Adam Drewnowski and his colleagues at the University of Washington have been doing a series of papers on the cost of food per calorie. The latest is a research brief answering the question, “Can low-income Americans afford a healthy diet?” Not really, they say. Federal food assistance assumes that low-income people spend 30% of their income on food but that assumption was based on figures from an era when housing, transportation, and health care costs were much less. As Drewnowski has shown repeatedly, healthier foods cost more, and sometimes a lot more, when you look at them on a per-calorie basis.
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I’m still in awe of Melissa Clark’s “mature and restrained” recipe for Almond Birthday Cake with Sherry-Lemon Butter Cream. She says the recipe yields 8 servings. But she surely must mean 24.
I used the USDA’s handy food composition data base to add up the calories: 1,060 per slice!
Smart Money has produced a most instructive display of the cost of 100 calories in meals at fast food restaurants. Click on the numbers starting with #1 (for which you have to click on #2 – the numbers are off by 1 for some reason). #1 is the most expensive: $1.47 per 100 calories for at McDonald’s Southwest Salad with Grilled Chicken. # 13 (click on #14) is a Burger King Double Whopper with Cheese at 49 cents for 100 calories but you have to buy 1010 calories at this price. The cheapest, #15 (click on #16) is a 32-ounce Coca-Cola at 38 cents per 100.
It would be interesting to do the same thing for nutritional value. Could nutrients (other than calories) be proportional to cost? That idea might be worth a closer look.
Researchers, bless them, have done the obvious at last and published it in the February 26 New England Journal of Medicine (and here’s how USA Today explains the study). They put some intrepid volunteers on 1400-calorie diets varying in content of protein (15-25%), fat (20-40%), and carbohydrate (35-65%) and waited to see how much weight they would lose by the end of two years. Ta-da! The participants all lost a lot of weight in 6 months, but slowly gained it back. By the end of 2 years, they lost about the same amount of weight regardless of the mix. Conclusion: when it comes to weight loss, how much you eat matters more than what you eat. Or, as I am fond of saying, if you want to lose weight, eat less!
I start a new column today – Food Matters – in the San Francisco Chronicle’s Food section. It’s a Q and A, with room for comments on the online version. I will answer a question or two whenever it runs (how often? I’m not sure). This first one deals with the editors’ question: “What’s the most pressing nutrition issue today, and why?” In a word: calories.
Yesterday’s New York Times published a gorgeous recipe for chocolate chip cookies but I was stunned by the size. The recipe calls for pounds of ingredients but only makes 18 cookies (5 inches in diameter). I couldn’t resist looking up the calories on the USDA’s food composition data base. If I added them up right, they came to about 500 calories each. If you want to understand the vast change in the food environment that has taken place in the last 30 years, take a look at an old (1964 or 1975) edition of the Joy of Cooking. Its recipe for chocolate chip cookies calls for almost exactly half the ingredients of the one in the Times but makes 45 cookies. Two batches would be the same as the Times’ recipe and would make 90 cookies! These would be just under 100 calories each.
Mark Schrimsher writes to tell me that his CalorieLab site has just posted a U.S. map indicating the states with the highest levels of obesity. The site has a calorie counter for a huge number of items and meals, and does things like adding up the calories expected to be consumed in the Nathan’s hot dog eating contest–19,600. Did this happen?