Survival Nutrition 101: What Is Bio-Availability?
As someone who has stored a lot of food for long term emergencies, I can easily recognize the temptation to load up on simple to prepared packaged foods. Many of these food items are highly processed and loaded with chemical preservatives to extend their longevity, past due dates notwithstanding.
All you need to do is pick up a package of Twinkies and you will see what I mean.
How much do you know about survival nutrition? In an exclusive article for Backdoor Survival readers, my blogging colleague and friend, Daisy Luther talks about survival nutrition and bio-availability.
Survival Nutrition 101: What Is Bio-Availability?
Have you ever talked to another prepper who has highly processed food stacked to the rafters? Things like Ramen noodles, mac-and-cheese, canned stew, and sugar-laden desserts, with nary a whole ingredient in sight?
They always say, “Well, it’s better than going hungry.”
Actually, that isn’t really the case.
If the point ever came where you were completely dependent on your long-term food storage, you’d better hope that you have food that will do more than satisfy a rumbling tummy.
A Lesson in Bio-Availability
When you eat heavily preserved foods, your body can’t break them down to use the nutrients in them (if there are nutrients left, after all that processing in the first place. This is called “bio-availability.”
Compare the ingredients of a pack of Ramen noodles with a pack of plain pasta.
Great Value Ramen Noodles (chicken flavor)
Ingredients: Flour Enriched, Wheat Flour, Niacin, Iron Reduced, Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Thiamine Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Canola Oil, Cottonseed Oil, Folic Acid (Vitamin aB), Palm Oil, Vegetable(s) Oil Partially Hydrogenated, Potassium Carbonate, Salt, Sodium Tripolyphosphate, Caramel Color,Citric Acid, Onion(s) Dehydrated, Disodium Guanylate, Disodium Succinate, Garlic Powder,Soy and Corn Protein Hydrolyzed, Maltodextrin, Monosodium Glutamate, Sodium Alginate,Sodium Carbonate, Soy Sauce Powder, Soybean(s), Spice(s), Tocopherols, Wheat, Disodium Inosinate, Flavoring Natural
Ronzoni Healthy Harvest Whole Wheat Pasta
Ingredients: Semolina Enriched (Niacin, Iron (Ferrous Sulfate), Thiamine Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Folic Acid (Vitamin aB) ), Wheat Durum Bran, Durum Flour, Wheat Germ Durum
Ingredients: Flour, water, olive oil, salt
It’s very clear which is the better choice of digestible, bio-available nutrients. If you can’t make it from scratch, definitely go for the less-processed option. The video below compares how homemade noodles from good ingredients and Ramen noodles go through your digestive system.
It doesn’t get clearer than this:
Do you see how it is impossible for the digestive acids in the body to break down those foods? They remain recognizable most of the way through the system until they are ready to be excreted. This means that the few nutrients that may be present are not made available.
This is the reason that North America is full of malnourished fat people – those who rely on processed food must consume far more of it in a vain effort to get the nutrients they need. They crave food because their body is crying out for vital components.
Think about what the aftermath of a disaster would be like, and then think about facing these challenges with Ramen noodles and a bag of Doritos.
Here Are the Issues You Will Face That Require Readily Available Nutrients
High Stress Levels
Stress is a physical state that can put you at risk for all sorts of medical problems.
When you’re under stress, your body releases the hormone “cortisol” which can absolutely wreak havoc on your body. Cortisol serves a very important purpose: it inhibits the production of insulin and floods your body with glucose to provide energy for a fight-or-flight response. This is great for the short term, but when it’s dispensed over an extended period of time, it can cause blood sugar issues, diabetes, weight gain, and gastrointestinal problems. As well, and this is where your diet comes into play, it can suppress your immune system.
You’ve probably dealt with cortisol’s effects on your immune system before. Have you ever been in a high-stress situation with far too much on your plate, and then gotten sick with a cold or flu? You probably said, “This is NOT the time for getting sick!” because you had so much to do.
Here’s what has happened inside your body:
Cortisol functions to reduce inflammation in the body, which is good, but over time, these efforts to reduce inflammation also suppress the immune system. Chronic inflammation, caused by lifestyle factors such as poor diet and stress, helps to keep cortisol levels soaring, wreaking havoc on the immune system.
An unchecked immune system responding to unabated inflammation can lead to myriad problems: an increased susceptibility to colds and other illnesses, an increased risk of cancer, the tendency to develop food allergies, an increased risk of an assortment of gastrointestinal issues (because a healthy intestine is dependent on a healthy immune system), and possibly an increased risk of autoimmune disease. (Source)
Now, imagine a disaster situation. You’re definitely going to be stressed and at risk for all of these concerns. You don’t want to load up on foods that exacerbate blood sugar issues because of high, empty carbohydrates, or foods with high levels of sodium that will increase your blood pressure and thus your risk of heart attack or stroke.
And never have truer words been spoken than “This is NOT the time for getting sick!” In a potentially post-SHTF world, you must also consider that a lack of modern sanitation will lead to more disease. It is possible that less medical care will be available in the near future, as the economy continues to collapse upon itself. You may not be able to rest and recover, which could lead to a minor illness becoming very serious. A strong, well-nourished immune system will help to fight off illness and keep your family healthy.
Most of us aren’t accustomed to a day filled with heavy physical labor. Gone are the days when we plowed fields without the aid of machinery, built structures, or carried buckets of water.
But in a long-term scenario during which the grid is down, we might be faced with those activities once again. Few of us are physically fit enough to just jump into the lifestyle, ready to go. Now, imagine, trying to do this fueled only by a box of mac-and-cheese. Doesn’t sound like much fun, does it?
If you are using your muscles, they’re going to demand fuel in the form of protein. Protein is vital for repairing the damage done to muscles during heavy physical activity. If you supply your body with proper protein after a bout of physical labor, you’ll be rewarded with a stronger body. If you try to fuel heavy lifting with empty carbs, you’ll be provided a short burst of energy, followed by a crash of complete exhaustion. Your body will actually cannibalize itself searching for protein for the muscles.
High Energy Demands
This goes hand-in-hand with heavy workloads above, but the nutritional requirements are a bit different.
Think back to a time when you stayed on your feet moving around all day long. (This is especially true if you spend your normal workdays sitting at a desk.) Maybe you went to an amusement park, on a long steep hike, or were on foot in a city, doing some sight-seeing.
Do you recall how tired and hungry you were that day? You probably wouldn’t have been satisfied with a bag of chips, right? If you’re anything like me, you wanted a steak dinner, complete with veggies and a baked potato. Your body was crying out for fuel.
Now, think about tilling a field manually, or bugging out through the mountains. Such high energy demands will require high-quality carbohydrates such as potatoes, whole brown rice, or oatmeal.
Build Your Food Supply to Meet These Challenges
Stock your pantry with whole foods that the body can break down through ordinary digestive processes. Look for items that have less than 5 ingredients, all of which are easily pictured in your mind’s eye. Have you ever seen a TBHQ or a Disodium Guanylate? No? Then you shouldn’t eat them.
Keep a wide variety of macronutrients. Your body requires protein, carbohydrates, and fat to function optimally, as well as a variety of vitamins and minerals. Your stockpile should contain a wide variety of food in order to supply these nutrients. It is important to stock whole grains, fruits and vegetables, carefully sourced meats or other protein rich items, and healthy fats.
Buy the best storage foods you can afford. The long-term storage aspect can make it challenging to have good sources of all of these nutrients. But using home preservation, purchasing the best quality foods you can find, and producing some of your own food can help make your supply far more nutritious.
Your Pantry is Your Lifeline
In a crisis situation, your food storage pantry could become your lifeline, as you begin producing your own food. The production of one’s own food is a culture shock all on its own. Think about the tremendous amount of work that goes into a loaf of bread, from seed to flour. Now, think about trying to perform that kind of hard manual labor with inadequate nutrition. If we call upon our bodies to do that, we must properly fuel ourselves.
In a potentially post-SHTF world, you must also consider that a lack of modern sanitation will lead to more disease. It is possible that less medical care will be available in the near future, as the economy continues to collapse upon itself. A strong, well-nourished immune system will help to fight off illness and keep your family healthy.
Many people make the mistake of building a food supply merely meant to keep their stomach from growling in hunger. That mindset could help you to survive a short-term disaster. But if a crisis situation turns into a different a way of life, you will need a food supply that feeds and nourishes the systems of your body, not just one that keeps hunger at bay. You must prepare to fuel yourself for building a new, more self-reliant lifestyle.
Otherwise, once the noodles run out, so will your hopes of survival.
The Final Word
As with many of the articles on this website, this one is designed to make you think about the choices you have so you can come to a decision as to which fork in the road you wish to travel.
When it comes to food storage and survival nutrition, sure, a degree of compromise is in order. But, at the end of the day, wouldn’t you rather lean toward the healthier and more physically sustainable food-source? I know I would.
Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!