Most outdoor types are aware of the benefits of dehydrated foods for preserving the food for long periods and for making food lighter for backpacking in the wilderness. Dehydrated foods are great for preppers, homesteaders, survivalists, hikers, or campers. Are there any dangers to eating dehydrated foods, and will it expand in your stomach and cause you a problem?
All dehydrated foods will expand to some degree in your stomach. The degree to which they expand will depend on the dehydration process and the type of dehydrated food. It is, however, unlikely that the extent of the expansion will be the cause of any health concerns other than a little bloating.
So which dehydrated foods are most likely to cause a problem if too much of it is consumed at once, and what is the difference in the dehydrating methods? We will give some clarification to these issues, which may help you to decide on the type of dehydrated foods that would be best for you and for your outdoor needs.
Why Dehydrated Foods?
Dehydration is a familiar method that has been used for hundreds of years to preserve food. This was especially important in times when refrigeration was not an option due to the technology not being around yet.
Families and travelers had to find ways to preserve their food to make it last longer, have it available in lean seasons, or to provide for long journeys.
There are many various ways of preserving foods, including fermenting, salting or brine, pickling, smoking, and dehydrating. The method used often depended on the food that was to be preserved, as some foods take to certain preservation methods better than others.
We will focus on the dehydration aspect of preservation, and in particular, whether consuming food preserved in this manner should be undertaken with caution or not.
There are two main methods of dehydration, namely normal dehydration, which is the one most of us are familiar with, and freeze-drying. The process differs substantially between the two methods, but the end goal is the same; to remove moisture from the food product.
The dehydration process that most of us are familiar with, which involves using heat, sun, or wind or all of the above, to remove the moisture from the food product, is a common practice in many cultures that has been used for many years.
Dehydrating food lowers the moisture content of the food, which prevents the growth of bacteria and the rotting of the food source.
Dehydrating food can preserve it for up to 8 years, which was a significant advantage to pioneers, explorers and homesteaders, and families.
Without access to refrigeration, dehydrating food allowed people to prepare for winter seasons, droughts, and other reasons that could result in a food shortage.
Freeze Drying Food
Freeze drying was a French invention from back in 1906 and has since been used to preserve everything from food to pharmaceuticals.
The process is very different from dehydrating in that heat is not used. The product is rapidly frozen and then placed into a low-pressure chamber, which changes moisture in the product from solid to gas almost instantaneously.
This process removes moisture from the product more effectively than dehydrating but preserves the food product in a state that is closer to the original item.
Freeze-dried food can last anything from 25 to 30 years, making it a much sought after method of food preservation.
Freeze-dried food also absorbs moisture and reconstitutes better than dehydrated foods, and is closer to the original product after rehydration than with an equivalent dehydrated product.
Will Dehydrated Food Expand In Your Stomach?
It is the ability of dehydrated foods to absorb moisture and expand that brings about the question as to whether these preserved foods can cause a person any issues when they expand in your stomach.
Different food types will absorb water and expand at different rates than others, so the expansion of dehydrated food will very much depend on the food-type.
Dehydrated meat products do not expand very much with the absorption of water and therefore expand at a slower rate than other dehydrated foods. Eating dehydrated meats and drinking fluids will cause the meat to expand, and you may feel a little fuller, but it should not cause you any problems.
Dehydrated fruit has been known to cause bloating if large amounts are consumed. This is less to do with the expansion of the fruit and more to do with the released sugars creating gas, which can make you feel uncomfortable.
Caution should be exercised with the frequency and amount of dried fruit that is consumed since they are high in concentrated sugars. Dehydrated fruits make a great energy food for a hiker or in a survival situation, but it should be consumed in small quantities. Eating large quantities of dried fruit can also result in diarrhea, which could be a problem for you out on the trail and a serious problem if you are in a survival situation!
Dehydrated grains have the potential to expand the most of all the dehydrated foods and may give you a bloated, uncomfortable feeling if too much is consumed at one time. Once again, it is unlikely that you will be able to eat enough of it for it to become a medical issue.
Dehydrated grains often come packaged with dried fruits, berries, and nuts, so the mixture is a good balance to prevent over-expansion of one particular food type in your stomach.
Commercial dehydrated meals do expand when mixed with water, but if they are eaten before they are hydrated, they will expand in your stomach, and eating more than one package meal may then cause you some intestinal distress as it expands.
However, it is unlikely that someone would eat this meal dry, as they don’t taste good, and if you are out of water so that you cannot re-hydrate the food, your higher priority would be to find water, rather than to eat.
How To Eat Dehydrated Food
Eating dehydrated food can aggravate dehydration since the food will absorb water from your gut, which will worsen the condition and also make you even thirstier!
Some dehydrated foods are intended to be eaten in their dehydrated state as an energy snack. These are usually in the form of energy bars and the like. Eating a handful of these bars is not going to cause you any problems as they expand in your stomach. You may, however, suffer from a sugar high and a subsequent crash!
Other dehydrated foods are packaged with the intention for them to be re-hydrated before consumption. These are food products that are usually vacuum-packed and compressed and look like small amounts of food.
Eating these foods before re-hydrating them could cause expansion of the food in the stomach, which will cause a lot of discomfort for a while, and if multiple of these types of packages are consumed at once, I can see that it could be a problem for your digestive system.
If you are taking dehydrated foods with you into the outdoors as an energy snack, then mix the types of foods so that not too much of one type is consumed at once. Also, eat it in small quantities as a snack, not as a meal!
For commercially packaged dehydrated foods, it is best to use them as the packaging directs so that you can avoid any undesirable effects!
Dehydrated foods have been a lifesaver for mankind for many years and have allowed us to not only survive but to travel and explore beyond the range that fresh foods would take us.
As with any survival item or survival practice, it needs to be used with a certain measure of common sense and wisdom.
This comes back to the fact that the knowledge about how to use your equipment, including the foods you carry, is crucial to using it safely in the event of an emergency or some unforeseen circumstance.
Dehydrated foods should be carried with you on your adventures out into the wilderness, but learn how to use them at home before you venture into the unknown with a food supply that you don’t know how your body will react to.