Good Nutrition Shouldn’t Go Out the Window After a Hurricane, UF Expert Says

Tom Nordlie (352) 392-0400

Linda Bobroff, (352) 392-1985 ext. 240

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Hurricanes and other natural disasters can turn your world upside down, but don’t let them devastate your dining habits, advises a University of Florida expert.

If there’s no power or running water for cooking, a steady diet of candy, chips and take-out fast food might seem appealing – not to mention easy – but focusing on healthy foods will help you weather the crisis better, said Linda Bobroff, a professor with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

“Good nutrition is especially important when you’re recovering from a disaster,” Bobroff said. “To cope with high levels of physical activity and discomfort, you need to provide your body with appropriate amounts of all the nutrients, including water, protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.”

Floridians should keep enough food and water to sustain everyone in the household for at least three days, and up to two weeks, especially in coastal areas, she said. Choose items that need no refrigeration and require little or no water to prepare.

It’s important to find healthy items your family likes, Bobroff said. If you’re not sure whether to include a food in your disaster supplies, try serving it for dinner first.

“If you don’t like canned spinach now,” she said, “you won’t want to eat it when your roof is leaking and a tree is down in your yard.”

Bobroff cautioned that some items traditionally stockpiled for emergencies, such as canned soups and some snack foods, may be high in sodium, fat and/or sugar – nutrients people should consume in moderation.

“Disaster preparation is a great opportunity to pay closer attention to nutrition labeling,” she said. “You may learn that foods you’ve eaten for years aren’t as healthful as you thought.”

Other shopping guidelines Bobroff suggests: Look for items that can be consumed in a single meal or stored safely without refrigeration, once opened. Take advantage of coupons and store specials, but only if you really need the items. Most important, always shop with a plan in mind.

“When you’re buying a two-week supply of food, just intuitively grabbing things off the shelves probably will not work well,” she said. “Instead, try developing menus for a few days’ worth of balanced meals, then buy enough food to prepare each meal several times.”

Tips on menu planning and healthy eating can be found in the latest nutrition guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, available at, she said. Florida International University experts have prepared a cookbook focusing on healthy recipes for disaster recovery, available at

The USDA guidelines classify foods into five groups – grains, vegetables, fruits, milk products, and meat and beans, Bobroff said. Each group belongs in every well-stocked emergency supply.

Grain selections should include whole-grain products when possible, she said. Nonperishable options include crackers, flatbreads, oatmeal and cold cereals.

“It’s important to eat plenty of whole grains, and also fruits and vegetables, because they provide sustained energy and a variety of vitamins and minerals needed for overall health,” Bobroff said. “They also contain fiber, which will help keep your digestive system working properly during this unsettling time.”

Many vegetables and fruits are available canned, and dried fruits such as raisins can provide a good substitute for candy. When buying juices, look for varieties with no added salt or sugar, she said.

Most milk products need refrigeration, but there are a few exceptions, Bobroff said. Fat-free dried milk can be reconstituted as needed and shelf-stable liquid milk is available in single-serving containers.

Meat and bean selections include canned or foil-packaged chicken, tuna and salmon, canned beans and peanut and nut butters. Be sure to check the sodium and fat content of canned items, and choose varieties with reduced sodium and/or fat, she said.

Don’t forget to stock a few seasonings, Bobroff said. A variety of salt-free seasoning mixtures are available, and most kitchens already have a supply of favorite herbs and spices. Individual packets of mustard and salsa are good condiment options.

And if you find yourself unable to resist an occasional candy bar, don’t feel too bad.

“It’s okay to indulge yourself a bit to keep your spirits up, especially with chocolate,” Bobroff said. “After all, chocolate – especially dark chocolate – provides heart-healthy phytochemicals, so small amounts can be part of a healthy diet for most of us. Recovering from a disaster is an endurance event, so focus on healthy meals and snacks, even when your choices are limited.”



Posted: May 31, 2006

Category: UF/IFAS

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