010


By that is meant both its consumption - in this case mine - and the more abstract idea of sustainability. On the first front, I consider nutritional needs to both feed my body properly and to provide said nutrition in the most economical - and tasty - manner.

With the day still quite light at 5:30, and with the sun shining and the snow-pack melting quickly, my thoughts turn first to recipes I can create. Triking is a mode of personal transportation designed around compactness. That means that what food I bring with me must also be fairly compact. No elaborate picnics here though that doesn't mean I can't bring anything interesting. We're not the Apollo astronauts here. Sooooo, what do I do? Well, I really enjoy granola bars, both eating them and making them. They're nutritious and energy dense. However, there is a pretty important problem with them.

The problems with granola bars
We're all familiar with granola bars. They're in every grocery store and come in a variety of flavours made by a variety of manufacturers. The problem, however, is that way too many of them contain far too many calories in such a small little bar. Our overconsumptive society can't really work with small portion sizes and so we do tend to eat more than one or even two granola bars. Sure, we read the label and note that the granola bar in question contains nuts, seeds, peanut butter for protein and even bits of dried fruit. Fair enough but that same granola bar also contains a lot of sugar in that peanut butter and both nuts and seeds are quite high in fat - good fat, mind you, but fat nevertheless.
Another (common) problem is that the nutritional assay on many bars describes how much of anything is in one bar - yet many servings consist of two bars. That means the '195 calories per bar' is really 390 calories if you eat both the bars in the wrapper.
Still another fairly common problem is the so-called 'yogurt coating' on some bars. It's mostly sugar with the yogurt ingredients (such as they are) listed way down on the bottom of the ingredients. It pays to read the labels, I suppose, but when nearly all commercially made granola bars consist of sugar, fat and calories it's pretty hard to properly nourish your own body. If you're going to be triking a lot, as I certainly plan on doing, it pays even more to make your own granola bars.

Our solution

We make our own. There are many many recipes online and most of them don't involve the oven at all. A rule of thumb, however, is that recipes requiring the use of eggs or egg whites are generally baked but not all granola bars require eggs.

A favourite recipe of ours consists of honey, peanut butter, bran flakes, granola cereal, dried cranberries, raisins, dates the occasional bit of dried apricot. True enough, those are high fat ingredients but we make these bars to be so compact that they really don't turn out any less caloric or fatty than the commercial brands - but neither do they have any more fat or calories. Make no mistake, I have nothing whatsoever against commercially made granola bars, except that they're expensive. I just object to the marketing ploys heaped on the unwary consumer. To me, that's right up there with selling 'fat free' cookies to people who will undoubtedly eat too many of them and wonder why they're gaining weight. Know what you're putting in your mouth and, if you don't like it or think you can do better, do something else or have at it.

Some problems we've encountered with our own granola bars include the tendency for our bars to not have quite the right level of cohesion. That means the bar tends to fall apart much the same way an over-warmed, over-marshmallowed rice krispy square might. We still play with the ratio of ingredients but we still wind up with quite tasty, nutritious bars.

So, if not granola bars, what other forms of energy?

Well, there is always the tried and tested trail mix, though here, too, do we run into the same sort of problem as we do with the bars - too much sugar and fat and serving sizes that are too small for most of our palates. However, the solution is also the same - we make our own and with much of the same ingredients. Granted, the trail mix I make does not contain honey or peanut butter but it does contain dried cranberries and, my favourite, almonds.

What about portion sizes?

The issue of portion sizes is not a new one. We have plenty of opportunities to "biggie size" our fries (more like our thighs). Yes, it is a problem but one we have addressed adequately by making the following observation..

we tend to eat our food wayyyy too quickly.

It can take about twenty minutes for the "all full" signal to reach your brain. Thus, it is quite common to spend that time stuffing our faces before we're even aware that we've had enough. The other problem with eating too quickly is that we tend to swallow a lot of air and that tends to have some - uh - unpleasant consequences along the lines of attempting to sing the national anthem in one rather raucous eructation or else bouncing up to someone and saying "C'mere and pull my finger". The solution there is to s-l-o-w d-o-w-n. True, getting up to speed on the catrike is a fairly important thing but fueling our bodies for the venture should not be some kind of race. There, speed isn't as important and, if you plan your trip carefully, you won't be so rushed to eat.

So, take your time when eating. If you're in a huge snarling rush then leave a little earlier next time.

I'll write about sustainability in part 2 of "energy"

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