Let me start by saying that I am not a medical doctor or a nutritionist. Any suggestions in this article are based upon my personal experience and should not be considered medical advice.
There will be many health concerns for people in a post-SHTF world, for people who have prepared as well as those who have not, including but not limited to the lack of life-sustaining prescription medicines, limited food, reduced caloric intake, and limited access to life-saving antibiotics. There will be a resurgence of diseases, such as cholera and TB to name just two, that were eradicated in the U.S. There will be a resurgence of deficiency diseases caused by a lack of vitamins and nutrients in the post-SHTF diet. This could be remedied by stockpiling a vast amount of multi-vitamins and supplements before the event, and hopefully people will have some in their stockpile. However, if the worst case scenario happens and happens quickly or the collapse and its after-effects last long term, the vitamins and stockpiles may run out, especially if there are multiple families at your location.
Farming, gardening, and foraging for wild plants will probably be in almost every prepper’s plan for their family’s survival. Most of the gardening zones of the United States are not conducive to growing the citrus crops that today are the most commonly recognized source of vitamin C, or ascorbic acid. I live in zone 7, so I don’t have lime, lemon, or orange trees in my backyard.
A deficiency of vitamin C causes the painful disease known as scurvy. Earliest texts describe the symptoms circ 1500 BC. Aristotle described it in 450BC as a lack of energy, tooth decay, and bleeding problems. Symptoms of scurvy are rotting gums, tooth loss, painful jaws, swollen legs, general aches and pains, easy bruising, and open sores on the skin. In extreme cases, scurvy is fatal. It was not known by 19th century doctors that vitamin C is responsible for making collagen– the protein needed to maintain healthy connective tissue in the skin, tendons, ligaments, and blood vessels and for the healing of wounds. Vitamin C has also been connected to eye health and mental acuity. Vitamin C has been touted as the cure for the common cold. Many studies have been conducted. Equal numbers say it does help, and equal numbers say it doesn’t help. Vitamin C does appear to help boost the immune system, and it supports adrenal function in stressful situations. For that reason alone, in my opinion, it should have a place on a prepper’s supply list.
Only about 10 mg of C is needed to avoid the disease. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) is 90 mg for men and 75 mg for women as proposed by the U.S. government committee on Dietary Allowances by the Food and Nutrition Board. Pregnant mothers should get 85 mg, while lactating mothers should consume 120 mg, since much of their vitamin goes to their breast milk. However, 250 to 500 mg or even higher doses are recommended as a more realistic and optimum dosage. The elderly, people under stress, whether emotionally or environmentally, and diabetics will require a higher daily dose. Wound healing is a major concern for diabetics. Some nutritionists have used the “bowel effect” as an indication of enough vitamin C. In other words, when you have loose bowels to the point of diarrhea, you have a little too much vitamin C because it works as a laxative. It’s my opinion that in a SHTF event, this would not be a good yardstick. You would also be losing water from your body, which is not good in that situation.
My ancestors came from Northern Eastern Europe, which is another area where citrus crops do not grow. Yes, they could trade for some, but life on a farm in that area didn’t lend itself to have enough to do much trading for exotics. They knew what they needed in their diet, and that’s what they produced from their soil to stay healthy in order to continue to work their farm and provide for their families.
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin and is stable in raw foods. However, cooking vitamin C-rich foods will cause it to be lost or greatly reduced. Vitamin C is also reduced when foods are picked and allowed to sit at room temperature for several hours. Fortunately C-rich foods are comprised mostly from vegetable sources. Animal protein has almost no vitamin C content. Nutritional studies have shown that vitamin C is used by the body in about two hours and is eliminated from the body within about four hours. Normal situational use of supplemental vitamin C should be taken every four hours or as a time-release tablet. For people in SHTF and getting their daily dose of C through their meals, this schedule coincides nicely with normal mealtimes.
Vegetable sources of vitamin C include:
- Red, yellow, and green peppers, 150 mg (Yellow being the best source, 155 mgs and beta carotene)
- Cayenne pepper or jalapeno peppers
- Broccoli, 90 mg
- Brussels sprouts, 50 mg (high in vitamin K, foliate, vitamin A, manganese, potassium, and fiber)
- Tomatoes, 100 mg
- Daikon radish
- Cauliflower, 1 cup has 46 mg
- Fresh green peas
- Dark leafy greens, such as kale, spinach, collards, mustard, turnip, chard; kale is best. Two cups in a salad gives 150 mgs.
- Cabbage, red and green
- Sweet potatoes
- Beet greens
- Winter squash
- Sauerkraut (more on this later)
Herbs are a great source of vitamin C that you can add to any prepared dish, and they are super easy to grow even in the kitchen on a southern exposure window sill. The herbs include:
Other fruit sources of vitamin C are:
- Rose hips (found on rose bushes)
- Acerola cherries
- Cantaloupes 67 mg (vitamin A and potassium)
- Strawberries (high in fiber)
- Black Currants, 180 mg per serving (also potassium, iron, vitamin B5 and phytochemicals)
Seed and beans, except kidney, which should not be sprouted, when eaten as sprouts are also high in vitamin C; however, a better use of those would be planting for another crop.
Since vitamin C is water soluble, any excess will be eliminated daily from the body. Having even more during a stressful time, like a SHTF situation, would be good. Vitamin C is also used up very quickly when there is an infection present in the body. To keep the highest content possible of vitamin C, you should eat the vegetable raw or lightly steamed.
Now, here’s more on sauerkraut. Dr. Jonathan Lamb, professor at Vanderbilt University, recounts that CPT James Cook took 7,860 pounds of sauerkraut on his voyage to the South Seas and not one of his sailors died of scurvy while they were gone. While Cook used the fermented vegetable to keep his crew healthy during the long sea voyages, he was not the first explorer to do so. Some researchers believe that fermented foods came into Eastern Europe because of the raids of Genghis Khan. Asian peoples eat kimchi. Many service members have been introduced to this dish while serving overseas in Korea. I make a very simple version that does not have the pungent aroma found in more ethnic versions. Historical records have shown that the workers building the Great Wall of China ate fermented cabbage during the cold seasons when fruit was not available. Talk about a stressful and intense work environment, that would have been it.
Levels of vitamin C in fermented sauerkraut range from 57 to 700 mg per cup. Now, before you go running out to buy multiple flats of canned sauerkraut, remember that heat decreases the level of vitamin C in veggies. The type of sauerkraut I’m talking about here is the lacto-fermented kind that uses no heat in the process. Raw cabbage has a moderate amount of C in it, about 30 mgs, but the level spikes when lacto-fermentation is done. Red lacto-fermented cabbage has been found to have the highest C values, at around 700 mg per cup. This type of sauerkraut has the fiber and the probiotics that improve digestion and maintain bowel health and protects against many diseases of the digestive tract. Traditionally, lacto-fermented sauerkraut has been used in studies in Europe as an aid to cure stomach ulcers.
Lacto-fermentation of the cabbage is not a fast process. It occurs over days and weeks. The cabbage is sliced thin and layered with water and salt, left at room temperature with a weight to press down the cabbage and keep it under water. A breakdown of the sugars happen, and then the process of growing the probiotics occurs. It is then packaged into jars in its own brine solution, and it can then be refrigerated to preserve the vitamins and enzymes. The Lehman’s Non-electric catalog from Kirdron, Ohio has sauerkraut crocks and various books on making and storing sauerkraut. Note that it is not only cabbage that can be fermented. Other vegetables, such as red beets, turnips, red peppers, daikon radish, and carrots all have vitamin C levels raised when fermented in the traditional way.
As I stated earlier, it only takes about 10 mg to keep scurvy at bay; however, you will need considerably more in your diet to function at the optimum level needed in a SHTF scenario. Whether you get it from multi-vitamins, supplements, or in your daily food, you should have a plan for it.
Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon
Staying Healthy with Nutrition, Elson M. Haus
Staying Healthy with Seasons, Elson M. Haus
Vitamin C, David Zieve
Weston Price Foundation