On Nutrition by Ed Blonz

Fueling a Mountain Hike

DEAR DR. BLONZ: Will meal-replacement bars work well for a multiday backpacking trip in the mountains? It will only be for a few days, and I am thinking of taking bars instead of freeze-dried food. Some bars try to be balanced meals, while others are only slightly better than snacks. Assuming I have plenty of water, do you foresee any problems relying on them for a few days at 10,000 feet? -- M.H., Indio, California

DEAR M.H.: My response assumes you are in appropriate shape for such a trek, that you have been fully acclimated to high-altitude hiking, and that the only issue is what you would be eating. That said, an approach based on real food would be preferable, as it offers a wider variety of flavors and textures.

You might find that after living off of meal bars for a few days, they’ll all begin to taste alike, and mealtime will lose its appeal. You could do a mix of bars and regular meals to see how it works out on the trail. But this is a short-term issue, so I can see no serious issues if you want to focus on sports bars.

Sample all prospects in advance, as you may not find all of them to be pleasing to your palate. You will be exhausted after hiking all day, and will want something satisfying to eat. Find an assortment that brings together sufficient energy (calories), high protein and a balance of nutrients. Select some designed for exertion and others designed to be meal replacements. Have a variety of products so that you won’t get bored.

Consider supplementing this selection with foods such as jerky, nuts and dried fruits. These will bring concentrated energy, nutrients and variety -- the latter providing a welcome hedonic boost. Add sufficient fluids, and you will be all set.

It’s only two or three days; the key is to bring along enough calories and nutrients to facilitate, rather than impede, the outing.

DEAR DR. BLONZ: Tell me a bit more about xanthan gum. I have a corn allergy, and recall you writing that xanthan gum is made from corn. It is my understanding that it is the end product of a fermentation process involving Xanthomonas campestris, which is mainly “fed” corn syrup as its source of sugar. These are gum-producing bacteria, which yield xanthan gum. As such, I am not sure it can be said to be made from corn syrup. -- S.F., Hayward California

DEAR S.F.: Much in the same way that we might think of beer as being “made from” grains, it is not that misleading to think of xanthan gum as coming from corn. That earlier column had been generated from a reader’s concern about a corn allergy, and I adapted the answer to fit that paradigm. To be more precise, consider that xanthan gum, a preservative used to help thicken and stabilize foods, is made “using corn.” It is refined, and this should, in theory, remove any corn protein. But that represents an unknown for any particular manufacturer, so I counsel avoidance -- or at least awareness and caution -- for those with a corn allergy.

Send questions to: “On Nutrition,” Ed Blonz, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to questions@blonz.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.