by Diane Spicer
Best backpacking nuts for your brain?
Wise food choices for the trail?
As if you don't have enough decisions to make for a backpacking trip!
In a tireless effort to make your life easier, Hiking For Her dug into the medical literature and found six of the best backpacking nuts for you to include in your hiking menus to keep you a smart, healthy hiker.
And I promise to skip the obvious nutty jokes (or maybe not).
Let's get crackin'...
A recent research study looked at the connection between brain functions and nuts in your diet - something no one else is talking about (yet).
According to its results, a firm connection between eating nuts (and their antioxidants) and brain health exists.
Backpackers face a myriad of decisions every day on the trail.
Therefore, strong cognition and memory makes life not only easier, but safer.
If a delicious, nutritious handful of nuts can affect your brain activity in a positive way, and you're not including them in your backpacking menus, why ever not?
Here's the full title:
Nuts and Brain Health: Nuts Increase EEG Power Spectral Density (μV&[sup2]) for Delta Frequency (1–3Hz) and Gamma Frequency (31–40 Hz) Associated with Deep Meditation, Empathy, Healing, as well as Neural Synchronization, Enhanced Cognitive Processing, Recall, and Memory All Beneficial For Brain Health
Or continue to read my nutty summary here.
Note: Reading the original article will give you the details you need to determine whether or not the results are credible to you.
The summary presented here relies upon the researchers' own interpretations of data.
Skip this section unless you need a cheat sheet of the definitions you'll need to understand why I'm using the research to recommend the best backpacking nuts for your improved cognition and memory:
There is a relationship between antioxidant concentrations in nuts and brain wave modulation.
In other words, including nuts in your backpacking diet can impact the activity of your brain in a positive way.
But not all nuts are equal.
You're probably wondering about which nuts to bring backpacking or on a day hike, right?
Let's look at the top choices for your backpacking menus, and call out why they're a great idea to enjoy along the trail.
Besides being lightweight and nutrient dense, delicious and satisfying, that is. We're going for science here, right?
Okay, you caught me: peanuts are legumes, not nuts.
Let's just go with it, based on the fact that the strongest EEG delta response and peanuts were associated in the study findings.
Why is that important?
You're surrounded by trail dirt, you're drinking surface water that contains new microorganisms which can challenge your immune cells, and you're tired.
Sounds like a great recipe for getting sick, so put the power of peanuts to work for you.
The highest levels of both gamma and delta waves were associated with pecans.
So if you're going to choose only 1 nut as a hiking snack based on enhanced brain activity, make it pecans.
The thing to love about pecans is how satisfying they are in both mouth texture and flavor, if you chew them slowly and thoughtfully.
These tasty little trail treasures were associated with the highest level of gamma waves.
In other words, eat them for remembering map details, learning new hiking skills, and getting deep restful sleep!
Another option is to bring shelled pistachios, and that's a great idea if you can sternly limit your portions! Maybe bag them separately for each trail day?
Walnuts had the highest concentration of antioxidants of all 6 types of nuts compared in this study.
So if you're going for all around cardiovascular and brain health, as well as a satisfying hiking snack, these are your best bet.
Walnuts have also been called "brain food", making them a great choice for a natural trail mix containing dried unsulfured tart cherries and some pumpkin seeds.
In order to deliver an abundance of their healthy fats (protective of your cardiovascular system) and antioxidants (for brain health), the best backpacking nuts have to be as fresh as possible.
Raw nuts presumably deliver the most nutritional value, because they haven't been subjected to high heat.
However, many backpackers prefer roasted and salted nuts, not only for flavor but for electrolyte balance.
It's up to you to decide whether raw nuts or processed nuts are best for your hiking plans.
But please, always be sure your nuts have not gone rancid.
Not everyone's taste buds will agree about what rancid nuts taste like.
While consuming rancid nuts won't harm you (good to know in a prolonged survival situation), they won't give you heaps of beneficial lipids per mouthful, either.
So strive to exclude rancid nuts from your backpacking food choices.
Once you purchase your fresh, high quality nuts, store them tightly wrapped in your freezer until it's time to hit the trail.
When the expiration date is approaching, grind the nuts into a tasty batch of nut butter and eat it within a week or so.
On the trail, keep nuts separate from other foods in a tightly closed container or plastic bag.
Trail mix leaps to mind, but come on, we can be more creative than that!
Trader Joe's has done most of the work for us, offering good quality nuts at fair prices.
Pecans rarely show up on the trail, in mix or otherwise, but why not bring some along on your next hike for the reasons mentioned above?
Prefer a sweeter yet still nutty experience?
As with all nuts, a handful or two goes a long, long way toward getting you filled up with brain boosting antioxidants.
There's something special about chewing cashews.
They feel, and taste, creamy and rich and like so much more than they are.
Here's a kicky cashew twist you should try:
It never fails to delight the taste buds, and that's not a small thing on a long backpacking trek.
Why not accomplish a double dose of antioxidants, with these dark chocolate covered almonds?
These make a great dessert on a day when all you want to do is eat and then crawl into your sleeping bag with your last ounce of strength (go ahead, ask me how I know).
Raw walnuts make a great brain boosting trail snack when paired with tart cherries, as I noted above.
The combination of differing tastes and textures provides an interesting and satisfying treat.
Let's invite one of the researchers, Dr. Lee Berk, to have the final word:
"This study provides significant beneficial findings by demonstrating that nuts are as good for your brain as they are for the rest of your body."
And we can't overlook an added bonus: a reasonable quantity of high quality nuts enjoyed each day will safeguard your cardiovascular health.
Add in other backpacking treats which are high in flavonoids, such as green tea, and who knows how long you'll keep hiking!
You now have permission to stop reading and go find the best nuts for your next snack or backpacking trip!
Best Backpacking Nuts
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Photo credits: All photos on this website were taken by David Midkiff or Diane Spicer.
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