Lightweight and Heart Friendly: Selecting High Energy Bushwalking Food

How do you design a healthy, but energy-dense diet for hiking?  What alternatives are there to saturated fat-rich foods when on a multi-day hike? Can a “heart safe” diet be tasty and practical?

Keeping our cholesterol levels low has become an important goal for many bushwalkers but this is difficult on a multi-day hike where keeping weight to a minimum has traditionally required high fat foods such as cheese, sausage, and chocolate. Many of these also have  high durability even in hot weather eg semi dried metwurst or salami, matured  cheeses such as parmesan, and chocolate based lollies such as M&Ms or even block chocolate.

The key to a healthy energy-dense diet is to substitute healthy fats such as polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats for the dangerous saturated and trans fats. Many of these healthy fats and oils are found in nuts and seeds, which form the basis of many a good trail mix (Australia)/scroggin. (NZ)/gorp (North America)

See also Heart Foundation:

Understanding Fats and Cholesterol
Where to find healthier fats
How to avoid trans fats

For many of us it becomes too difficult and we wonder whether a few days on a high fat diet really matters in the big picture.

This article is an attempt to firstly provide a list of high energy but heart safe foods and then see whether these can be put together to form a tasty menu for that extended bushwalk.

From Australian Food Composition Chart

A good Australian Food Composition Chart is from Deakin University  and from this I have selected some high energy foods

  • Beverages: Milo, Ovaltine are by far the best for energy and have no  fats. Alcohol, you will be please to know, has a high energy content but also leaves you badly dehydrated the next morning. Dried skimmed milk is a good source of low fat energy which can be added to your muesli.
  • Fish: Sardines,  tuna  and red salmon in oil rate highly in terms of energy content, but you have to check that the oil is not saturated ie often vegetable oils are saturated. Natural fish oils contain omega-3 which is good for your health. Red salmon is better for you than pink salmon, but also more expensive.Unfortunately the can hardly makes it lightweight, but removing it before you go bush is a bit risky for the small weight saving. Some flavoured tunas come in alfoil pouches which are great.
  • Muesli:  Looks and tastes good, especially if its toasted, but then it probably has a high saturated fat content. Don’t use shaved coconut in your muesli as it is high in saturated fats, nor should you buy off the shelf muesli, which often has  a high vegetable oil content and is usually saturated fat. Muesli can be rich in seeds and dried fruit which are great for your health.
  • Dried fruits: High in energy/g and an ideal bushwalking food. Most have at least 5 times more energy than the fresh equivalent.
  • Gelatin: A great food, if you can think of a way of adding it to your food eg make a jelly
  • Nuts: almonds, pine, pistachio, macadamia, walnuts. Sesame seeds sprinkled on food is a great source of energy. Try tahini paste, made from seasame seeds, on your lunch biscuits
  • Lollies: jelly beans (my favourite), sesame bar and many other sweets are very high in energy and low in fat. Try a carob or honey and sesame bar. See chart below for some more ideas.
Food Data Chart

For more info, visit the Bushwalk Australia Forum , Burke’s Backyard Muesli Fact Sheet

    See a Food Data Chart of Saturated Fats

    How do we put that all together in a health bushwalk menu for an extended walk eg 5 + days?  Some ideas welcome here!

    Remember foods with a low Glycaemic Index (GI) will make you feel satisfied for longer and are healthier as they are converted into glucose more slowly so try to incorporate these. I find that I need 700-900  g /day of dry food depending on physical intensity and duration of each days walk. Surprisingly I lose my appetite when exhausted and find that a drink like Sustagen at the end of the day does wonders.

    A diet consistent with the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating recommends people consume a variety of foods across and within the five food groups and avoid foods that contain too much added fat, salt and sugar. The Guide aims to encourage the consumption of a variety of foods from each of the five food groups every day in proportions that are consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Australians. The five foods groups are:

        * Bread, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles
        * Vegetables, legumes
        * Fruit
        * Milk, yoghurt, cheese
        * Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, legumes.

    It is expected that small amounts of unsaturated fats and oils will be consumed with breads and cereals but additional fats and foods such as cakes, biscuits, hot chips and sugary drinks should be consumed only occasionally.

    While the short duration of most bushwalks means that a balanced diet is not essential, including the above 5 food groups each day is good advice.


    Muesli, home made with lots of nuts , dried fruit, seeds and powdered milk. Be careful that it doesn’t include dessicated coconut which is rich in saturated fats.

    Lunch ( cold, uncooked)

    Vita Wheat biscuits (rich in fat) to spoon food
    Canned fish/tuna, red salmon, sardines (check for non saturated oil).
    Tahini paste (sesame seeds) on biscuits
    Anzac cookies

    Yes I know canned “anything” is not very weight efficient.

    The alternative is to skip lunch and eat a balanced high energy scroggin/trail mix/gorp all day between breakfast and dinner.



    Pasta,  or eggs (if you are able to carry safely)
    Fruit Balls: couscous, tahini paste, honey, seeds, dried fruit
    Jelly for dessert or more dried fruit

    Yes I know, this is very limited.  Your ideas please!!

    Can a “heart safe” diet be tasty and practical?

    Yes but only with a lot of thought.

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    This article by Bush Walker is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


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