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Nutritional Deficiency Prevention and Treatment During Hard Times

Avatar for Samantha Biggers Samantha Biggers  |  Updated: August 1, 2022
Nutritional Deficiency Prevention and Treatment During Hard Times

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During an extended emergency or SHTF scenario, nutritional deficiencies will become more common. During the Great Depression, a lot of people suffered due to diet.
This post will discuss some of the more common deficiencies and how to prevent and treat them.

One of the least expensive and easy ways to prevent deficiencies is to have a good supply of multivitamins on hand. You don’t have to buy the most expensive vitamins to put back for a long emergency. A giant jug of Centrum will last an adult a year and costs less than $20. Sure there are better brands but anything is better than nothing.


If someone goes without proper nutrition or enough calories for an extended period of time they can start eating things that would otherwise not be considered palatable. This may be dirt, rocks, or plants that have a bitter taste. The danger is that this disorder makes it far more likely that someone will eat something that is toxic. Children suffering from pica must be watched at all times until they stop showing signs of the disorder.

There was a case in California where two toddlers were adopted from a Siberian orphanage and they both died because they ingested the extremely bitter leaves of the Oleander shrub that is widely planted as an ornamental and found on the sides of the highway. After the tragedy it was suspected that they were suffering from pica but no one had a clue it was an issue.

Anyone that is recovering from malnutrition should be watched for odd behavior but it goes without saying that kids are the most likely to run into trouble by eating something toxic.

Vitamin C

A lack of Vitamin C can lead to scurvy. One of the more major symptoms is gum recession and tooth loss.  Spontaneous bleeding from the skin also occurs. Wounds do not heal as easily in someone that has a Vitamin C deficiency.

Sailors once were the most common victims of scurvy so captains made an effort to bring along citrus fruits and other sources of Ascorbic acid.

Fresh fruit and vegetables will prevent the disorder but those things are not always plentiful during a long emergency. Canned fruits and veggies can help out in a long emergency.

Folic Acid Deficiency

Just because times are tough doesn’t mean that people stop having sex and becoming pregnant. Folic acid is very important to have an adequate supply of for a SHTF scenario. It may be an excellent trade item although multi vitamins that contain it are a better bet. Spinal bifuda is hard enough during good times but during bad times it may be hard or even impossible to care for an infant with any major health issues.

Consider how balanced your prepper food stash really is

Beans and rice are not complete. You need salt and something with vitamin C. Beans and rice take care of your protein needs and provide substantial calories but you cannot rely on them alone. At the very least you need stash some vitamins and maybe Emergency C packets and salt with your beans and rice. Something that provides fat is also going to be necessary so cooking oil is one option. You need some fat to survive and be healthy.

Eating too much of any one thing is usually not a good idea

I realize that survival situations mean eating whatever you can get. In fact you would eat a lot of things you normally wouldn’t and go back for more during a SHTF scenario.

That doesn’t mean it will be good for you to eat a lot of the same thing. It is not good for your body or overall morale. Food that is bland and not as tasty doesn’t improve your mood any.

Iron Deficiency

During regular times, iron deficiency is one of the most common deficiencies out there. Preppers that have put back sardines may be pleased to find out that a 3.4 oz can contains 34% of the recommended daily value of iron. Beans do provide iron luckily enough so those that plan on eating a lot of beans during SHTF will like that a half cup of cooked kidney beans yields ⅓ of your iron for the day.

It is important to know the difference in types of iron available from various foods.

Heme iron is found in meat and is the easiest for the human body to absorb. This is why those that eat meat regularly don’t have issues with iron usually.  Those that are prone to anemia are often told to eat red meat. Beef for example contains 30% of your iron for the day in just one 3 ounce cut. Consider that the standard hamburger is at least 4 ounces and it is easy to see how you can get half your iron for the day in a single burger.

Non Heme Iron is found in plants like the beans I mentioned previosly. It is harder for the body to absorb so if you are getting most of your iron from plant sources, you will need more iron to get what you really need to be healthy. This can be a problem with vegetable based diets.

If meat is not available there are some nuts and veggies that are higher in iron than others. Besides kidney beans you can eat pumpkin seeds for example. Just an ounce of pumpkin seeds contains 11% of the iron you need based on a standard 2,000 calorie diet.

Remember that those suffering from blood loss will need to build themselves back up so they will need some iron-rich foods to help them achieve that or at least an iron supplement.

Anemia can result when iron levels are not sufficient. This occurs when red blood cell quality drops as a result of the iron deficiency. Red blood cells are not able to carry as much oxygen throughout your body. The result is feelings of weakness, reduced brain function, and a lack of immunity.

As you mightnimagine, during a SHTF situation or long emergency, the last thing you want to deal with is an impaired immune system when you are having to work harder and be on top of your game in order to survive.


Salt is the major source of iodine for most of us. Even if you use fancy sea salts and not iodized table salt, chances are that a lot of the processed foods and heat and serve things you eat contain all you need. You don’t need a lot of iodine but not getting the small amount you do need can have a major impact on health and development. Preppers that have put back a lot of iodized salt will not have to worry about this one but if you have not put back much salt, you may want to think about throwing a few containers in the cart on the next grocery shop.

Just having iodized salt on hand is a defense against two different deficiencies that can happen during hard times. Sodium and iodide are things we don’t even think about now but they could be hard to find later.

A lack of iodine is especially concerning in children because it can lead to metal retardation and other abnormal development issues. In adults it can lead to a condition called goiter where the thyroid becomes very enlarged so that it protrudes drastically from the neck.

While salt is the most common way to get iodine, other sources include eggs, seaweed, fish, and dairy products.

Pellagra and Niacin Deficiency

A major nutritional deficiency in some developing countries comes from eating a diet heavy in corn that does not have accessible niacin and tryptophan.

While corn does contain some niacin, it is not in a usable form. One way that was found to access the niacin was to use lime to treat the corn. This is the corn that you find in masa harina that is made into tortillas or hominy.  When corn was introduced to Africa the native people were not aware of this so they developed the deficiency while natives in North and South America did not. The type of lime used is what is called pickling lime, and it is available at any grocery store. In fact, you might have used this often when making pickles!

The good news is that it is easy to prevent Pellagra. I do think it is important to know about how to treat corn because during a long emergency if you are growing your own and relying on it to get you through part of the year, you need to know how to prepare it so you get the most nutritional benefit from it.

This video explains the process of soaking corn in lime water to release the nutritional benefits.

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Vitamin D

There has been a lot of research done highlighting just how many people are deficient in Vitamin D. This can cause a lot of different symptoms. People often mistake Vitamin D deficiency for other things so it can take quite some time before a diagnosis is made.

In fact, a lot of people that have Vitamin D deficiency show very few symptoms sometimes. It is estimated that more than 40% of adults in the USA are deficient in Vitamin D.

One thing worth noting is that the darker your skin is naturally, the more likely it is that you are deficient in Vitamin D. Unfortunately darker skin does not absorb Vitamin D from the sun as easily as lighter skin. Over 80% of people with darker skin tones suffer from some level of Vitamin D deficiency in the USA.

Long term symptoms include weak bones and being more prone to fractures. Muscle weakness and a decreased immune system are other major concerns. In kids, a deficiency can mean slower growth and a condition called rickets.

One of the most alarming side effects is the increased risk of cancer.After reading about this deficiency, it is clear that even those that think they are eating a great diet that is balanced and nutritious, may be very deficient in Vitamin D. Getting enough just from food is very difficult, even if you do drink a lot of enriched milk.

Salmon is very high in Vitamin D but a lot of people will not eat it due to the concerns about radiation in the Pacific due to the Fukishima nuclear meltdown.

Vitamin B-12

If you eat meat than you are probably getting enough Vitamin B-12. During a major emergency, meat could become more scarce for you and your family. B-12 is essential for building blood cells and contributes to nerve functions.

Since B-12 is most common in animal based foods, it is one of the vitamins that makes a vegan diet hard. Tempeh and seaweed are sources for those that don’t eat meat or animal products.

Someone that is deficient in Vitamin B-12 can have impaired brain function and be at a higher risk of developing blood disorders.

Vitamin A

A deficiency in Vitamin A is extremely rare in a developed country. In the USA it is basically non existent. Vitamin A is essential to healthy vision, skin, eyes, and teeth.

During a long term emergency it may become harder to get Vitamin A. Symptoms of a deficiency include temporary and permanent eye damage and vision loss, a suppressed immune system, and decreased life span.

Natural sources of Vitamin A include carrots, sweet potatoes, liver, and dark leafy greens.

Nutritional deficiencies can be particularly devastating for growing kids

I advise keeping a good multivitamin on hand for long emergencies that is formulated for children. Nutritional needs are different than an adult. A lack of good nutrition and getting the vitamins and minerals required for healthy development can lead to major health issues later in life.

Choosing what vitamins to take or give your children is a very personal decision. My advice is to read up on vitamins and decide what is best for your child.  I did a post on vitamins quite a while ago that has a few suggestions but there are many more vitamins out there and you may even want to combine a few different supplements into vitamin packs for some kids to take during a long emergency.

Vegetarian and Vegan Diets During A Long Emergency

Not trying to be super insensitive, but if you plan on staying vegan or vegetarian then you better plan things out extremely well and have a place to grow some food. Multi vitamins can help deal with major deficiencies.

Actually everyone should plan on growing some food, but those that have the desire to stick to a specific diet need to plan on producing a lot of vegetables and fruits.

Personally I do not think it is realistic to expect to be able to stick to as strict of a diet as vegan or vegetarian during a SHTF situation. Survival often means being not very picky. If you cannot get the foods you think are ethical during SHTF are you really going to go hungry or starve?

Most people reading this have probably never been truly hungry in their life. Maybe a few of the veterans have. I know my Dad has but most of us have been lucky enough to not experience true hunger where all you want is something to fill your stomach and you don’t care what it is. Once this type of hunger is experienced I would be willing to bet that most people would eat whatever they can get their hands on.

Selco says that a lot of people die during SHTF because they cannot adapt to the new reality. He is very right. Survival chances are highest when you can adapt and figure out how to live with the new laws of the land.

Digestive upset from an imbalanced diet

While indigestion is not actually a nutritional deficiency itself, it sure can be a side effect of not getting enough balance and essential nutrients. Too much or too little fiber for example can cause a whole variety of issues. Having some baking soda or other antacids and stomach medications in your medical kit is a good idea.


The best way to prevent nutritional deficiencies is to take a daily vitamin. While I heavily encourage everyone reading this to strive for a well balanced diet, I know that it is difficult for some to do this during good times.

During SHTF or a long emergency it will be even harder or impossible to get everything you really need to thrive just through whatever food you can trade for, grow, or scavenge.

There will also be a point in anyone’s preps when some foods start to run low and you are down to grains and beans unless something has been done to add to the food supply. 

Foods That Help Avoid Major Deficiencies

Canned Sardines

A 3.5 oz can of sardines contributes a lot of iron. Fish is also an excellent source of iodine so a little can of sardines can help avoid both iron and iodine deficiencies. These little fish can also provide a lot of your vitamin D for the day.

There are a lot of different brands of sardines to choose from. Matt and I taste tested some in “The Sardine Showdown” if you are curious about what is in the can before buying.

Dried fruits and canned juices

Vitamin C is important and getting enough during the winter months in a temperate climate may be difficult so you will want to have some foods on hand that contain it or you can put back some Vitamin C powder or drink mix such as Emergen-C. Fresh fruits and vegetables are a good source but may not be available in the colder months.


If you can manage to keep a small flock of chickens, they can help you prevent a variety of nutritional issues. Eggs contain significant amounts of vitamin B-12, vitamin-D, and iodine. Chickens will produce some eggs on a strictly free range diet but they will produce better if you have other foods to give them.

Here is a post on choosing a good egg layer.

Preserving eggs can be done a ton of ways as well. Check out my post “Top 6 Ways to Preserve Eggs”.

Fresh greens and veggies

Even a small vegetable garden or series of containers can provide a lot of valuable vitamins and minerals. Stock up on seeds now and practice growing a few things. Salad greens and dark leafy greens are very easy to grow in a container and if you reseed them occasionally, they will keep right on providing you with bounty for the table.

Stocking up on seeds for hard times is a good idea. Here is a post that can get you started finding a good company to buy them from.

Do you have a particular vitamin brand you prefer? Have you planned out your preps to provide a balanced diet or do you just have some emergency rations to keep you alive for a little while? If you are on a special diet, what have you done to prepare yourself for a long emergency?

Samantha Biggers can be reached at

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5 Responses to “Nutritional Deficiency Prevention and Treatment During Hard Times”

  1. you can also get some iron in your diet from using cast iron cooking containers, like cast iron skillets and dutch ovens. an old american remedy for anemia is to find a rusty nail, clean it up and stick it into a sour apple (macintosh, granny smith, etc). leave it overnight and eat the apple the next day. i can’t verify that it works, but the old-timers swore by it.

  2. One tree can solve all your needs, Moringa or drumstick or horseradish tree. You can buy moringa powder on line but I have a few trees and after drying the leaves, I blend them myself. Research suggests 2 spoonful’s a day will cover all your nutritional needs. But do your own research, every body lies.

  3. A little story time on eating the same thing and it not being good for you. I was Army and had been deployed multiple times in the 90s back to back to back. Y’all that have been know the drill. Anyway I got an attitude for whatever reason and decided on my 2 weeks out I would eat nothing but the chow mein MRE. It worked fine and even I started to experience a little fatigue from doing so but I was ok.
    I was till I quit and started eating other food. Things went south and holding things in was a challenge and I was still out but in the rear at this time and on my rear for several days of it.
    Needless to say I didn’t want to play that game anymore lol
    but it could happen under the right circumstances in SHTF so if you change your diet after eating the same thing day after day expect a little body backlash

  4. I was surprised to learn 1 tablespoon of blackstrap molasses contains 25% of your daily calcium and iron needs.

  5. Our system cannot absorb the cheap synthetic vitamins . Look at calcium and vitamin c… I have learned the hard way… Hope this helps.

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