From February 4-10 I went on the “Low-Carb Food Stamp Diet,” during which I ate nutritiously for around $4 per day, after subtracting the estimated value of the leftover food. Tonight, after interviewing me on February 18, 9News (Denver’s NBC station) broadcast a story about it.
It’s a great story, and obviously I’m thrilled with it. I do want to expand on a couple of points, however.
In the text version of the story, Shawn Patrick, the reporter, makes the potentially confusing claim that “even Armstrong admits it was an extreme low-carbohydrate diet.” The whole point of the diet was to be low-carb. I was trying to cut carbs. I estimate I was eating between 100 and 150 grams of carbs per day, whereas the USDA recommends around 300.
To counter the claim that those on a tight budget can only afford carbs, starch, and bad fat, I spent the week eating a diet totally free of grains, potatoes, hydrogenated fat, and vegetable oils. Obviously, a low-carb diet must make up calories through increased proteins or fats. Part of the argument behind (at least some) low-carb diets is that eating a little more fat is not a problem, health-wise. However, some argue that vegetable fats — canola oil, especially hydrogenated fats, etc. — aren’t really that great for you. So I ate fat only from olive oil, meat, dairy, eggs, and nuts (and trace amounts in produce and chocolate). (Usually I also eat coconut fat.)
A diet higher in carbs is less expensive, if those carbs take the form of low-cost flour, rice, oats, and potatoes. Obviously things like soda, sugary cereal, and frozen pizzas can cost a lot more and dramatically increase carb loads. The primary reason my wife and I were able to spend a month in 2007 each eating for only $2.57 per day is that we ate a diet higher in carbs.
If I were on a true emergency budget, I’d pick a diet combining elements of the 2007 diet and the low-carb one. I’d buy healthy but low-cost fruits and vegetables, meat, dairy, eggs, and olive oil along with low-cost grains like brown rice and oats. I think that would be the best balance between good nutrition and low cost, and it’s close to the diet I eat normally.
Nutritionist Dr. Carolyn Ross was somewhat complimentary of the diet, yet she worried that I wasn’t meeting my calorie loads. But I estimated my daily calorie intake, and it was within USDA guidelines. Remember, I ate an entire turkey by myself in a week. I boiled the scraps to make soup stock. (Patrick suggested that I bought soup; I made soup from my purchased supplies.) I ate olive oil, which carries 130 calories per tablespoon. I drank whole milk and ate whipped cream on bananas. I ate grapefruit. I ate eggs. I added a few walnuts for the Omega 3 fats. Even though I cut carbs, I still got carbs especially in my fruit, and I made up calories in protein and fat. We can continue to debate the optimal calorie split, but, according to the low-carb assumptions, I did very well.
The broadcast story shows me dicing an onion. Perhaps viewers will be interested in what I made out of that. (This was on February 18, after my week’s diet had ended.) I added olive oil, various diced vegetables, pureed peppers and spinach, diced chicken, quinoa (a grain known for its protein), and various spices, including curry. I made enough of it for several meals for both my wife and me, demonstrating that cooking need not consume a great deal of time per meal. The results were inexpensive, delicious, and healthy: