Food Storage: Preparing for Emergencies
By Dr. Myatt
We’ve received questions about “how much” and “what kind” of food to have stored away in case of an emergency. Most of what we’ve read about food storage advice is either silly or, in my un-humble opinion, downright wrong. Here is the Dr. Myatt version of your “what to have in case of emergency” food list and my “rationale” (reasons why) so you can make your own best decisions.
First, let’s look at some of the kinds of emergencies which might cut off easy access to food and/or water.
1.) Natural disasters. When seriously bad weather strikes, access to both food and water can be cut off. Safety (protection from the bad weather) in the form of warmth and shelter would also be considerations.
2.) Man-made emergencies. An electromagnetic-pulse from solar storm or terrorist activity could take down major portions of the US power grid. Not only would electricity be out, but most vehicles — all those with electronic operating systems (most modern vehicles) including transportation trucks — could be rendered useless. No “big rigs” on the road means no food delivered to grocery stores. Supermarket shelves could be bare in a matter of a few days, even if you could get to them – your own vehicle might be disabled too.
In order to best prepare for an emergency (which, by the way, I believe EVERYONE should do), it is important to consider what type of emergencies are most likely in your area.
If you live in Florida, a snowstorm that knocks out power and drops temperatures below freezing is unlikely. If you live in the backwoods of northern Montana, you are probably not in an area subject to direct terrorist attack. And so it goes.
Think about the nature of possible local emergencies when deciding how to prepare.
Next, let’s look at what you REALLY need. Many “emergency food lists” are based on keeping taste buds happy, not on maintaining health for extended or brief periods of time. Some examples of bad advice will help you recognize the good in my advice.
Let’s see… Should you store up lots of white flour and sugar? Some strategies encourage this. Bad idea. These are some of the worst “emergency foods” for every reason:
- Flour and sugar contain no nutrition, only empty calories. They will not sustain life for long.
- They are heavy. You could not easily carry with them if you had to relocate, evacuate or “bug out.”
- They are subject to mold and bugs and so must be carefully stored.
- If water must be conserved, what are you going to do? Bake a cake? A loaf of bread?
- If the electricity is out, what are you going to do? Bake a cake? A loaf of bread?
You can do better than this. MUCH better.
Rice, pasta, beans and lentils are similarly bulky, heavy, and require much water and heat (energy) to reconstitute.
Foods like rice and pasta also have low nutritive density, meaning they aren’t going to supply your daily nutritional requirements. They are “empty calories.” So what DO you need?
Make Sure you Have the “Essentials”
There are three calorie-containing foods: protein, fat and carbohydrate. Of these three, only two are “essential,” meaning that your body MUST have them and they must be supplied by diet. The two “essential” calorie-containing foods are :
- Protein (essential amino acids) – the stuff muscles (including the heart) and enzymes and made of
- Fats (essential fatty acids or EFA’s)- your brain and nervous system have a high requirement for fat.
There is no such thing as an essential carbohydrate. No one has ever died from a deficiency of rice, flour, pasta, sugar or bread.
Other non-calorie containing essentials include vitamins, minerals and trace minerals.
Calculate Your “Essential” Requirements:
Adult males: 70 grams of protein per day.
Adult females: 63 grams of protein per day.
Omega-6: 17 grams daily
Omega-3: 1.6 grams daily
Omega-6: 12 grams daily
Omega-3: 1.1 grams daily
One Tablespoon = 15 grams. An oil blend of 4:1 flax to walnut oil and/or two high-potency fish oil capsules daily will supply adequate amounts. Eating fish twice per week is also recommended.
This makes emergency planning much easier, doesn’t it?
Whatever you store up for your emergency “stash,” it should supply the above-listed “essentials” on a daily basis. This can be accomplished in a minimum amount of calories if needed since most (about 70%) of US adults already have stored calories available. We call that body fat. If you are even a little bit overweight, you already have stored calories. Now all you need are the daily “essentials” listed above.
Facts about Fasting — How Long Can You Go Without Food?
Most people with at least 10 pounds of excess body fat can go without food for 30 days. Hunger subsides in 3-4 days as the body shifts over to using stored fat for fuel. Nothing bad will happen. Don’t let your head get the better of you in an emergency. You are unlikely to starve to death.
Water is a different matter. Dehydration and symptoms of electrolyte imbalance start to set in in as little as 3 days. Therefore, making sure you have potable water should be “job one.” Water is more important than food. WAY more important.
Water is Your Most Important “Essential”
For planning purposes, figure 3 quarts of water per day for men and 2 quarts of water per day for women. Remember, that is only drinking water – you will need additional for food preparation and sanitation.
If you have your own well, you are probably “good to go” so long as you can get the water up out of the ground. Even folks with wells will be out of luck if the electricity is out and they have no back-up. Grundfoss makes a great solar well pump powered directly with solar panels, no inverters or batteries required. Shallow wells might be pumped by hand and there are wind-driven pumps as well. If you have a well, make sure you can pump water in case of an electrical outage. Alternatively, a large water-storage tank might suffice for shorter periods.
For city-dwellers, the situation is trickier. Any “outage” of power or disturbance to the water distribution system can leave you without water. Even without a “disaster,” some municipal water systems occasionally have delivery or contamination problems.
Here are some things you can do to ensure adequate water:
At the first warning of impending trouble, fill your bathtub. This will give you upwards of 50 gallons of clean water – you do the math to see how long this will supply your family. A water bladder is available to keep that water from becoming contaminated. You may also want to have have jugs on hand – one gallon plastic jugs, collapsible water totes, even ubiquitous “disposable” pint water bottles all can be filled and re-filled.
You will want iodine tablets or a water purifier (or both) to purify water in case your water becomes contaminated.
Aquasana makes a very high-quality lineup of water filters for your home – in the event of contamination of municipal water supplies this could be a life-saving investment. Even something as innocuous as a brief power failure can result in contamination to municipal water supplies. Aquasana also performs water testing.
One quick note about water: Remember the old saying “A pint’s a pound, the world around.” Water is heavy and you won’t want to carry a 5 gallon container of it very far.
Essential Amino Acids – a.k.a. Protein
You don’t need daily empty calories unless you have no excess body fat. Even then, protein and fats are the most important foods. Meat, cheese, eggs, seafood are the most concentrated protein foods. They don’t make the best “emergency foods,” however, because of space, weight and storage requirements. So here’s the “secret” to daily
protein requirements: whey protein.
Whey protein in powdered form supplies an average of 20 grams of protein per scoop. This means that a 2 pound container can provide a month’s worth of protein for a female. A male would only need about 1 and 1/3 container of protein to supply this important “essential” for an entire month!
Whey is high-quality nutrition. It actually stimulates the immune system. It is light, comes in water and bug-proof plastic containers for the most part. This means that three containers, which don’t take up much space, could supply the ample protein needs for two people for over a month. For the price and health value, this is the easiest solution for meeting essential protein needs.
Essential Fatty Acids – a.k.a. Fat
The two “essential” fats are Omega-3 and Omega-6. Humans must obtain these from diet because our bodies can’t manufacture them. They are needed for healthy brain and nervous system function, hormone production, cardiovascular health and more. Omega 3 fatty acid deficiency can lead to depression and even suicide.
Fortunately, we require only very small amounts – but we require them on a regular basis.
My advice? Don’t discard the fat on the meats you cook – your body needs that fat. Use real butter and real lard – not margarine and Crisco. Have some high-quality, high-potency fish oil (Omega 3) supplements on hand – enough for the entire family. Use lard or coconut oil for cooking. These saturated fats do not turn “trans” or become damaged by heat.
Micronutrients: Vitamins, Minerals, Trace Minerals
Go without vitamin C for long and you will suffer from scurvy, a condition where collagen synthesis is interrupted, resulting in malaise, lethargy, bleeding gums, and eventually, death.
Lack of B vitamins leads to a wide variety of illnesses from beriberi, a neurological disease, to anemia to psychosis.
Lack of Vitamin D leads to rickets in children and osteomalacia (soft bones) in adults – along with a host of other illnesses.
These and many other conditions are intimately associated with malnutrition.
The fact is, all “essential” vitamins, minerals and trace minerals must be obtained through food or supplementation, lest a wide variety of diseases ensue. That’s why they are called “essential.” Even in the absence of overt disease, diminished health will result with sustained nutrient deficiencies.
The solution? (it’s really too easy) An optimal potency (not “fairy dust” potency) multiple vitamin / mineral / trace mineral should be taken every day to supply these essential nutrients. Optimal doses will not fit into any one-per-day pill or tablet. You’ll be looking at 6-9 caps per day (expect 9 caps per day if you want your “bone” / heart nutrients — calcium, magnesium — in full optimal amounts). What formula do I recommend? [Warning: shameless plug ahead]
My own Maxi Multi’s, of course!
Maxi Multi’s are an optimal dose vitamin / mineral / trace mineral / antioxidant formula. Recommended dose is 9 caps per day, taken 3 caps, 3 times per day with meals or whatever else you want to do. Divided doses are best to ensure stable levels of water-soluble nutrients such as vitamin C and B complex vitamins. But just taking the full dose will prevent deficiency-related diseases.
Now, I recommend this formula for adults during NON-emergency times. It’s the berries, If I do say so myself. For emergency purposes, I recommend that each person in the house stock 1-3 bottles ahead (one bottle for each month of preparedness), then rotate through the product when new stock arrives.
A good alternative are MyPacks, individually wrapped packets of a full day’s supply of nutrients. These are easy to carry. We use individual dose packs in our Healthy Troops kits because they are easy to take in a rucksack or bug-out bag.
Fruit and Veggies: the Phytonutrients
There are “goodies” in fruits and vegetables that are not considered “essential.” Things like flavonoids, bioflavonoids, proanthocyanidins, etc. Although they not “essential,” health is greatly improved with the addition of these ancillary nutrients from plants. That is why the US government recommends 5 or more servings (now raised to 10+ servings — because produce ain’t what it used to be) for good health.
By all means, grow your own fruits and veggies whenever possible. Indoor and patio cultivation of produce is an option, especially in Winter or in urban settings. Sprouts are a quick and easy way for anyone to have fresh produce.
BUT, to make sure your “bases are covered” both during an emergency and during everyday life, I recommend a supplement that provides a wide variety of phytonutrients. I suggest that people supplement these on a regular basis anyway, because most people don’t get the recommended 10 servings per day AND because much of our store-bought produce is lower in in nutrients than home or local grown.
Maxi Greens is my own formula of high-potency phytonutrients. Six to 9 caps per day provides a full spectrum of the goodness from plants and herbs.
Alternatively, a green-food formula can also fill this bill. Greens First or Red Alert (now called Greens First Berry) are powdered fruit and vegetable formulas that can be added to shakes or even a small amount of water.
Each Super Shake is a complete meal, providing all the “essentials.” Protein (whey), essential fatty acids (added as oil blend or taken separately as fish oil) and phytonutreints (in powdered form or taken as capsules). Drink a Super Shake and take your Maxi Multi’s, MyPacks or equivalent and you’ve got “the full meal deal.” All in limited space, weight and storage requirements.
Here’s the Recipe:
1 scoop / serving whey protein powder
1 scoop Red Alert, Greens First or other fruit/veggie powder
1/2 cup each ice and water.
Shake or blend in a blender. (No ice? Just use a little more water!)
Optional (but really tasty and healthy.) Add any or all of the following:
1 scoop E-Z- fiber or other fiber supplement powder (for daily fiber intake)
1-3 ounces yogurt or kefir – makes the shake extra creamy
1 raw egg (for extra protein)
1-2 ounces berries (antioxidants and more flavor)
1 TBS. unsweetened cocoa powder (antioxidants and richer chocolate flavor)
After you have the “basics” covered, anything else you want to add will be for “taste bud satisfaction.” And that’s great. But most dehydrated meals don’t come close to Super Shakes and a few supplements for covering the bases of nutritional requirements. They are also much more expensive. Here’s a comparison.
M.R.E.’s : “Meals Ready to Eat” (And How To Do This Better)
M.R.E.’s are a perennial favorite among folks who have never experienced them. After all, they reason, this is good enough for soldiers, and the sales clerk promised that they “taste great” and “provide complete nutrition.” Most soldiers who have had to endure this diet will vehemently disagree – claiming that M.R.E. actually stands for Meals, Rarely Edible and that they would quite happily never eat them again.
M.R.E.’s are the military’s answer to a number of problems involved in feeding troops under isolated or combat conditions. They are not intended to be used for long-term nutrition (over 30 days) and extended use can result in nutritional deficiencies. They also tend to be low in fiber which can cause constipation. Most are high in sodium.
Nurse Mark served in the Canadian Army Reserve and has experience with the Canadian equivalent – the I.M.P. or Individual Meal Pack as well as the M.R.E. His observation is that I.M.P.’s are very similar to M.R.E.’s in that they are bland, constipating, heavy (a case of 12 weighs 22 lbs,) bulky, high in carbohydrates and low in protein, and generally not very satisfying as a meal.
M.R.E.’s tend to be an expensive way to eat – they are usually best purchased by the case of 12, and the going price is around $60 to $80 at retail stores and $45 to $55 on eBay (but most eBay sellers will add an additional $25 or so for shipping.) So, figure from $5 to $7 per meal.
Shelf life of M.R.E.’s is not unlimited – it can vary from as little as 3 months if kept under conditions of high heat to around 3 years. Freezing will damage them.
Nutritionally, M.R.E.’s are intended to be eaten 3 times daily (you can do the math on daily cost…) According to the U.S. government the nutritional breakdown is as follows:
“The contents of one MRE meal bag provides an average of 1250 kilocalories (13 % protein, 36 % fat, and 51 % carbohydrates). It also provides 1/3 of the Military Recommended Daily Allowance of vitamins and minerals determined essential by the Surgeon General of the United States.”
As you can see, there is not much protein there, and minimal vitamins and minerals. There is plenty of carbohydrates though – enough that most people would gain weight eating these while losing muscle because of lack of protein. Heck, we even have troops requesting Healthy troops packages and complaining that their military diet is causing them to gain weight! Unless you’re running a daily marathon, no one needs high-carb, high calorie, low protein meals such as these.
Many of the commercially available “dehydrated survival meals” are very similar in both composition, nutrition, palatability, and cost to M.R.E.’s. You may feel that you must keep a few on hand for an extreme emergency but we cannot recommend them for any long-term use.
Do It Yourself “Keeps a Long Time” Food
In the event of an emergency, I don’t want to be eating junk food. In fact, I’d like to eat food that is toothsome and healthy enough that I’d eat it in non-emergency situations. In fact, that’s exactly what we do. This also ensures a good “turn over” of food, so nothing sits around forever.
In addition to whey protein, fish oil caps and supplements, I stock a variety of dehydrated vegetables. Organic bell peppers, onions, tomato, mushrooms, spinach flakes, broccoli, cauliflower, blueberries are all in my cupboard. We eat low carb so I don’t stock high-carb items, but pineapple, apple, carrots, soup vegetables, peas, potatoes and pinto bean flakes are all available in dehydrated form. That plus my sprouting kit, and we’ll be eating wholesome veggies even if the world goes to heck in a hand-basket.
Yes, they take a bit of water to reconstitute, but not much. Most of these items can actually be eaten “as is.” I like to snack on a handful of dehydrated diced bell pepper or tomato. Go figure.
Jerky or dehydrated meat is always an option. Canned salmon, although not a “bug out” food due to it’s weight, is highly nutritious and will keep for years unopened. Salmon has both essential foods — protein and omega fats — in one Happy Meal.
I also have powdered organic cheese — cheddar, cheddar and spice, sour cream and onion. These are high protein and will make a cheese sauce with just a whisper of water added. Almost everything tastes better with cheese sauce.
Powdered brewer’s yeast is high in B complex vitamins. With a little water added, it also makes a meaty tasting gravy or broth. Added to soups or stews as a thickener, it is also a taste0enhancer. And it keeps for a LONG time.
We have enough protein, essential fats and vegetables to keep us going for at least several months of tough times. Not just “hang in” going, but healthy, tasty eating.
I encourage you to get creative and put together your own emergency provisions. You can make them healthy, tasty and long-storing. Most use little if any water and can travel with you if you need to “bug out.”
We live in uncertain times – the comfortable fabric of our modern life is easily disrupted.
Natural disasters such as earthquakes storms, floods or wildfire can leave us isolated and without power. Man-made disasters such as nuclear accidents (Think Chernobyl or Fukushima) or terrorist activities can also overwhelm government’s ability to respond – leaving us dependant on our own wits and resources for our continued well-being.
Some simple preparation, as has been described here, can tip the odds in favor of healthy survival for you and your family.
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