If I had one dollar

Shredded Money Taco Too

I just love Twitter. I know it sounds lame and I used to scoff at it, but seriously, it’s turning into such a useful tool.

Just the other day, @jambutter tweeted about how many calories a US dollar could buy. I tweeted back and asked for source info and he passed on a note that the stats came from a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. This “research” took about 45 seconds.

I did a little further digging and I found this Time Magazine article that summarized the source data well but I’ve put it in my own format:

$1US = 1200 calories of potato chips
$1US = 875 calories of soda
$1US = 250 calories of vegetables
$1US = 170 calories of fresh fruit.

Now, the obvious point is that potato chips and soda drinks are more calorie dense than fruit and veggies so you get more calories for your dollar; however, they are not more nutrient dense and that means you eat more of them to feel satisfied.

To put these stats into perspective, I turned to my colleague professional home economist Amy Snider-Whitson who always has something to say about nutrition:

“This is why we have an epidemic of obesity and people suffering from chronic diseases that healthy diets could help to prevent (…and, no wonder people can’t grasp portion control when you buy a cheap snack and end up eating half a day’s calories!).

Unfortunately, the way we produce food today makes the nutritious choice often much more expensive. So, people choose calories over content. While many, many people consume too many calories on a daily basis, not one of us can say that we are getting too many essential nutrients. One consolation is that if we invest today in choosing nutrient dense foods, we might save health care dollars in the future.”

When you’re shopping, do you consciously plan how much of your budget is spent on nutrient dense foods? Or do the ‘chips’ (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun!) fall where they may?

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9 Responses to If I had one dollar

  1. I don’t really think in theses terms. I buy what I need to make the meals I plan. Since I rarely buy pre-packaged and/or junk food, I guess most of my grocery budget goes to nutritiously dense food — but there’s a lot of leeway in that term.

    Playing devil’s advocate here — Where do pasta or meat fall in the scale? Fresh versus frozen or tinned vegetables / fruit? A tin of coconut milk? Milk and cheese? Nuts? Coffee? Wine?

  2. When I question the price of some fruit or even really good meat I remind myself what I get out of it versus a $4 drink at Starbucks or a bakery muffin. Then I don’t mind paying for $4 raspberries that will give me two snacks or a family dessert. So yeah, I guess I do think in those terms somewhat.

  3. There is so much more to say about this. I’ve been obsessing about this topic since I saw the documentary, Food Inc. First, I don’t agree that real food is more expensive than fake food. If you read the ingredients and don’t know what it is that is not real food. Second, Chips and pop are not food. Just because it has calories does not make it food. Third, we are loosing our selves and our culture on this problem. People are “too busy” to cook. We must be good roll models for where food comes from. More on this at dinnerattheosbornes.blogspot.com

  4. Jill says:

    I usually find the cheapest, fastest meals I make are based on nutritionally dense foods– like a stew of chickpeas, canned tomatoes & spinach, or a baked sweet potato topped with black beans. Since canning and freezing doesn’t reduce the nutritional value of a lot of these foods, they’re convenient to keep around in the pantry, too. Last week I got about 30 meal servings out of a neighbor’s discarded Halloween pumpkin– sometimes it seems we’ve forgotten what real food is like, and what it’s for!

    • danamccauley says:

      Excellent points! Interestingly, although Canada exports a lot of legumes, we have a very low consumption rate per capita and that’s not good for our pocket books or for our health.

  5. Jen says:

    Great post! I do plan ahead when I’m grocery shopping but when everyone comes home from school/work, the great challenge is to satisfy that hunger but not fill them up before dinner. My solution: Sunday night I fill small containers with things like melon, edamame and broccoli that they can quickly grab while I frantically make dinner.

  6. Daniel says:

    It has always struck me as far too simplistic to measure food in price-per-calorie terms.

    First of all, it’s misleading to divide price by calories. By this logic, tap water and diet soda would cost infinity, right? And it also pays to be mindful that an article can easily cherry-pick expensive fruits or other foods and compare them to cherry-picked cheaper processed foods to arrive at a predetermined conclusion based on a faulty data set.

    Someday, I’d love to see a cost-per-calorie article that actually included beans and legumes. But since those foods actually ARE cheap, energy-dense and nutritious, they’d contradict the Time article’s predetermined bias that healthy food is too expensive. :)

    I’ve built my food blog around a huge number of recipes that can be made for around $1.00 a serving, and all of the meals are healthy and nutritious. The bottom line is the more processing, branding and transport involved in a food, the more it costs. And processed foods almost always cost more than whole, unprocessed foods, unless you must buy out-of-season fruits or veggies when they cost the most (and usually are of the lowest quality).

    Healthy, nutritious food is very reasonably priced if you take a bit of care to look for it.

    Dan
    Casual Kitchen

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