When disaster strikes, conditions are often extreme. As such, the nutritional rules of engagement that we usually follow and respect must be balanced with the need to survive under extreme conditions. In this article, I have attempted to respect healthy nutritional principles, while balancing them with the extreme circumstances that may be encountered in a disaster of great magnitude. If you are looking to be prepared for the next earthquake, hurricane, snowstorm, extended power outage, nuclear disaster, WWIII, or Zombie Apocalypse (LOL), you must ensure that you have an abundant supply of healthy nutritional choices stored, preferably at a reasonable cost. When it comes to disaster preparedness, no preparation is excessive. I´ll be the first to admit that gluten-free and Paleo emergency preparedness were topics I had given very little thought to combined. I visited countless websites, read blogs, talked to folks who were in-the know, and did research that allowed me to put together some ideas on how to be best prepared. Best of all, this can be done while adhering to a Paleo, gluten-free, or other dietary lifestyle.
With the growing interest in gluten-free, Paleo-friendly nutrition as well as disaster preparedness and survivalism, I had received several emails inquiring about which foods are the best options for emergency situations. I set forth on a quest to marry the two fascinating fields of nutrition and disaster preparedness. In doing this research, I gathered an abundant amount of information, and discovered that even during a disaster, gluten-free and Paleo nutritional lifestyles can be followed, with some due diligence and careful planning. Upon researching these topics, I rapidly noticed that health-conscious folks interested in having their homes and their families prepared are just like any other consumer. They want the most quality per dollar spent. In other words, they are value shoppers. As a self-proclaimed “value junkie”, I can empathize and relate to these concerns. In creating this article, I´ve combined the answers to the numerous questions received, along with countless and enlightening suggestions, ideas, and insights received from many folks with invaluable and practical knowledge. Since finances and space seem to be limiting factors in regards to which foods we can choose, I´ve attempted to list foods that will provide the proverbial “best bang for our buck”. Food costs can be reduced in several ways:
1) Buying generic brands
2) Buying in bulk
3) Buying foods when they´re on sale
4) Aggressive couponing
Buy generic. Brand names are costly, and oftentimes the same brand names manufacture the generic products– minus the labeling, advertising, and packaging. This translates into more affordable (i.e. cheaper) products.
Buy in bulk: lower cost units of food can be achieved by shopping in bulk at discount warehouse retailers (Sam´s Club, Costco, etc). If available, farm supply stores are a great place to buy seeds in large amounts. Since these stores are typically geographically close to their growing locations, costs are maintained low which translates into lower prices and lower economic impact–a win-win, all-around!
Wait for sales…most stores have weekly or monthly sales. Get informed by either checking local newspapers, searching online, or asking grocery store workers about upcoming sales events.
Become an aggressive couponer. I wasn´t aware that there are entire websites, blogs, and groups devoted to nothing but hardcore, aggressive couponing. Some of these sites have cult-like followings, something I find truly fascinating!
Ultimately, the goal of anyone interested in disaster preparedness should be putting together an abundant collection of nutritious foods that are energy-dense, with high quality protein, quality complex carbohydrates, and healthy essential fats. Some great choices include, but are not limited to, the following:
Canned tuna…great source of high quality protein and fats, combined with great shelf life. (For folks with mercury toxicity concerns, I completely understand…however, in a major disaster it´s safe to say the potential for mercury toxicity takes a back seat to immediate survival).
Coconut oil and lard will last for at least 1-2 yrs in a sealed, airtight container kept in a cool area. (See benefits of coconut oil here)Your body needs essential fats. Your brain is largely made up of fat, as is protective coating on your lungs, and many other critical body systems. Fats are calorie dense, which is also of benefit during extreme circumstances. Also in this category, peanut and almond butter
Canned fruits and vegetables: readily available, inexpensive, and can offer a variety of sources for minerals, vitamins, and fiber.
Protein powder. Once the exclusive domain of bodybuilders and fitness fanatics, protein powder boasts of a long list of benefits that make it a perfect item to have for emergency situations. It is lightweight, requires no refrigeration even after opening, requires no preparation other than mixing with water, and it can replace meals if necessary! Also, it is lightweight and easily stored in Ziploc bags, jars, jugs, or tupperware-type containers.
Chia seeds. These miniature powerhouses have a shelf life of up to 5 years when dried. They are rich in essential fatty acids, as well as B vitamins, calcium, fiber, and protein. They can be used to make beverages and low or no-cook puddings. They can also be used to add nutritional content to smoothies, baked goods, and other foods.
Unrefined salt is loaded with trace minerals essential to health. Also, salt can also be used to preserve food.
Sprouting seeds also have a great storage life, up to 2 years or even more. They are loaded with antioxidants (vitamins A, C, E) as well as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and trace minerals. They can also be a source of live food that grows quickly when in short supply. Best of all, sprouting seeds are easy to use, and they can be grown in sprouting kits, bags or even nylon stockings.
Lacto-fermented vegetables: Sauerkraut is easy to make, inexpensive, and can last months (sometimes years) in a cool, dry location. It´s a great source of vitamin C and K, as well as iron and manganese.
Herbs and spices: the absolute perfect candidate for this list. They are high in antioxidants, have antiinflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal properties, and in many cases can be used as all-natural preservatives as well! Cinnamon, garlic, cloves, coriander, turmeric, basil and oregano are among the best choices due to their versatility, availability, shelf life, and price. (See benefits of turmeric here ) In research done at Kansas State University, a research team discovered that cinnamon added to apple juice contaminated with E.Coli, was able to kill 99.5% of the bacteria within three days, at room temperature. Truly amazing!
While my fellow health nuts and food purists may cringe at the thought of consuming anything high in sugar, the fact remains that in an emergency situation, honey has been and will always be an inexpensive, readily available source of short-term energy. It has great shelf life, as it can last for decades if stored in a sealed container in a cool, dry location.
Water: the most essential nutrient. Keep as much as space will allow, as in certain disasters the water system could be compromised (damaged or polluted).
For those with children, infant formula is recommended as well. While I am a passionate advocate for breastfeeding, extreme circumstances require extreme measures, and this is one of them. Stress can diminish or even eliminate a woman’s breast milk supply, so having formula is a prudent choice.
For pet owners, remember to store food and water for your furry friends as well.
This brings us to how to customize these foods while following gluten-free, Paleo-friendly dietary guidelines. For brevity´s sake, we´ve listed just the basics, without getting into the details that can be found on the numerous blogs and websites pertaining to these topics (i.e. Edible Harmony).
Paleo: eliminate grains, legumes, and focus on consuming dried or canned veggies and fruits, dehydrated or canned meats/fish, and nuts.
Gluten-free: eliminate gluten-containing food. (See Gluten Food List), focus on lean meats, fish, fruits, beans, vegetables, and nuts.
For a practical, simple DIY guide to canning and dehydrating vegetables, visit our friends at Homestead Survival.
Hopefully, you will never have to put this information to use. If disaster does strike, however, it will serve you well to be prepared and informed, in order to maximize not only the survival but the thrival of your family. Additionally, you will be able to adhere to your gluten-free and/or Paleo diet, ensuring that once the proverbial dust settles, a return to normalcy will happen as seamlessly as possible. Good luck, and good eats to all!