Emergency Foods: What to Do About Allergies and Sensitivities

If you’re not inclined to be a label reader you might not have noticed … but many prepper foods are pretty big on the ‘processed’ scale. The problem is that means there are many, many ingredients in each food. Lots of them have unfamiliar names; even to those of us who’ve spent too much time in chemistry labs. That’s not a big issue if you have a constitution of iron and can eat anything without worry. It’s troublesome if you have food allergies or sensitivities, because it’s hard to know what you’re getting.

First know what you’ve got.

Do you have a food allergy, a food sensitivity, or neither?

A food allergy is a violent rejection by your immune system of even trace quantities of the allergen. “Immediate type” hypersensitivities such as peanut and shellfish allergies can be violent enough to kill the person within minutes after just a trace of the food. It’s this type of allergy that people carry EpiPens for. If you have this kind of allergy, you know it … and please have an EpiPen or equivalent about. Diphenhydramine (Benadryl and related compounds) are a very poor substitute.

“Delayed type” hypersensitivities are food allergies that work much slower. They won’t kill you, but they make you pretty miserable starting hours after you eat the food and maybe lasting for days.

Food sensitivities aren’t real allergies, but they do cause distress if you eat the food. Unlike allergies, people with food sensitivities can often get away with eating a little of the target food. If they eat too much, they get more or less vague and diffuse symptoms, many minutes to a few hours later. Abdominal distress, gas, and diarrhea are the most common reports.

If you’re going to go to a lot of trouble to avoid a food, it makes sense to know where you are first. That’s not as obvious as it might seem. For example, one or two percent of Americans are actually allergic (delayed type) to gluten, a protein found in wheat, other grains, and many, many processed foods. Another fifteen percent of the population or so are demonstrably sensitive to gluten, but not allergic. On the other hand, more than half of Americans report they’re trying to eliminate gluten from their diets. It’s the ‘nutrition villain of the moment’; those of us who’ve been in the medical field a while have seen other such villains rise and fall in ‘popularity’. There are lots of reasons why a high flour, high processed food diet can make a person feel lousy that are not about gluten. You probably don’t want to go to the effort of avoiding the gluten if it’s not your real problem. A gastroenterologist or allergist can help you get the testing done to nail the issue down.

So what’s to be done? If food’s hard to get you might have to rely on ‘prepper foods’; and if you eat something unsuitable and end up with it, ah, not staying with you as long as desired (no matter which end it exits) might weaken you more than not eating in the first place. It’s bound at least to make a bad situation more miserable yet. The best thing is to have prepper food of your own that suits your needs.

Those fancy, silly, upscale ‘natural foods’ are now your friend

I admit it, I’ve made fun of the trendy city folk and their trendy ‘all natural’ ‘allergen free’ etc. foods. They do tend to be more pricey than it seems they should be too, but there are exceptions. They’re of interest here because they have a short ingredient list that’s quite clear and usually avoids the most common allergens. In other words, they’re safe for someone allergic or sensitive. Some of them (made for the ‘outdoorsy trendsetters’) are also light, calorie dense, easy to cook or cooking-free, and shelf stable: Good emergency bag food. Energy snacks such as Larabars or Naked Bear granolas are two I happen to have tried that are good cook-free calories.

Short, straightforward ingredient lists coupled with fairly long shelf life and high calorie density and temperature stability make these good energy bars for the allergic person’s emergency bag.

Backpacker’s Pantry makes meals that only require adding boiling water to the envelope and waiting 20 minutes to have a hot, robust meal that’s actually nutritious, filling, and easily chosen to be allergen-free. They’re also a far cry in taste different than the usual ‘pasta with sauce’ ‘chili’ or ‘cream soup’ entrees that are so popular in many ‘prepper food’ offerings, so that’s a plus. (There will be a review of some of these showing up on this site soon.)

Substantial meals that make it easy to avoid allergens, light weight and stable enough to keep in a go bag, requiring only boiling water to cook and under $6 a bag.

For longer term, you’re going to have to learn to cook.

Five gallon buckets of oats, potatoes, rice, corn, etc. with 30 year shelf lives are among the choices from ‘prepper’ suppliers. Get a grinder to make flour out of them and you can learn to make a lot of acceptable substitutes for family favorites out of these materials. It’s not quite as easy and familiar as wheat, but it’s not that much of a reach.

It may take some new cooking skills to convert things no one in your family is allergic to to welcome staples, but it’s definitely do-able.

It’s all manageable … if you’ve thought and prepared ahead. Sure it’d be nicer to have one of those cast iron constitutions, but all we can do is play the hand we’re dealt. Happy eating!





  1. “..many prepper foods are pretty big on the ‘processed’ scale. The problem is that means there are many, many ingredients in each food.”
    No, this is a false statement.
    There is nothing in the term “processed” that even implies the addition of any ingredients.
    Although sodium and other preservatives CAN be added, “processed” does not mean they HAVE been added.
    Simply cooking or dehydrating food are examples of processing.
    “Another fifteen percent of the population or so are demonstrably sensitive to gluten, but not allergic..”
    And that is a bold faced lie. So heinous is that lie that it removes any credibility from the author of this despicable article.

    • Lying?

      Seriousy? Why in heavens name would we “lie”? We’re not selling anything, we have ZERO reason to lie. There’s no political agenda on this site, because we don’t ALLOW politics on this site.

      Spice’s article is based on research, documented and peer reviewed. research, done by independent scientists who don’t have anything to sell either.

      We’re not going to LIE to anybody, that’s just offensive.

      If you have verifiable data to backup your claim as to why what is written here is wrong, then by all means please post it and disagree.

      There’s no need to call names, that’s kinda 7th grade, don’t you think?

    • Seriously, that’s just rude.

      Disagree yes but there’s no call to be an ass about it.

  2. It’s true that simply grinding and dehydrating foods are processed. I do not consider them “pretty big on the ‘processed’ scale” however, By ‘pretty big on the scale’ I meant heavily processed, including the high ingredient lists mentioned.
    VocalPatriot, I was not lying. Why on earth would I do that? I’ve nothing to gain here; just trying to help people understand some things. Might I be wrong? Yes, that does happen. You can find numbers all over the map when you look for prevalence for gluten disorders. I went with 15% as being on the high end of the estimates I consider credible, using IBS rates as that disorder so often resolves on low-gluten diets. The real rate might well be lower (6% comes up a lot) but I doubt it’s higher. I went with the high end estimate as there’s no particular harm in reducing gluten intake for other reasons. Here’s a sample of the places from which I drew my data:
    Elli, L., Branchi, F., Tomba, C., Villalta, D., Norsa, L., Ferretti, F., … Bardella, M. T. (2015). Diagnosis of gluten related disorders: Celiac disease, wheat allergy and non-celiac gluten sensitivity. World Journal of Gastroenterology : WJG, 21(23), 7110–7119. http://doi.org/10.3748/wjg.v21.i23.7110
    Biesiekierski, J. R., & Iven, J. (2015). Non-coeliac gluten sensitivity: piecing the puzzle together. United European Gastroenterology Journal, 3(2), 160–165. http://doi.org/10.1177/2050640615578388

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