If there was a Survivor television show with dietitians as contestants, what foods would they carry along in their backpacks?
In a warm-weather fantasy, I thought about what I would choose to bring if I knew I was going to be stranded on a deserted island (in my dreams, my island has a resort, is equipped with the comforts of home, and located somewhere idyllic like the South Pacific).
On a reality show, of course, there would be no resort -- just an oasis of flowering beauty with fresh water suitable for drinking and plenty of fish in the sea. Matches, firewood, a can opener, and vessels for cooking would be conveniently available, probably left from the previous survivor.
Just the Basics
Since my paradise island contains fresh running water, I don't need to bring the No. 1 necessity with me. Mango trees would be available on the island, to satisfy my sweet tooth and serve as a source of vitamin A. Fresh fish from the sea would provide an abundance of low-fat protein along with cardio-protective omega-3 fatty acids. I envision myself whittling a branch into a spear, then attaching a tip made from some treasure I'd found on the island. Each day around 4 p.m., I would wade into waist-high water and snag my catch to cook over the campfire.
Sadly, the lack of refrigeration rules out low-fat dairy products, which certainly make my list of super-nutritious foods. It's hard to get enough calcium in your diet without dairy foods or fortified foods, so I'd bring along my daily multivitamin with minerals to fill in the nutritional gaps.
My Top 10 List
Now for the top 10 foods that I would choose to keep me well-nourished during my isolation. Consider including some or all of these nutritionally stellar, shelf-stable foods the next time you go camping (and be sure to keep some on hand in your pantry for the next time you run low on groceries).
1. Canned beans are economical, come in a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes, and all of them are hearty sources of low-fat protein, fiber, "good" carbohydrates, and iron. Their soluble fiber helps lower cholesterol levels and normalizes blood sugar levels. They also can play a key role in weight control, as they fill you up for very few calories. Canned beans are a cinch to prepare, as opposed to the dried variety that requires soaking and long cooking periods.
2. A variety of nuts (almonds, walnuts, Brazil nuts, and pecans) provides selenium, vitamin E, protein, omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, copper, folate, fiber, and healthy unsaturated fats. These nutritious nuggets are a tasty (and shelf-stable) treat to enjoy any time. Their fat and fiber content make them a great hunger-reducer. They're also great ground up into a spreadable nut butter.
3. Blueberries could be enjoyed fresh for a few days, then dried for a tasty treat. These luscious little gems are a top source of antioxidants. They contain cancer-protective ellagic acid, along with tannins to help prevent urinary tract infections and promote brain health and vision. Many of these antioxidant properties are due to the pigment that gives blueberries their rich blue color. Their fiber is abundant, and blueberries are also a good source of vitamin C.
4. Fortified whole-grain cereal makes a great snack or breakfast even without milk. Carefully chosen, crunchy whole-grain cereal can be loaded with protein, magnesium, and fiber. And it can fill an empty belly for hours. Top your cereal with dried blueberries and nuts for a great trail mix. Cereal is easier, less perishable, and more versatile than many other whole-grain products.
5. The cruciferous vegetable broccoli is another powerhouse of nutrition. It's a rich source of folate, vitamin C, potassium, B vitamins, vitamin E, fiber, and bone-building calcium. Broccoli is also full of antioxidants, specifically sulforaphane, containing potent anticancer substances. Eat it raw or lightly steamed to help protect against cancers, heart disease, and birth defects.
6. To keep my vision sharp, carrots would be a colorful addition to my survival tool kit. These crunchy vegetables are a rich source of beta-carotene, another powerful antioxidant that may help reduce the risk of cancer. Fiber and vitamin A are among the other nutrients found in carrots.
7. How could I survive without my glass of red wine at dinner? The U.S. government's 2005 Dietary Guidelines and the American Heart Association agree that there are cardiovascular benefits from a glass or two of wine (or other alcoholic beverage) daily. Red wine, my personal favorite, contains reservatol and flavonoids that offer additional antioxidant benefits.
8. Tea is a soothing beverage that can be enjoyed hot or cold. Not only that, but all types of tea leaves are teeming with chemical compounds thought to reduce the risk of some cancers and heart attacks, as well as to lower cholesterol and boost metabolism. You can put tea in room-temperature water, then leave it out in the sun to make a refreshing "sun tea."
9. Oranges are a refreshing and delicious way to satisfy your sweet tooth, and they provide a wealth of nutritional goodness. They're a rich source of vitamin C, fiber, potassium, and folate. The citrus flavonoids may help inhibit cancer and prevent cardiovascular disease. The rich potassium content may help keep blood pressure down. Enjoy this citrus fruit with foods rich in iron to increase your body's absorption of the iron.
10. The bright red color of tomatoes is the reason they're a rich source of the antioxidant lycopene, which helps protect against several forms of cancer, heart disease, and, possibly, bone loss. The petite diced canned tomatoes are convenient and make a wonderfully fresh addition to any dish. These ruby gems are loaded with vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, and fiber.
Since I'm fantasizing here, I'm going to list a few other super foods I would bring along if I could take more than 10 items: avocados, sweet potatoes, flaxseed, edamame, kiwi, red peppers, oats, olive oil, spinach, and pumpkin.
Of course, you don't have to be stranded on a desert island to enjoy these super-nutritious foods. The next time you go to the grocery store, toss some of these delicious, disease-fighting items into your cart.