The boring stuff in preparation – numbers

26 Feb
Ideally, during my upcoming experiment, although I’ll be starting from zero, I’d like to quickly get to a point where I will be eating properly. That means the food would have to be more or less nutritionally balanced and I’d have to eat the right amounts. I’m not a nutritionist, but I can keep my calories at a sensible level and make an effort to have my five-a-day. But how much is five a day? A Google search shows the answer:

5 a day = 5.78703704 × 10-5 hertz

Thanks Google- that was very helpful. Fortunately the NHS website gives the information I’m looking for – “five a day” stands for five 80 gram portions of fruit and veg or a total of 400 grams of fruit and vegetables a day. That means that if I am to follow NHS guidelines, each week I should eat 2.8 kilos of fruit and vegetables, which translates to 12 kilos of the stuff over the course of a month. Like most of us, that would mean I’d be be getting better nutrition than I currently do.

The same goes for carbs – apparently they need to be consumed in similar amounts to fruits and veg, so for a month I should count on 12 kilos too, though I’m sure my current intake of carbs is currently considerably lower than that. The 250 grams I see recommended in some places sounds a lot more sensible to me than the 400 grams the NHS seems to want you to consume. But even then I’d still end up around 200+1600 kCal, which is still on the low side. Carbohydrate is cheap, anyway.

Then there’s the protein and fat – I’m not too worried about that. I’d need about .8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight so the equivalent of an egg per day should just about do it. Fat amounts to just under 2 kilos for the month, and that about sums it up nutritionally.

So far, my naive shopping list for the month looks something like this:

12 kilos of carbs
12 kilos of veg+fruit
2 kilos of fat
30 eggs

Can that be done at under 30 pounds? Absolutely. Without buying stuff in bulk? Well, that’s already rather a bit trickier. What about the lack of condiments, herbs and spices? I’m starting to think this was a bad idea. If you’re starting to feel my pain, you’re ready to sit back and enjoy the show.


4 Responses to “The boring stuff in preparation – numbers”

  1. chrisryman April 27, 2013 at 8:14 am #

    I’m a bit worried about some of your calculation for healthy living on “a pound a day”. You have this line:
    “Then there’s the protein and fat – I’m not too worried about that. I’d need about .8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight so the equivalent of an egg per day should just about do it. ”
    I know the American and Canadian guidelines recommend a daily protein dietary allowance, measured as intake per kilogram body weight, is 0.8 g/kg, and the same source gives a range of 46 to 56 grams of protein daily, dependent on age and sex.
    (Active sportspeople may need up to double this)

    BUT – the amount of protein in a 50g egg (according to the US National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference – which is similar to that stated in other reviewed sources) is only 6.3g.
    So I think you’re falling way, way below what your body needs to repair tissues and maintain muscle.
    I’ve done a lot of diet planning for long distance walkers and temperate range expeditions and know that many of the diets that satisfy purely calorific needs, whilst manageable for a week or two, lead to problems if relied on for a longer period.

    I’d be really interested to see a long term, credible “pound a day” diet that can be bought (so no foraging, skip diving or living off friends and free buffets!) for a single person in the UK in 2013. Three pound a day will certainly do it, even with special dietary requirments. Somewhere around the 2.50 a day is probably the real amount.
    Obviously if cold storage is available and if one is buying in bulk for a family more savings are possible. But really – even the cost of running the fridge/freezer, the bus journey to the shops and the cost of cooking the dried pulses (for example) need to be included.

    Interesting blog – I’ll be reading it in detail.


    • kleinebre April 27, 2013 at 9:55 am #

      You’re absolutely right. I did learn a thing or two about nutrition in the past year, and the model “meat, fish, eggs are protein, flour is carbs” is definitely an oversimplification. I’m certain that, especially in the beginning, I fell short on protein; later on I managed to pick up on my protein intake and managed to have eggs, milk, pork fillet, liver, beans, cheese, chicken and fish. I must have had about 20 grams of protein a day from the other sources (flour, veg) and ended the month with a good amount of frozen chicken left, as well as a surplus in carbohydrate.

      Of course, an experiment like this will also highlight nutritional issues more than usual. On a day-to-day basis, we don’t go about with a calculator to make sure we get enough of all our macro- and micronutrients. We simply eat different things from day to day and count on variation and our natural cravings to balance things out for us. Having only a Very Small Budget available will certainly limit the quality and balance of our nutrition. Quantity, to a degree, can compensate for that; eating more flour may help you reach your daily protein intake. Of course that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. But indeed, a strong correlation has been shown between poverty and obesity (causation not implied).

      Although one pound per day stretches further than I thought it would, in the end I did conclude that it’s not realistic. I’ve had to rely very much on “reduced to clear” items. That just doesn’t scale to large numbers of people, and this by itself shows that a credible, long term, one-pound-per-day diet would be very hard to achieve indeed.

  2. chrisryman April 27, 2013 at 10:16 am #

    re “reduced to clear” It would be very interesting to know the rationale behind the shelf space allocation, timing and pricing of the “reduced for quick sale” RFQS items. Is it to attract people in, who then buy other full price items, or is it perhaps cheaper to mark down than to pay the costs of disposal. I’ve watched the time taken to price these items, and with the extra time sometimes needed at the check out peeling off the mark-down to get at the bar-code, there’s quite a hidden cost there. But certainly not scaleable, or sustainable.
    Chasing the protein (just as our “caveman” ancestors did!) seems to be the cheapes way to eat healthfully – any deficiency in fat and carbs is easy to pick up for pennies.
    We have a lot to thank the chicken for! Poor third world communities always have chickens around …

    • Marc April 27, 2013 at 11:37 pm #

      One thing I’m sure about driving the “reduced to clear” thing is the “danger zone” notion of high protein foods. If a moist, high-protein food spends two hours in the “danger zone” between 8 and 65 degrees celcius, it’s no longer considered fit for consumption (especially by those with weak immune systems such as the elderly and infants… though The Law doesn’t make a specific distinction for these population groups). Note the Two Hours thing. This means that if a supermarket closes at 10pm, you’ll likely find the best discounts from 8pm on.

      I’ve found that sometimes those discounts are downright irrational. 20p for 400 grams of pork fillet? Of course it went into the freezer right away. 50p for a whole kilo of luncheon meat that’s labeled as “still fine for another week”? Absolute bargain (and I didn’t even go for it- I didn’t need it at the time).

      Anyone’s daily groceries shouldn’t need to depend on sheer luck, though.

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