'Survivor' Foods: 10 Foods to Take to a Desert Island

A dietitian's top picks for an island paradise (or the pantry)

By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

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.

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