Hurricane

Pigged out on your hurricane food supply? Fine. But recovery requires a different diet

After we devoured our hurricane supplies before, during and after Irma, thousands returned to offices around South Florida and loaded up on more food customarily high in sodium and fat (like pizza and chips) or sugary cookies and pastries.
After we devoured our hurricane supplies before, during and after Irma, thousands returned to offices around South Florida and loaded up on more food customarily high in sodium and fat (like pizza and chips) or sugary cookies and pastries. hcohen@miamiherald.com

If you’re like so many of us, you stocked up on nonperishables to ride out Hurricane Irma. As we sat inside shuttered homes we nervously munched on potato chips, cookies, canned soups that are high in sodium and BBQ beans floating in sugary sauce.

When we returned to the office it was pizza, Vienna sausages, pastries, more cookies and chips.

Our insides probably look as storm-wracked as our city streets right about now. But have we done ourselves harm?

“You can’t go back and worry about what you were eating. You can only move forward,” said Sheah Rarback, a registered dietitian on the faculty of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

That takes care of the psychological impact. Now about our diet …

The consequences of what we eat now might be more important than just warding off a bump on the scale.

“For many of us, our yards are a disaster and there’s a lot of work to do, so you have to think about what gives us strength and stamina,” said Rarback. “This is the perfect time we can really stock up with fruits that don’t need refrigeration and vegetables. Still, think of balance. We’re not telling you to throw out the junk food but balance it with 80 percent” of the fruits and veggies.

Carrots and celery have high water content, along with their healthful nutrients.

The reason fruits and vegetables are particularly important now is that living without air conditioning and then compounding that with post-Irma yard work can lead to dehydration, which can be fatal.

“The heat can be unbelievably hot. We’re drinking a lot of water, maybe drinking sports drinks. But fruit is full of water so eating fruit for snacks is helping to hydrate you,” Rarback said. “If people start feeling sick while cleaning their yards, probably the No. 1 reason will be dehydration. … The most important thing is to stay hydrated.”

Even a 1 percent loss of fluids can deliver a whopper of a headache.

Fruits irma
Fruits, as well as vegetables, will help keep you hydrated as you do the clean up work outdoors after Hurricane Irma. Christopher Furlong Getty Images

Don’t forget protein to fuel your muscles. If you had to toss your meat and other perishables after Irma, find some canned beans. Rinse them to reduce the sodium and add them to any meal, like atop a salad, for a protein boost.

Be careful, too, when power resumes. You might be inclined to rush to the grocery store and stock up on meat, yogurt, chicken, milk and other staples. If you can wait, give the refrigerator time to chill.

“I got my electricity back about 8 last night and our refrigerator is still not cold enough,” Rarback said on Friday morning, about 12 hours later.

If your refrigerator has a temperature alert on its face panel, check it out. Or use a fridge thermometer. For safety’s sake, the refrigerator should be cooling at 40 degrees or less and the freezer should be zero degrees or cooler, Rarback said.

As for all that junk food you consumed over the past week, if your real fear is your waistline, just chill. Rarback points to a Cornell University study published in 2015. Cornell researchers Brian Wansink and David Just found that for all but the most overweight and underweight individuals, the consumption of soda, candy and fast food showed no correlation to body mass index.

Rather, the study said, a sedentary lifestyle, compounded by inadequate consumption of healthier foods, such as fruits and vegetables, more likely have an outsized influence on a person’s weight.

We’ve got the sedentary part taken care of as we clean up. So, to increase your chances of gobbling the good things that got pushed aside by the hurricane food, move the chips, cookies and candies to a top shelf out of view. Or leave just a few cookies out on a plate rather than the whole bag, Rarback said. Studies suggest the stimulus to eat is what’s in front of us, she said.

“When you don’t see stuff all the time, you don’t eat it” she said, “so keep more nutritious snacks available.”

Howard Cohen: 305-376-3619, @HowardCohen

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