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Choosing the right survival foods

Some folks may think of beef jerky and trail mix as suitable “survival rations” but those foods alone don’t meet the nutritional needs of our two most important survival resources, our brains and our muscles. The foods we pack for survival situations need to contain the right kind of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals to give us the best chance for success. Think about it … all professional athletes rely on the right diet to give them a winning advantage and there’s no good reason why we can’t do the same thing. It’s called the survivor’s edge.

This whole topic of survival nutrition becomes more relevant when we realize that the majority of real survival situations last up to three days. During that time our mental and physical capabilities deteriorate very rapidly, especially if we lack water and the right foods. It makes sense to prepare for three days of serious survival and to choose those foods that offer the best nutrition. When stranded in the wild we all have the same three nutritional needs: 1. having enough of the right calories, 2. maintaining a high level of brain function and, 3. keeping our muscles working properly.

Having enough calories. The federal government says we need 2,000 calories a day for normal healthy living. Based on my experience I’d say 1,000 calories is a reasonable daily minimum for a survival situation. We can get those calories from pre-prepared/processed meals or staple foods such as: nuts, milk, whole grains, breads, sugars, fish, chocolate, dark chicken, fruits, berries, nut butter, starchy vegetables, or oils. These foods also provide many of the carbohydrates and fats we need.

Maintaining a high level of brain function. The brain is the most important tool in our survival kit but only when we keep it working properly. Serious survival situations typically involve a lot of stress and anxiety, perhaps significant pain and fear as well, all of which can tax our mental abilities to the limit. What we need is “brain food” and that typically comes from sources like: salmon with omega-3 fatty acids, leafy greens like kale and spinach (vitamin A, C, K, potassium, fiber), nuts and seeds (vitamin E, magnesium), eggs, blueberries (vitamin C, K, manganese, antioxidants, fiber), dark chocolate, coffee, and olive oil. The brain also depends on a steady dose of carbohydrates just like our muscles.

Keeping muscles working properly. Carbohydrates are the main dietary source of energy and our muscles depend on them. Simple carbs are found in instant oatmeal, white rice, potatoes, sugars, and fruit juice, and are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream which provides an energy boost.

Complex carbs have added nutritional value in vitamins, fiber, and minerals. Complex carbs are more slowly converted into glucose and into glycogen which is critical for both liver and muscle function. After 6-8 hours we must replenish glycogen levels or we lose muscle strength and end up with low blood sugar which can cause us to become lethargic. Good sources of complex carbs are: milk, 100 percent stone-ground bread, steel-cut oats, beans, whole grain pasta, potatoes, beans, peas, nuts, and fruits.

Muscles also need proteins to provide essential amino acids that help repair muscles and recover from heavy exertion. The body doesn’t store amino acids so they need replenishing by eating high-protein foods such as: eggs, milk, cheese, meat, oats, chicken, and tuna.

Based on the three requirement areas (calories, brain health, and muscle function) here is my list of basic foods/ingredients recommended for three-day survival rations: Milk, cheese, wild caught salmon, tuna, leafy greens (dried kale, spinach, collard greens), pumpkin seeds, cashews, almonds, walnuts, pecans, eggs, dark chocolate, granola, beef, chicken, peanut butter, whole wheat biscuits, apples, potatoes, whole wheat pasta, raisins, oatmeal, blueberries, and beans.

Each of these items is available fresh, dried, dehydrated, or canned so they are portable and durable. These foods can be eaten as snacks, sides, pre-prepared dishes, or used as ingredients added to soups, stews, and pastas. When available you can also rely on wild game, fish or edible plants.

Learn more about wilderness survival at www.mountaineerwilderness.com