Saturday, September 07, 2013

The Least Expensive Nutrition

The September 2013 issue of the Berkeley Wellness Letter mentioned a recent study measuring vegetables in terms of nutrition per dollar.

The blurb was prefaced, "To get more nutritional bang for your buck, buy beans, potatoes, peas, and corn."  The actual study was, of course, somewhat more thorough and complicated.  Here is one of the key tables.

So to inexpensively the highlighted nutrients (fiber, potassium, magnesium, and vitamins A, C, and K) it is least expensive to eat lentils, beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, bell peppers, collard greens, broccoli, and frozen spinach.

I wondered if a daily menu could be made from that information.  Was the study useful for meal planning, or would following its advice require consuming a ridiculous number of calories?  What about other nutrients?

My wife helped by using her MasterCook software to create in inexpensive daily food plan.
  • Oatmeal with milk and molasses for breakfast.
  • Spinach, chard, and cheddar topped with a fried egg for lunch.
  • Peanuts and sweet potato for an afternoon snack.
  • Stew for dinner.

Here are the ingredients.
  • 2 cups of one-percent milk
  • 1 cup each of carrots, potatoes, kale, oatmeal, spinach leaves, and lentils
  • 1 whole egg
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon of blackstrap molasses
  • 1 ounce each of peanuts and cheddar cheese

The total is roughly 1,600 calories.  It is a high protein diet.  Daily values are fat 84%, protein 1597%, and carbohydrates 72%.

Daily values are low for zinc (75%), B12 (44%), and Niacin (62%) but over 100% for all other major vitamins and minerals.  Fiber is really high: I hope whomever eats this enjoys being regular.

The total cost is $5 or less, depending upon where you shop.

Two years ago I wondered how inexpensively someone could eat by shopping at Costco.  I abandoned that project because I could not define the question well.  Was I trying to construct a meal plan, or just how inexpensively someone could buy protein, fat, and carbohydrates?

I settled my curiosity by noting calories per dollar.  Here were the highest ranking foods I noted.  (There may be others I did not notice on the shelves.)

Instant oats (2,460 calories per dollar), peanut butter (1,906), brown rice (1,483), chocolate chips (1,244), quinoa (1,149), boxed Kraft macaroni and cheese (1,114), heavy cream (946), and instant mashed potato (912).

After those, the next set of foods jumped down to under six hundred calories per dollar: dried cranberries (580), fat free milk (589), Monterey Jack cheese (514), and canned black beans (510).

Surprisingly expensive per calorie were canned nonfat refried beans (410), canned corn (360), and canned peans (308).

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