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Food Storage, Emergency Preparedness & The Ketogenic Lifestyle

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In the light of the recent “coronavirus toilet paper shortage,” I started thinking about following the ketogenic or carnivore lifestyle in an emergency.  What it would take to maintain a ketogenic diet through a natural disaster or crisis?  Those of you that know me, know that my wife and I have, for the last 28 years of our marriage, tried to keep a year’s supply of essentials in storage for emergencies, a life crisis or catastrophes.

Some of you may call me a “prepper.”  I’m happy to wear that hat. My wife and I try to follow the principle of “prepare every needful thing,” so that, if adversity, illness, or calamity arise, we can appropriately care for ourselves, our neighbors and lend support to those around us.  That preparation has been life-saving and budget saving on a number of occasions through the course of our marriage.

Principles of Food Storage

Before I dive into this too far, lets define the basic concept of emergency preparedness when it comes to food storage. There are really three main components you need to think about:

Food Supply
Start with a three-month supply that is easy to rotate through your daily meals
Expand as you can to a year’s supply of food
Rotate through these foods using some of them regularly in your meal preparation and replacing them as you go along.

Water Supply
Storage
Filtration

Financial Reserves
Essential (A whole topic for a different blog post and we won’t delve into it here)

The recommendation is to store foods that are part of your normal diet in a three-month supply.  As you develop a longer-term storage, focus on other staples that can last for years.   Most information that surrounds food storage revolves around food and other items that preserve well over time.  The challenge is that these usually come in the form of complex carbohydrates. These longer-term supplies are easiest to store in the form of wheat, rice, pasta, oats, beans and potatoes.

“But, wait a minute,” you say.  “Aren’t you a keto/carnivore doctor? You’re suddenly going to eat carbs in an emergency?”

The answer is “no.”  I am dramatically healthier and I feel much better when eating a ketogenic/carnivore lifestyle.  In an emergency or time of crisis, suddenly changing my diet will make me and my family feel and perform even worse throughout the day.  That’s not what someone needs when they are trying to live through a crisis.

Those that know me, know that I have a very strong family history of diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, kidney failure, gout, thyroid disease, and cerebral vascular disease (strokes) that sit upon the branches of my family tree.  Suddenly “carbing-up” and switching my diet isn’t a wise thing for me or my family.

So, how does one build a long-term food supply and rotation without resorting to carbs? 

Currently, the majority of my ketogenic/carnivore food is stored in my freezers and refrigerator. (Yes, I have three freezers).   Part of my emergency plan for food if I needed to stay in place involves keep those freezers running.  It, also, involves the ability to cook that food.

Over time, I have acquired a generator and stored fuel that I can get running immediately allowing me to keep the freezers cold.  I built a small set of solar panels, separate from my home’s electrical grid, that allow me to harness power from the sun and recharge battery packs to operate other appliances as necessary.  I even have the ability to power appliances with my vehicles/camping trailer.

Stored propane or other gas to run stoves or grills is essential.  These need to be rotated and canisters need to be checked for leaks and safety.

One of the greatest lessons I learned was that near-by local ranchers and farmers are happy to sell me half a cow if I’d just ask.  This literally provides me meat for months at a time.  However, you’ll need an entire freezer to store all this meat.  And, a new freezer, plus half a cow, can be a large expense up front.

Hunting is another way of bringing home large quantities of meat.  If you are a hunter, bringing home a deer or elk also provides months of good quality grass-fed food for you and the family.  I am a bow hunter.  Learning to hunt and staying prepared for hunting season keeps me in shape, and it is also a way to provide meat on the table if the grocery stores are empty.

The challenge with this strategy alone, is that it relies upon our staying in and around our home in time of an emergency.  If, for some reason, we had to leave our home, it wouldn’t be practical to haul freezers and refrigerators around.  So, doing some re-thinking for those types of emergencies is also essential.

Over the years, the members of my family have followed low-carb, ketogenic or strict carnivorous diets depending on their needs and goals.  I may be doing a stricter keto/carnivore diet, where my children are following lower carbohydrate diets.  The information I list below are there to help you come up with ideas that may fit your personal needs and dietary requirements.

How much food do I actually need?

Start simply.  Begin with a week’s supply of food. I am always amazed at how many people have less than two days of food in their homes.

The amount of food you would need to purchase to feed your family for a day multiplied by seven is the amount of food you need for a one-week supply.  Once you have a week’s supply, you can gradually expand that to a month, then three months.  Eventually, that will expand to a year’s supply.

Where do I store all this food & water?

Dry & canned foods need to be stored in cool dry places.  Short term perishables will need refrigeration or freezing.

If you have water from a good, pre-treated source, then no purification will be needed.  Otherwise, water will need to be purified before you can use it.  Store water in sturdy, leak proof, breakage resistant containers.  Keep water away from heat sources and direct sunlight.  Water storage and purification is a whole topic in and of itself.  You can find simple straight forward information about water storage and purification here.

Start with Canned Foods

We don’t use a large amount of canned foods in our current day-to-day diet, but we do have a fairly large selection of canned foods in our storage.  These range from canned proteins like beef, chicken, seafood, freshwater fish and Vienna sausages to Spam and canned bacon (Yes, I love a good slice of fried spam. Seriously. My wife will vehemently disagree.)  You may want to learn to do some home canning and stock preparation.  It’s pretty invigorating when you know how to store and preserve your own food.

Lower carbohydrate canned vegetables can also be used.  Artichoke hearts, asparagus, spinach, mushrooms, green chilies, and even canned tomatoes could be used to stretch protein and fat stores.  These can also be used to add variety to meals.

Canned cream and coconut milk can also be an important piece of your food storage.  These can be found at any grocery store. Though, they may be a little more expensive, we’ve found that picking up a can or two when we are at the grocery store allows one to build a supply over time that doesn’t break the budget.

Dry Goods

When people think about dry goods, they often think of only jerky, trail mix and nuts.  These are nice to have, but they don’t store for long periods of time and they shouldn’t be the basis of a food storage plan.  Carbs in trail mix and nuts add up really fast. And the oils in the nuts expire quickly.  If you ever eaten a old rancid nut, you’ll know why this can be a problem.   My brilliant wife actually keeps all of our stores of nuts in the freezer.  They actually preserve longer that way.

Dry goods that we use and cycle through our storage almost daily (other than nuts and dried meats) include things like protein powders like ISO-100 and KetoChow meal replacement proteins (these will last for two years or more).  KetoChow changed our ability to store meals.  Chris Bair, and his wife Miriam, created the KetoChow product and this has been a wonderful and needed addition to our food storage.  Simply adding water, avocado oil, butter or cream to the KetoChow powder creates and instant, and very healthy ketogenic meal.

Don’t forget salt, sea salt, pink salts (like Redmond Salt), pepper & peppercorns, other herbs & spices, and chocolate are other essential dry goods you will want to include on your list.

Powdered creams and fats are also an option that can be stored; however, you’ll want to look closely at how long these can be adequately stored.  These are also a little more expensive and do have a little more bulk in regards to meal preparation.  Also, be mindful that many “powdered fats” use maltodextrin or dextrose to powder them.  These “covert sugars” are not keto friendly so beware.

There are some great keto bars made by Quest Nutrition and KetoBrick. These have a 1-2 year shelf life, and would work well for shorter-term food storage. Remember that these dry goods may have different storage lives, so adequately planning storage rotation is something you will need to keep your eye on.

Storing Your Own Seeds & Simple Garden Growbeds

If you are able to stay around your home in an emergency, the ability to plant your own lettuce or kale can be pretty handy.   Having the seeds to do this is an essential part of a good food storage program.  You don’t have to have a large space or garden to do it either.   There are many companies offering seeds for storage; however, be aware that heirloom seeds are necessary to be regenerative and not genetically modified.

Alfalfa sprouts will grow in 5-7 days.  Having something fresh in an emergency can be a game changer for morale.

Simple aquaponics garden – 2015

I’ve been experimenting with aquaponics systems for years.  We were able to live off of our own lettuce, kale and strawberries for a full year using three 4’x4’ grow beds and a 50-gallon water-trough with our own koi.   If you haven’t looked into aquaponics, this is a great way to provide the leafy greens you need and a great source of live fish.

I’ve since expanded this to a 14,000 gallon pond with 20 + koi.

Designer Dry Goods

Freeze dried eggs, meat and vegetables are available, and we use these for backpacking and short term camping.  However, they are expensive.  These work well in a three-day emergency kit or pack as well, but you’ll need to see if they fit into your budget.

Fats

Fats are usually what we worry about most when following a ketogenic diet.  Many people following a ketogenic lifestyle use butter, A LOT of butter.  However, butter doesn’t last indefinitely at room temperature.   Canned butter does exist, but it is really expensive.

There are other options.  MCT oil, coconut oil, ghee, lard, avocado oil and olive oil are used in my home regularly and are on a regular rotation with the butter in the refrigerator.  Avocado oil is higher in omega-6 fatty acids and can be inflammatory for some people, and it is also more fragile, meaning it doesn’t store as long as other oils.  Olive oil also has a shorter preservation life.   We have some stored coconut oil that has been good for 8-9 years.  Others have shared with me that they have MCT oil that stored for 7-8 years without problem.  Your nose will know.

Medications & Supplements

I could go on and on about medications, but that could be a whole article in itself.  So, I just want to remind you that planning on having medications, supplements and electrolytes (sodium, potassium, magnesium and zinc) are essential to surviving physically and mentally stressful calamities.

Other Considerations

Emergencies may necessitate periods of fasting.  Getting used to fasting and feeling comfortable that you could go 24-48 hours without food is very confidence building.  Planned fasting periodically will help with stress, recovery and healing in many cases.  Don’t be afraid to experiment with 24-72 hour fasts so that you know how your body responds during these types of experiences.

Remember, preparation is the key to success.  An hour of planning and preparation can save you ten hours of doing.  And if you are living your plan, a crisis won’t set you back.  Failing to plan is just planning to fail.

There has been very little dialogue in the keto/carnivore community about following this lifestyle in a crisis or natural disaster. My hope, here, is to begin that dialogue, get you thinking about the possibilities and then planning and doing what actually matters.

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