Food Less Fortified: Vitamins in a Time of Grid-Down Existence Part I, by PA Jes

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TEOTWAWKI can take on many forms. This article is directed towards those who will transition (or already have transitioned) to locally-grown, seasonal, and non-processed (non-vitamin-fortified) food. This includes food produced as a result of homesteading, self-sufficient living, or surviving in a situation where trucks stop stocking supermarkets with vitamin-fortified food, multivitamins, Florida oranges, ocean tuna, and so on. Will America regress to a level of malnutrition typically seen in a third world county? This article is written to be a practical guide to surviving in a vitamin-deficient world, describing some of the key vitamins and their respective government-directed fortification in our foods, and what would happen if those fortification programs, including the delivery of such foods, were to become compromised.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that will be hard to come by after the bottled variety runs out. It is found naturally in only a few foods, such as fish-liver oils, fatty fishes like tuna and salmon, some mushrooms, beef liver, and egg yolks (in small amounts). Vitamin D is also synthesized by the skin during exposure to ultraviolet light. Research suggests it would take 15-30 minutes of sun exposure, twice a week, to the arms and legs or back to synthesize sufficient amounts of vitamin D. Also, people with darker skin pigments tend to synthesize less vitamin D.

Vitamin D is essential for good bone health, and it may help strengthen muscles and protect against cancer and diabetes. Furthermore, calcium absorption in the gut requires adequate vitamin D levels. In the 1930s, a milk fortification program was initiated in the U.S. to help combat rickets, which was a major public health problem at the time. Today, the program has helped ensure that rickets is now quite uncommon in the U.S. and Canada. What happens when fortification programs like these cease to exist in our diets?

Low levels of vitamin D can also lead to osteomalacia (the weakening of bones) in adults. Despite the success of milk fortification in children, many U.S. adults are currently vitamin D deficient to some degree. The current recommendation is that all individuals should receive 400IU of vitamin D per day.

So what happens when TEOTWAWKI and the multivitamin bottles run out? Humans will eventually readjust to getting our vitamin D from sunlight and unfortified foods. Listed in the table below is the vitamin D content in some of the better food sources of the vitamin. As food sources of vitamin D are scarce, access to these dietary staples will be critical, particularly in a situation where sunlight exposure must be limited.

Table 1. Vitamin D content in food: (400IU of Vitamin D is recommended for adults daily)

Food

IUs per Serving

Cod liver oil, 1 tablespoon

1,360

Swordfish, cooked, 3 oz

566

Salmon, cooked 3 oz

447

Tuna, canned in water, drained, 3 oz

154

Sardines, canned in oil, drained, 2 sardines

46

Egg yolk

46

Beef liver, 3 oz

11

In the SHTF scenario, breastfeeding will likely become a staple once again, once infant formula runs out. Despite the plethora of benefits, human milk is usually inadequate to supply the infant with adequate amounts of vitamin D. Current recommendations include giving exclusively breastfed infants supplements of vitamin D, although this liquid formulation may be difficult to attain in a grid-down scenario. The degree of vitamin D in breast milk is largely dependent upon the serum concentrations in the mother. Actively supplementing the mother with the right foods and sunlight will certainly help with this endeavor. Studies have shown that maternal intake of 400IU per day was grossly inadequate to produce effective vitamin D in breast milk. However, mothers who take high doses of vitamin D during breastfeeding (6000IU) were successful in maintaining their own vitamin D stores and producing adequate levels in breast milk. Campaigns to reduce skin cancer have lead to mothers either avoiding sun exposure or using sunblock and clothing to greatly reduce it. In a prolonged grid-down scenario, mothers will need to re-evaluate the risks and benefits of short duration sun exposure (15-30 min per day, without getting sunburn) when dietary sources of vitamin D are hard to attain.

Prepper literature has often mentioned the risk of toxicity in some fat-soluble vitamins. Vitamin D toxicity is highly unlikely from dietary consumption, even with fortification programs. Sunlight will not lead to toxicity, as the body naturally reduces synthesis as adequate levels are achieved. However, excessive supplement usage certainly can lead to toxicity. Toxic levels are possible in infants taking greater than 1000IU per day, kids taking greater than 2500IU per day, and adults taking more than 4000IU daily on a chronic basis. In adults, 10,000 IU daily markedly increases toxicity risk.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that is naturally present in some foods. Humans cannot synthesize vitamin C, so it must be consumed. It is required for the synthesis of collagen (making it critical for wound healing) and is an essential component of connective tissue. Also, it is an important antioxidant, as vitamin C plays an important role in immune function. Most adults and teens should consume 50-90 mg per day, although women who are breastfeeding need approximately 120 mg per day, since vitamin C is passed through to breast milk.

A lack of vitamin C causes scurvy, which is historically associated with pirates. This disease was problematic for centuries, particularly for campaigning soldiers and for sailors who would go several months at sea, eating exclusively salted meats and grains (sound familiar to some preppers out there?) as opposed to foods containing vitamin C. In the 18th century, more British solders died from scurvy than from enemy engagement.

Scurvy usually begins within one month of vitamin C deficiency and progresses so quickly that death can occur just a few months later. Scurvy symptoms begin with extreme fatigue. Next, spots appear on the legs and the gums begin to bleed. As the disease advances, open wounds develop, teeth fall out, extreme muscle weakness occurs, and ultimately, it results in death.

Most vitamin C is available in the American diet through fruits and vegetables, especially citrus fruits, tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes (see table 2). Breakfast cereals are sometimes fortified with vitamin C, although grains do not naturally contain vitamin C. Prolonged storage and cooking reduces the vitamin C content of food. Steaming may lessen cooking losses. Cow’s milk has very small amounts of Vitamin C, and this amount becomes negligible during the heating involved in pasteurization.

Table 2. Vitamin C Content in Foods: (most adults require 50-90 mg daily)

Food

Mg per serving

Sweet red pepper, ½ cup

95

Orange juice, ¾ cup

93

Orange, 1

70

Broccoli, cooked, 1 cup

51

Tomato juice, ¾ cup

34

Baked potato, 1 medium

17

Spinach, cooked, ½ cup

9

In a TEOTWAWKI, canned fruits and vegetables, as well as supplements, can provide necessary vitamin C for quite some time. However, as one transitions to a local food commerce, regional variations will emerge. Oranges and orange juice will become a rare commodity for northern inhabitants. Colder-climate winters without canned fruits or vegetables will likely result in regional scurvy symptoms. The prepared family would learn about the fruits and vegetables that can be harvested in their local region and develop a way to harvest and store these items over the winter season. When prepping for a prolonged grid-down scenario, pantry items to consider stocking include both canned tomatoes and potatoes. In warmer months, dandelions are also a great source of Vitamin C. Be sure to remember that breastfeeding will provide infants with adequate vitamin C (if the mother consumes enough herself); evaporated milk and cows milk, however, lack vitamin C and would not serve as an effective substitute for human breastmilk.

Vitamin A

Are carrots really good for eyesight? During WWII, British propaganda indicated that fighter pilot John “Cats’ Eyes” Cunningham thanked a steady diet of carrots for his nighttime flying prowess. (In reality, the propaganda was meant to conceal the use of radar.) Carrots won’t help to make one’s vision better, but the lack of vitamin A is certainly harmful for eye health. Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that is important for maintaining normal vision, balancing the immune system, reproducing, and preserving healthy organ function.

Vitamin A is found in meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based products. The most common type of vitamin A in foods and dietary supplements is beta-carotene. The FDA has established a vitamin A Daily Value (DV) of 5,000 IU from a varied diet of both plant and animal foods. Vitamin A is added to some foods, such as milk and cereal. Common sources of vitamin A include:

  • Beef liver and other organ meats,
  • Some types of fish, such as salmon,
  • Green leafy vegetables and other green, orange, and yellow vegetables, such as broccoli, carrots, and squash,
  • Tomato products,
  • Fruits, including cantaloupe, apricots, and mangos, and
  • Dairy products (cow’s milk has some vitamin A, but it is also fortified).

Vitamin A deficiency is currently rare in the U.S., although it is quite common in third-world countries. The most common symptom of vitamin A deficiency is an eye condition called xerophthalmia, which begins as night blindness and can cause complete blindness if untreated. Moreover, a vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of blindness in kids.

What happens in a prolonged TEOTWAWKI? In the absence of fortified foods (primarily fortified milk and cereals), a vitamin A deficiency would be rare, if there is still access to meat, diary, and vegetables. A deficiency is most likely to occur in people who use grains as their diet’s staple. People at highest risk for deficiency are infants, children, breastfeeding moms, and anyone with chronic diarrhea. Therefore, preppers should ensure their preps contain more than just grains.

As a fat-soluble vitamin, vitamin A is harmful if taken in excess, although it is dependent upon the quantity and rapidity of the intake. Overdose typically occurs in the setting of excessive vitamin A supplements. It has also been reported following sudden, yet excessive intakes of the natural vitamin, as with Arctic explorers who ate polar bear liver. Chronic intakes of excess vitamin A lead to increased intracranial pressure, liver damage, dizziness, nausea, headaches, skin irritation, pain in joints and bones, coma, and even death. Therefore, when you slay the neighborhood polar bear, leave the liver for the birds.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that is an important antioxidant found in many types of food. As such, deficiencies are very rare. Most deficiencies occur in people with digestive tract diseases where they are unable to absorb fats. Many advocate that vitamin E supplements are good for heart disease, immune system, cancer prevention, and dementia. Research studies have largely debunked the heart disease claim, and the other conditions have variable results with inconclusive data.

Vegetable oils, like wheat germ and sunflower oils, and nuts and seeds are among the best sources of vitamin E. Corn and soybean oils also provide some vitamin E. Green vegetables, such as spinach and broccoli, provide some vitamin E. Many of our processed foods are fortified with vitamin E, but vitamin E deficiency is not as likely in a SHTF scenario, when compared to other vitamin deficiencies.

In Part 2 of this article, I’ll continue to go over the essential vitamins and their sources and wrap it up with a summary that includes the “Top Ten Food for Thought”.

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