Survival Foods: Grain and legumes for subsistence


In our last post on plants as a sole source of survival foods, the question of a minimum diet was brought up. If you were forced to survive on only one or two dietary staples, what would your health look like?

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The video pointed to examples of the grain and legume diets used by impoverished people living all around the world. From corn tortillas and beans in Mexico to rice and soy in southeast Asia. the combination is widespread. Many preppers take it upon themselves to weight heavily on a single staple. It does seem a lot easier to just buy rice by the drum and seal it off in the garage.

A question of protein

By this point you should know that all proteins are not created equal. While it is possible (although difficult) to get the recommended dose of protein. For example, to get the recommended dose of 50g of protein would require almost 3 cups of white beans or (God forbid) over 12 cups of white rice.

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While this is inefficient and unrealistic for limited food stores, it gets even worse. The conversion rate on protein from these sources is much worse than others. The conversion rate for soy, one of the highest touted forms of vegetable protein is only 17%.

What does that mean? Even if you’re getting 50 grams on paper, after conversion you’re body is getting roughly 8.5g. The rest are converted into carbohydrates via the process of gluconeogenesis.

It could also be considered a question of amino acids. A diet consisting entirely of grain or legumes is lacking in animal foods. If you recall our series on amino acids, there are a number that are either impossible to get from plant sources, or so poorly converted that it is effectively impossible. These would include lysine, methionine and tryptophan

What about vitamins?

Grains have one of the lowest nutrient densities of any food. White rice, corn and wheat all lack the vitamins contained in vegetables, healthy animal fats and nuts. There is a reason bread is fortified in many parts of the developed world, because it’s useless otherwise!

What’s worse, legumes and many grains actually contain chemicals which bind to vitamins called phytates. Grains and legumes are seeds, for the most part. Their purpose is to germinate to produce a new plant. In order to prevent this from happening in the wrong conditions, phytates exist within the seed to prevent them from sprouting.

How do they work? By binding to the essential vitamins and minerals required from growth. When you’re eating grains and legumes, you are not only unable to access the vitamins and minerals which may show up on a calorimeter, but inhibiting your ability to absorb the other nutrients in your diet!

The verdict

The ability of impoverished populations to survive on legumes and grains alone may be exaggerated. In order to get the amino acids needed to survive, some animal based protein must have been worked in.

There is also a difference between surviving and thriving. People in poverty conditions have a lower average height, likely because of insufficient nutrition caused by diets like this. We shouldn’t aim to provide only this for ourselves or our families.


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by JP Martin

  • ana

    Thank you for the article.
    I have some points and if you desire to explain them to me i’ll be glad.

    “White rice, corn and wheat all lack the vitamins contained in vegetables, healthy animal fats and nuts.” – what vitamins exactly?

    We can blame and avoid grains and legumes due to the phytates as much as we can do this thing to spinach, kale and other plants that contain oxalic acid which also is a antinutrient that binds with the minerals preventing us to get them in our body. It doesn’t seem like a good argument to me.

    • JP Martin

      Thanks for the comment Ana! I appreciate a good head scratcher.

      What vitamins? We’re looking at A, D, and K for healthy animal fats like grass fed meat, offal and liver. The vitamins contained in vegetables range greatly but include B vitamins and vitamin C primarily with a smaller amount of A, D and K (also less absorbable).

      As for the oxalic acid, I tend to paint in pretty broad strokes for simplicity’s sake because generally speaking people would be much better off eating more vegetables than grains first. Fine tuning can happen once the big changes do. If you look at some of the more stringent versions of the paleo diet like Dave Asprey’s bulletproof diet lists high oxalic acid content foods like spinach as something to avoid. However, research has shown that oxalic acid can be reduced up to 87% by cooking. Also, the oxalic acid content in plants other than spinach is negligible.

      The phytates contained in wheat and legumes are far more insidious in my opinion as they bind not only calcium but magnesium and zinc which many people are deficient in already. Also you’re more likely to see bread in every meal with someone on the standard Western diet compared with the amount of raw spinach salads you’d see in someone on a paleo or even vegan diet. Combine this with the myriad negative effects of gluten, gliadin and amlyopectin a and you’re no longer talking apples to apples vs. something like oxalic acid.

      Hope this helps! Let me know if you have any more questions


  • ana

    Thank you for your answer.

    Can someone get all the needed amount of vitamin D just through diet?

    Also, phytates are reduced through soaking and more through sprouting.

    I guess what we know is a lot but i wonder how (%) from what we need to know we actually do –
    we have phytates and we have oxalic acid as antinutrients (which we surely know they are) but what if tomorrow we will discover a “x” ingredient that is in blueberries or in pineapple or in cabbage that would have strong binding effect/criteria that would clasify it as a an antinutrient we need to avoid?
    Just thoughts.