Low-Carb Food Stamp Diet: $4.72 Per Day

The big news is that I decided to buy some more bananas, so I added 78 cents to my weekly total, bringing me to $33.07 for the week, or $4.72 per day, or 17 percent less than the $5.68 that food stamps allow for a single individual. (See the collected links.)

I had been 89 cents under budget, so I figured I might as well pick up some more sugary fruit for desserts. Again, the point of this diet was not to minimize expenses, but to eat the best, low-carb diet I could within the self-imposed budget.

Following are some general notes, in no particular order, followed by new photos and descriptions of the diet.

Double Ad Day

I didn’t realize until after I went on my main shopping spree that both Sprouts and Suflower have “double ad day” on Wednesday. That means that the ads for two weeks’ sales are honored. My wife told me about this. (I had actually benefitted from the policy without realizing it.) So, if you live near one of those stores, Wednesday is definitely the day to go.


I can think of nothing more stupid than charging poor people taxes on their basic groceries. (Okay, taxing poor people 15.3 percent of their income through payroll taxes is more stupid.) Combined, I payed $1.34 in sales taxes on my food purchases, or 4 percent of my weekly budget. That may not seem like much, but it could have added (for example) more than a half-pound of bananas to my diet per day. Or a loaf of bread, if my diet had allowed it. (I’m grain free for the week.) Or two to four pounds of vegetables.


In retrospect, I have a much better appreciation of the elevated stress levels during my 2007 diet, during which my wife and I each ate for $2.57 per day for a month. This time, the diet contributed more hours of work to my already-busy schedule, gave me a lot more details to contemplate, and subjected my every bite to public review. As a result, I didn’t sleep very well Tuesday or Wednesday nights (though I started to catch up last night).

It occurred to me that this begins to simulate the stress that comes with a real low-budget diet, such as if one gets laid off and has nothing in savings. Obviously I realize those stress levels can be much higher and longer lasting. Stress interferes with sound sleep, suppresses appetite, and interferes with digestion. Thus, stress over food can actually make eating more of a problem.

Usually I don’t calculate my food spending or monitor my eating habits; I just buy good food on sale and eat it. On Tuesday, suddenly worried about my week’s calorie load, I spent some time estimating my daily calories, which are fine. Real money problems require more planning, again contributing to stress.

So those who suddenly find themselves in a financial bind will probably experience more stress, and it’s important to think about how to deal with it. I’m notoriously bad at dealing with stress, yet I’ve found a number of things that seem to work reasonably well: yoga stretching, breath control, exercise, sunshine, sex, massage (my wife and I purchased a used table so we can work on each other easier), and good novels and movies. (We watched Secret Life of Bees last night, which I quite enjoyed.)


In my last diet, I learned a lot about fat, as initially that’s what I cut too much. For this diet, I’m learning more about carbs, which I have intentionally limited. (Again, I’m not offering dietary advice here; please read my disclaimer.)

I am not trying offer a model food-stamp diet here. With the 2007 diet, I was intentionally trying to get expenses as low as I could and still maintain a basically healthy diet. This week, my goal is to eat a nutritious, minimally processed, low-carb diet within a set budget. If I were actually on an emergency food budget, I’d combine the two diets, mixing healthy fats, protein, and produce with reasonable amounts of inexpensive, high-carb foods such as rice and flour. I think that would offer the best balance of cost and nutrition.

Wiki suggests that a “paleo” diet could contain as many as 200 grams of carbs per day. I’m between 100 and 200 per day this week. So I could actually boost my carb load and still be “low-carb” by this standard. (That’s one reason I bought more bananas.)

The USDA recommends 300 grams of carbs per day. Hard-core low-carb diets recommend 20 to 60 grams of carbs per day. Frankly, I’m skeptical of arguments for either extreme. The USDA’s recommendations have helped create a nation of fat, diabetic people with heart problems. On the other hand, 20 carbs per day seems quite low. Among my concerns is that modern man has more body mass and a bigger brain than our paleo ancestors; might not this require more carbs? I certainly don’t claim to be an expert on the matter, but as an initial stance it strikes me that in this case moderation may be the best policy. My guess is that my normal carb load over the last few months has been somewhere in the range of 200 per day, and I don’t plan to change my regular diet.

There’s obviously a huge difference between whole-grain bread or cereal and potato chips or soda. Not all carbs are created equal. Following is a list of common carb-loaded foods, with their carb loads:

Banana, Medium: 27 grams
Apple, Medium: 25 grams
Oatmeal, 1 Cup Cooked: 32 grams
Bread, Slice: 12 grams (half the weight of the bread)
Rice, Brown, 1 Cooked Cup: 45 grams
Orange Juice, 1 Cup: 25 grams
Soda, 12 Ounce: 29 grams
McDonald’s French Fries, Medium: 46 grams
Cake, Chocolate, Slice: 35 grams

Obviously, sugary fruits and whole grains have a lot better general nutritional value than soda and such.

It’s not hard to see how somebody could easily rocket past 300 carbs in a day with a diet heavy in grains and sugar. (Sugar cane is actually the world’s number one crop.) But it’s also not hard to see how somebody could keep carbs down to a reasonable level without much difficulty. You can still eat six or seven modest portions of carb-loaded food and still come in considerably below USDA guidelines.

Diet Updates

Here’s the receipt for the bananas:

On Wednesday, I didn’t have any meat till the evening, when I could roast the turkey. Thus, I ate vegetables and olive oil throughout the day.

I cooked the eggplant with onion and garlic according to directions I found through a search.

By evening I was fully carnivorous again. I started with a frozen turkey and cooked it according to these directions. Having cooked a turkey thawed and frozen, I definitely prefer starting with a frozen bird.

The turkey meat filled a 9 by 13 inch glass dish.

Then I boiled the remaining pieces for a couple hours to make stock.

Breakfast for Thursday was light.

I had an earl lunch, therefore, of soup made with the stock, turkey, cabbage, an onion, and garlic.

I had over a gallon of soup left for the rest of the week.

I also ate more of the eggplant dish on Thursday with another cup of milk. For dessert, a sliced banana with chocolate sauce and cream. Normally, I’ll add a few blueberries or strawberries to the mix. The chocolate sauce is just chocolate powder and water, cooked on the stovetop for a spell. You can also add sugar if you like.

Here are the new bananas:

Thursday night I had a deluxe salad with tomato, turkey, walnuts, and olive oil.

This morning (Friday) I had a larger breakfast of eggs and tomato, half a grapefruit, and milk.

Also today I finished the eggplant dish with turkey, drank another cup of milk, ate a couple bananas, and had a cup of tea. I’m getting ready to eat another big salad with turkey.

I probably won’t take any more photos for the week, as they’d just be duplicates. Part of the constraint of the diet is that I have to buy and eat all my groceries within a seven-day period, resulting in less diversity. Normally a shopper can look ahead several weeks, buy things on sale, put certain foods in the freezer, and eat a more varied diet. I will, however, track my daily meals. I can basically coast through Tuesday with minimal effort.

7 thoughts on “Low-Carb Food Stamp Diet: $4.72 Per Day”

  1. Some anonymous poster sent in the snarky comment, “Now try to do it like a real poor person would, without a car or internet access.”

    But I’ve already addressed that line of argument in previous comments.

    Even if I did the diet with no internet access and no car, which would be no great trick, such critics would continue to come up with reasons to complain.

    Besides, I wonder what fraction of people on food stamps own car or share a family car? My guess is that, discounting dense areas where even the wealthy often forego a personal vehicle, the fraction is quite high.

  2. Ari — The evidence from studies of the eating habits and diseases of primitive cultures seems to indicate that a wide variety of macronutriet compositions is consistent with good health. The traditional Inuit diet consists of no plant matter whatsoever, unless they are starving. In contrast, the Kitavans eat about 70% of their calories from carbohydrates — in the form of starchy tubers, not sugars and grains.

    When eating their traditional diets, these peoples do not suffer from diabetes, heart disease, or other “diseases of civilization.” (They do suffer from other problems, like infection and trauma, of course.) However, they develop diabetes, heart disease, et al very quickly when flour, sugar, modern vegetable oils, and other processed foods replace their traditional foods.

    See Stephan’s posts on these groups for the details:



    So, from what I’ve read, the problem is not carbohydrates per se, but rather the form thereof. It matters whether you’re eating french fries (i.e. potatoes fried in rancid vegetable oil) or mashed sweet potatoes made with real butter and cream. Most of the carbohydrates (and fats) that Americans eat today are unhealthy, but better carbs and fats can be had — although that does require some effort.

    However, if a person is trying to lose weight, restricting carbohydrates can be the easiest way. I tried for four years to lose about fifteen pounds by the standard dietary guidelines: low fat, reduced calorie, lots of cardio. Instead, I gained even more weight — and I was miserable. Since I’ve gone on a high-fat, low-carb paleo-ish diet of unprocessed, traditional foods, I’ve lost 17 pounds in about 8 months without ever feeling deprived. And I feel better than ever.

    Oh, and I should mention that when I was in college, I was on a very limited budget, and I had no car. Sometimes, I was able to borrow one, but most of the time I used public transportation to shop. It was a pain, but definitely doable.

  3. Incidentally, my wife and went without a car for about a year and a half in 2003-04. We walked, biked, or bussed just about everywhere (though we did borrow a car a few times).

  4. The lower carb levels of some of the published diets are usually aimed at metabolically challenged people. If you are 100 lbs over weight or diabetic, etc. the lower levels could be very helpful. Healthy people only a few lbs overweight may do quite well by cutting back on whites a little.

  5. The snarky comment is silly. Some years ago shortly after I dropped out of college (less than 10 years ago, mind you), I was living in an inner-city area with no car. I walked to the local Kroger (King Soopers to you Colorado folks) less than 2 miles away on a daily basis with no problems and managed to eat a semi-reasonable amount of food for just about $1 a day. Granted, I was losing weight, but I’m significantly *overweight* so this wasn’t a problem, and I wasn’t noticeably hungry most of the time.

  6. Your diet that you describe in your daily logs is NOT a low carb diet. Sugar, dairy, flour products, and most fruits are not allowed until maintenance. You are misleading people, and I would recommend you do more research regarding low-carb diets.

  7. Cindi, as I’ve written, there are varying definitions of “low-carb” diets. My carb load was roughly half or less of the USDA guidelines, so if that’s not low enough for you, tough luck. You yourself state that “maintenance” low-carb diets can include the things I ate. Contrary to your suggestion, I did not eat any sugar or flour products for the week’s diet, though I did eat dairy and fruit. Perhaps in the future you would care to read what I’ve actually written before claiming that I’m “misleading people.” -Ari

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