When planning for food storage, pay attention to the vitamins in foods, particularly vitamins C and A.
Vitamin C in a diet is so important that pioneers died at Winter Quarters from “black leg,” another name for scurvy, caused from a lack of this vitamin. Vitamin A helps regulate the immune system, preventing infectious disease and vision problems, and promotes bone growth. Monitoring the intake of these vitamins is important enough that they are specifically listed in nutrition labels.
Interestingly, vitamins C and A are not found in any significant amounts in basic food storage, like grains and beans. Sprouting beans, especially kidney beans, produces some vitamin C; however, it is necessary to consume 1¼ cups or more daily to get enough of this vitamin. That's a lot of work. Vitamins C and A are found in fruits and vegetables, which is an important argument for including fruits and vegetables in food storage.
Vitamin C foods
The best sources of vitamin C in most commonly stored foods are broccoli, orange juice or enriched powdered juice mixes, mandarin oranges, mangoes, green chiles, green peppers, peas, pineapple, potatoes, raspberries, strawberries and tomatoes.
Vitamin C is easily destroyed by heat, light and air. When cooking stored foods containing vitamin C, avoid long exposure to heat. It is best to add these foods toward the end of the cooking time. Retain vitamin content in storage by purchasing food in opaque containers with the oxygen removed and store them in a cool, dark place, which not only preserves vitamin C and other nutrients but also extends shelf life of foods.
Vitamin A foods
Apricots, broccoli, carrots, mangoes, peaches, pumpkin, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes or yams are the most common storable sources of carotene, which is converted by the body to vitamin A. Cooked tomatoes have an added advantage of containing lycopene, an important carotenoid effective in preventing certain cancers.
Foods rich in vitamins C and A can all be found canned, dried or freeze-dried.
Some people are concerned about the nutrition in canned foods. A study by professors at University of California-Davis and published in 2007 in the Journal of Science of Food and Agriculture compares nutrition in fresh, frozen and canned foods. It states “Losses of nutrients during fresh storage (storage of fresh foods) may be more substantial than consumers realize. Depending on the commodity, freezing and canning processes may preserve nutrient value. While the initial thermal treatment of canned products can result in loss, nutrients are relatively stable during subsequent storage owing to the lack of oxygen. Frozen products lose fewer nutrients initially because of the short heating time in blanching, but they lose more nutrients during storage owing to oxidation. In addition to quality degradation, fresh fruits and vegetables usually lose nutrients more rapidly than canned or frozen products. Other variables such as storage and cooking conditions will also influence the final nutrient content of a food.”
Dried and freeze-dried fruits and vegetables maintain very good nutrition in the oxygen-deprived environment of containers designed for long-term storage. They have a shelf life of 20 to 25 years when stored in a cool, dark place, compared to canned foods which store for up to five years in the same storage conditions. They are more expensive, however. Nutrients can vary from brand to brand, depending how companies process their food, so be sure to check labels and serving sizes when making comparisons.
An excellent source of vitamins, of course, is from food grown in a garden. Grow your own and preserve the produce for use when the growing season has passed. To preserve quality and nutrition, bottled fruits and vegetables should be stored away from light in a cool, dark place. The divided cardboard boxes, in which bottles were originally purchased, make a great place for storing filled bottles in a dark place. The USU Extension Service recommends using home bottled foods within two years.
Vitamin pills can be another source of nutrients, especially when stored in a cool, dark place.
When planning food storage, it’s good to be aware of the nutrition in the foods you store, especially for vitamins C and A. Having a good source of vitamin C can be a matter of life or death.
Leslie Probert, a graduate in home economics from Brigham Young University, has been a popular speaker and is co-author of "Emergency Food Storage in a Nutshell, 3rd Edition" with over 400 fast, creative recipes. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org