As the high winds and pelting rain of Hurricane Sandy bear down on much of the East Coast, people are getting ready for the worst. They’ve packed away things like batteries and matches, and—because they might be greatly limited in how far they can get for a few days—food and water. But even a natural disaster like a hurricane should be no impediment to eating a healthy diet.
It may seem ironic, with tons of water falling from the sky and water levels rising from below, but the most important thing you’ll need is fresh, clean water. The water you’ll find around you from rain and flooding will probably be contaminated and dangerous to be near, let alone drink. Flood water is especially dangerous, as much of it may have come in contact with sewage. Never taste a food to see if it’s “still good.” If you even suspect food has come into contact with flood water, discard it immediately. The same goes for food-related items, such as cutting boards, plastic cutlery, and baby bottle nipples. It’s best to put away at least one gallon per person per day for drinking, and to fill bathtubs and sinks before the storm to have a supply of water for bathing and other non-drinking uses.
When it comes to stocking food for when you’re waiting out a hurricane, the key is the packaging. This, too, will seem counter-intuitive for people who want to eat a healthy diet, as most of us are strong believers that packaged, prepared foods are nutritional disasters, full of sodium, fats, and synthetic chemicals. While healthy (or at least not harmful) packaged foods may not be common, they do exist. In order to get the healthiest options, consumers should look for foods that are low in calories—120 should be the limit for a snack—sodium, sugar, and fat. Steer clear of any packaged food with trans fats, and look instead for fiber and, if you can get it, essential fatty acids like omega-3.
While there are health-related issues with food that comes in cans lined with coatings containing the chemical bisphenol A (BPA), there are plenty of BPA-free canned goods if you look for them. And canned foods can provide excellent nutrition in times of emergency. At the top of the list are canned beans, which are rich in both fiber and protein. Be sure, however, to drain canned beans completely, and—if you have enough clean water—rinse them thoroughly. Many brands of canned beans are packed in brine that’s full of sodium; washing off as much of it as you can makes the beans themselves all that much healthier for you.
One canned food that may even be better for you than beans is tuna, particularly albacore or “white” tuna. Though relatively low in calories, albacore tuna is jam-packed with protein, and is an excellent source of omega-3fatty acid. It’s also very rich in vitamin D, an essential building block that helps protect the immune system, and selenium, a mineral that helps prevent cancer and cardiovascular disease. As an added bonus, albacore is also an excellent source of vitamin B12 and phosphorus, which, when combined, help synthesize proteins and aid in kidney and liver function. The only catch with tuna is that, as a large predatory fish, it can be exposed to mercury. Because of this, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that pregnant women eat no more than six ounces of albacore tuna per week.
Canned soup can also be an excellent option, although canned soup is no match for fresh-made soup when it comes to nutrition, and many popular varieties are loaded with sodium, monosodium glutamate (MSG), and other items you probably don’t want to consume. It always pays to look at any packaged product’s list of ingredients and nutritional data, but that’s especially true of soup, which can be made of nearly any type of food. Look for soups that are made from the same types of food you would eat otherwise, like fish and seafood, green leafy vegetables, and other nutritious items.
If you can keep it cool, yogurt is an excellent food to have on hand when disaster strikes. Besides being low in calories, rich in protein, and an excellent source of calcium and B-vitamins, yogurt can decrease the frequency and severity of yeast and intestinal infections and help stimulate the immune system, and can be easier to digest than milk. Be sure to look for Greek-style yogurt, which is lower in fat and calories than other varieties, and to avoid flavorings, which are often high in sugar and low in any of the nutrition one associates with fruit or chocolate. If you don’t have access to a working refrigeration unit, packaged milk (also known as shelf-stable milk) is a reasonable, if not perfect, alternative for your dairy needs.
For snacks, the best option can be prepackaged granola bars, which can provide solid nutrition and quick energy if you are careful about which ones you choose. But, as with soups, it’s essential to completely read the label. In an effort to lower manufacturing costs and to appeal to a broader audience, many granola bar makers have added massive amounts of sugar and other harmful ingredients to their products. Look for bars that have fewer than 120 calories, no trans fats, less than two grams of saturated fat, and at least six grams of protein and two grams of fiber. To get the best, you may have to shop in a health-food store. Make sure your granola bars are high in oats, one of the best grains for optimal health. If you can, buy granola bars (or other products like bread) that contain flaxseeds, which are rich in omega-3, fiber, and antioxidants. Of course, the basic ingredients of granola bars—whole grains, nuts, and fruit—are all nutritious options by themselves, but beware of sodium, sugar, and other adulterants when buying them prepackaged.
Another source of nutrition and flavor can come from frozen fruits and vegetables. Freezing food makes it lose far less of its nutritional value than with other packaging methods, and can add much-needed taste to the basic foods you may have on hand in an emergency. Be sure to use the entire package, though, as food can’t be safely refrozen.
While the weather may prevent you from getting outside, it should not prevent you from eating right.