How to (actually) eat healthily on £1 per day

Last week, I stumbled across a BBC News article entitled How to eat healthily on £1 a day via a story on hacker news. Healthy eating on a budget is something I’m really interested in, but I was horribly disappointed by the article, because i) it didn’t show you how to eat healthily, and ii) it didn’t show you how to eat on £1 per day.

Cheap food is a false economy

Foods the article advocated eating included:

  • A ham sandwich
  • Jam
  • Bacon
  • Biscuits (!)

Put plainly, these foods are not especially healthy, and some are decidedly unhealthy. (Biscuits, I’m looking at you!)

The diet the article outlines is also woefully deficient in fruits and vegetables. The UK Department of Health and the National Health Service recommend eating 5 portions of fruits and vegetables every day. A portion is defined as 80 grams.

On day 1, the journalist eats 1 apple, 1/4 of a courgette, 1/4 of a red pepper and 50g peas. By my back-of-the-envelope calculations, that’s about 3 portions.

On day 2, he eats 75g mushrooms, a small onion, a banana and “a single leaf” of lettuce with a tomato, for a total of perhaps 4 portions.

On day 5, he eats “four slivers of cucumber”, 50g beans and 25g kale. It’s also possible he eats an apple – the article is unclear. Let’s be generous and assume he does, for a total of 2 portions of fruit and vegetables.

Jam and biscuits are not health foods, and eating a couple of portions of fruit and vegetables a day is not nearly enough. This diet is not healthy. To make matters worse, after consulting a dietitian he concedes he was “well short” on the number of calories he was eating. The diet proposed in the article is a complete failure from a health perspective.

£1 per day means £1 per day

The other big problem with the article, dealt with in some detail here, is that the journalist considers only the fractional cost of foods, regardless of how expensive or perishable the total food is, and indulges in delicacies like African mango. For example, when he uses 2 tablespoons of fresh coriander, he records the cost as 1p (1 pence), even though the bunch of coriander itself cost 50p. Given that fresh coriander only lasts for a few days before wilting, it’s disingenuous to suggest that the first serving costs only 1p, unless he somehow manages to consume another 49 servings of coriander over the next week and accounts for each serving in his budget. (He doesn’t.)

The journalist also takes the absolute cheapest prices he can find from any supermarket. While travel costs are not explicitly included in the budget, it’s unreasonable to assume that someone eating on £1 per day will be able to visit 6 or 7 separate stores just to gather the ingredients for one meal, especially when making these kinds of trips will often require spending money on car travel or public transportation.

What does eating healthily for £1 per day actually look like?

Despite the BBC article being poor in virtually every regard, my curiosity was fired up. Given the constraint of spending only £1 per day, what would the optimally healthy diet look like?

Before I go any further, I want to make clear that I’m not trying to work out how easy or difficult it is for people or families who find themselves in this position — there are clearly a large number of concomitant challenges that I wouldn’t presume to be able to quantify or address.

I’m also making a number of assumptions, some or all of which may not be true for people with a relatively low food budget. My assumptions include:

  • Access to a fridge and freezer
  • Access to a well-equipped kitchen with oven, stove-top, pots, pans and other utensils
  • Time to prepare ingredients and cook
  • No special dietary needs
  • Access to a large supermarket
  • Provision to carry groceries home

When it comes to fractional items, I will assume in the first instance that pricing based on fractional cost is fair so long as the item can be fully consumed before it perishes, and thus the amortized cost of the entire item is included in the budget.

I’ll also assume that most items have to be purchased from one store in order to minimize travel expenses. I’ve decided to use the UK supermarket Asda (a subsidiary of Walmart), partly because their prices seem competitive and partly because they have a comprehensive list of prices online (unlike budget supermarket Lidl or frozen food specialists like Iceland or Farmfoods).

I’m only going to consider regularly priced food products — no special offers or reduced products. I think it makes a great deal of sense to use special offers and reductions when available, but I don’t think it’s fair to consider these resources reliable. If, one day, there’s no food available at a reduced price, you still need to eat.

Aims for the £1-per-day-diet

The UK NHS reports that the average man needs around 2500 calories (kcal) per day and the average woman needs around 2000. My diet will be tailored to provide 2250 kcal per day.

Ideally the diet should satisfy the criteria for a healthy diet disseminated by the UK public health bodies and summarized in the Food Standards Agency Nutrient and Food Based Guidelines for UK Institutions. These include:

  • 5 portions of fruit and/or vegetables per day
  • At least 18 grams of fiber per day
  • At least 55 grams of protein per day
  • Around 50% of food energy from carbohydrate
  • Around 35% of food energy from fat
  • Around 15% of food energy from protein

These criteria are not exactly the same as my own for healthy eating, but I think more people will find this investigation useful if I follow government advice rather than relying on my own preferences.

Gathering data

The first step is coming up with a list of candidate foods and working out their true cost. In this context, the most important statistic is the cost per calorie, which for the sake of ease of comparison I have chosen to represent as calories available per £1 of food.

Using data from Asda’s online catalog and the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference I created a spreadsheet of foods, price per kilogram and calories per £11. This is a naive first-approximation of food cost that doesn’t take into account food spoilage, preparation time or meal planning. Because it would be too laborious to do this for every food Asda sells, foods were selected for inclusion based more or less on my gut feeling about their potential value.

Food
Price per kg (£s)
Calories per 100g (kcals)
Calories per £1 (kcals)
Spaghetti (refined flour)0.383719763
Long Grain Rice (white)0.403659125
Vegetable oil (rapeseed)1.008848840
Olive pomace oil1.508845893
Oats0.753724960
Brown bread0.592293881
Peanut butter1.806223456
Pearl Barley1.163523034
Yellow split peas (dried)1.163412940
Olive oil (extra virgin)3.308842679
Peanuts (salted)2.406082533
Red kidney beans (dried)1.563372160
Long Grain Rice (brown)1.783702079
Dark chocolate (50% cocoa mass)3.005151717
Spaghetti (wholewheat)2.003351675
Potatoes0.47771631
Milk (whole)0.44651477
Bananas0.68891309
Houmous (hummus)3.30320970
Onions0.4240957
Carrots0.4641891
Beef liver (fresh)1.70135794
Peas (frozen)0.9977778
Chicken (whole, raw)2.48131528
Red kidney beans (canned)1.1258.5522
Eggs2.78143515
Butternut Squash1.0045450
Apples1.1852441
Green beans (french beans) (frozen)1.0039390
Red cabbage0.8031388
Pork chops (raw)4.00155388
Tomato puree2.4092383
Cottage Cheese2.1760276
Tomatoes (chopped, tinned)0.7821271
Sardines (whole, raw)3.9794.8239
Sardines (in brine)5.60133.5238
Pollock fillets (frozen)4.0092230
Broccoli (frozen)1.1526226
Tuna (flakes in brine)3.7771188
Broccoli (fresh)2.0034170
Courgette (zucchini)1.6217105
Green beans (french beans) (fresh)4.123175

The most important figure is calories per £1. Because we’re shooting for 2250 calories per day, foods that provide 2250 or more calories per £1 will be our primary sources of food energy. All foods that provide less than 2250 calories per £1 will have to be balanced with foods that provide more.

After creating this table, I created three more columns in my spreadsheet entitled “Weekly amount”, “weekly calories” and “weekly cost”, and added a “totals” row that kept track of the total number of calories per week (out of 15750) and total cost per week (out of £7).

Running the numbers

Fruit and veg

My first goal was fitting in the 5 portions of fruit and vegetables, which I anticipated might be one of the trickier challenges.

Because they’re relatively starchy, bananas are a very cheap source of calories for a fruit — per-calorie, they’re only a little more expensive than milk or potatoes. 1 small banana (80g) is the first daily item in the food budget.

Next, I include one serving (80g) each of carrots and onions because they’re both relatively cheap, can be stored for long periods of time and are very versatile ingredients.

I have a soft spot in my heart for plants in the Brassica genus. In my opinion, they’re some of the healthiest foods around. Optimistically, I add a daily 80g serving of red cabbage.

Lastly, I very much want to include a serving of tinned tomatoes, because they last a really long time, are essential for lots of cooked vegetable dishes and are very healthy. Unfortunately, once opened they’re fairly perishable — the instructions on the label say they should be eaten within 2 days, but at 80g per day a 400g tin would have to last 5 days. For now, I’ll bump the serving size up to 160 grams per day. If this proves too expensive, I’ll have to make adjustments later on.

With the 5 portions of fruit and vegetables covered, here’s what our budget looks like so far.

Food
Price per kg (£s)
Calories per 100g (kcals)
Calories per £1 (kcals)
Daily amount (grams)
Weekly amount (grams)
Weekly Calories (kcals)
Weekly Cost (£s)
Bananas0.68891309805604980.38
Onions0.4240957805602240.23
Carrots0.4641891805602300.26
Red cabbage0.8031388805601740.45
Tomatoes (chopped, tinned)0.782127116011202350.87
Total:13612.19
Remaining:143894.81

This is pretty sobering; more than a third of our budget has been spent and we have provided less than 10% of the calories we need. On the bright side, the calories from fruit and veg should be far and away the most expensive in our diet.

Fat

There are many promising candidates for cheap carbohydrate-based foods, so next I want to take care of our source of dietary fat.

The cheapest candidate is vegetable oil, which from Asda is made up of 100% rapeseed (canola) oil. However, if at all possible, I’d much prefer to use extra virgin olive oil due to it’s lower omega-6 content and the health-promoting role it appears to play in the Mediterranean diet2.

35% of the calories in our diet need to come from fat, so we need around 750 calories worth of fat daily, which is around 85 grams. Let’s assume for the moment that olive oil is the only fat in our diet and add in the full 85 grams per day. That adds 595 grams of olive oil a week to our diet at a cost of £1.96.

Protein

The cheapest food per calorie that’s also a major source of protein is yellow split peas, which provide about 25 grams of protein per 100 grams. (Split peas also have the benefit of being much faster and less laborsome to prepare than other dried pulses.) We need at least 55 grams of protein per day, or a little over 200 grams of split peas. 200 grams is a nice round number, so let’s add that to the daily budget (and assume for now that we get at least 5 grams of protein per day from other food).

That leaves our food budget looking like this:

Food
Price per kg (£s)
Calories per 100g (kcals)
Calories per £1 (kcals)
Daily amount (grams)
Weekly amount (grams)
Weekly Calories (kcals)
Weekly Cost (£s)
Olive oil (extra virgin)3.3088426798559552601.96
Yellow split peas (dried)1.163412940200140047741.62
Bananas0.68891309805604980.38
Carrots0.4641891805602300.26
Onions0.4240957805602240.23
Red cabbage0.8031388805601740.45
Tomatoes (chopped, tinned)0.782127116011202350.87
Total:113955.78
Remaining:43551.22

With a little under 4500 calories left, things are now looking more manageable.

Carbohydrate

For breakfast, oats seemed like a no-brainer. Cheap, healthy, and you can store them for a long time. 80 grams a day is one large bowl.

Ideally we’d round things out with a whole-grain carbohydrate, but wholewheat pasta and brown rice are vastly beyond the minuscule budget we have left. Spaghetti is marginally cheaper than rice, but I’ve chosen to go with the latter because it’s so much more versatile. A daily 90g serving of rice neatly plugs the calorie gap and gives us version 0.1 of the £1-per-day budget.

Food
Price per kg (£s)
Calories per 100g (kcals)
Calories per £1 (kcals)
Daily amount (grams)
Weekly amount (grams)
Weekly Calories (kcals)
Weekly Cost (£s)
Olive oil (extra virgin)3.3088426798559552601.96
Yellow split peas (dried)1.163412940200140047741.62
Bananas0.68891309805604980.38
Carrots0.4641891805602300.26
Onions0.4240957805602240.23
Red cabbage0.8031388805601740.45
Tomatoes (chopped, tinned)0.782127116011202350.87
Long Grain Rice (white)0.4036591259063023000.25
Oats0.7537249608056020830.42
Total:157776.45
Remaining:-270.55

The nutritional breakdown of this diet is fairly positive:

 
Quantity per day
Calories2254
Carbohydrate286g
Fat94g
Protein69g
Calories from carbohydrate51%
Calories from fat36%
Calories from protein13%
Fiber68g
Sugars26g
Portions of fruit and veg7 portions
Cholesterol0mg
Sodium78mg

Assessing the diet

Nutrition

The macronutrient ratios are almost exactly in line with our targets — in fact, they are much closer than I was expecting for a first attempt like this. Sugar, sodium and cholesterol are all low, as I would expect in a diet almost entirely lacking in processed food.

Fiber is, if anything, a little high — I’ve talked about the benefits of a high-fiber diet before, but evidence is sparse for additional benefits beyond 25 grams of fiber per day. Our diet provides almost three times that. Such high levels of fiber may cause gastrointestinal discomfort in some people, especially at first. Most of this fiber (50 grams per day) comes from the huge amount of split peas in the diet, and unfortunately, there’s no easy replacement for split peas without sacrificing protein intake. Having said that, we’re currently overshooting our protein goal by 14 grams, so it may be possible to replace some of the split peas with rice or another carbohydrate in order to ease the fiber load.

Under UK guidelines, beans and pulses can count for 1 (but only 1) serving of vegetables per day, meaning the split peas count towards the total. The seven portions breaks down thusly: 1 portion banana, 1 portion carrot, 1 portion onion, 1 portion red cabbage, 1 portion split peas and 2 portions tinned tomatoes.

Practicality and palatability

As might be expected at this early stage, the diet scores low in terms of enjoyment and quality-of-life.

Breakfast seems acceptable to me. Porridge made with water isn’t the most exciting thing in the world, but it’s not terrible. For years I ate it for breakfast every day. There’s also scope for the addition of things like cinnamon at a later stage (the budget intentionally leaves just over 50p a week for these kinds of additions).

Dinner is tougher, but with rice, split-peas, olive oil, tinned tomatoes and onions, there are at least a couple of options: dal with rice, and vegetarian chili. Both options would need spices to be appealing. There is a small amount of space in the budget left for such items — whether or not we’d have to save up to buy them in later weeks depends on how the £1-per-day is available (e.g. weekly or monthly).

Lunch is the real problem with version 0.1. I find it very difficult to think of compelling lunch options with the food available. We may have to resort to eating leftovers from the previous day’s dinner, perhaps with a salad of cabbage, carrot and olive oil on the side. It may also be possible to make split-pea soup, but without any kind of stock I don’t imagine it would be very appetizing.

The only obvious snack food in our diet is the small banana.

Also of concern is the high amount of olive oil, which might be difficult to incorporate into just the evening meal. One option for version 0.2 of the diet would be to make mayonnaise, but that would require both eggs and vinegar.

Fractional items and the food budget

So far, version 0.1 has only considered the fractional cost of foods (although, unlike the BBC article, all the food will be used up).

Running the numbers, the minimum day 1 spend looks like this:

 
Quantity (grams)
Days until next purchase
Price (£s)
 
 
 
 
Yellow split peas (dried)500.0030.58
Bananas240.0030.16
Tomatoes (chopped, tinned)400.0030.31
Olive oil (extra virgin)750.0092.5
Long Grain Rice (white)1000.00110.4
Red cabbage1000.00130.8
Oats1000.00130.75
Carrots2000.00250.46
Onions4000.00501.67
Total7.63

We spend £7.63 on day 1, but most food items will last until the next week, and some longer.

In order to decide how practical it is to spend so much on day 1, we need to decide if our food budget is weekly, bi-weekly or monthly.

Given a weekly food budget (i.e. we get £7 on day 1 and no more money until day 8), we would have to cut some food in the first week. By forgoing onions and red cabbage, we would save enough to buy more split peas, bananas and tomatoes to last out the week. We could then buy onions in week 2.

Given a bi-weekly or monthly budget (i.e. we get £14 or £28 on day 1, but no more money until day 15 or day 29), we can easily afford all the food we need on day 1. In fact, we could buy extra split peas, bananas and tinned tomatoes on day 1 and avoid having to go shopping again until the next week (saving time and reducing transport costs). On a 4-week budget, we could also invest the £2.20 left over on things like spices or condiments.

Buying almost a month’s worth of carrots or almost two months’ worth of onions on day 1 may seem like a big commitment, but stored correctly (carrots in the fridge, onions in a cool, dark place) these foods have very long shelf lives.

Weaknesses of the diet

Aside from the issues of palatability and high fiber that we’ve already covered, there are a few remaining flaws:

  • We’re abiding by the 5-a-day rule for fruits and vegetables, but we’re obeying the letter of the law rather than the spirit. Eating the same six plant foods for weeks on end will not supply the same variety of phytonutrients as a more varied diet. 
  • As a whole, the diet is very low in omega-3 fatty acids. Oily fish, the richest source of omega-3, is simply beyond our budget. Even tinned sardines or tuna are too expensive to form a regular part of the diet. There are some plant sources of omega-3, but i) we’d likely have to venture beyond Asda and into healthfood stores to find the best candidates, and ii) alpha-linolenic acid, the form of omega-3 found in plants, is poorly converted into longer-chain omega-3 fatty acids the body can actually use3.
  • Currently, the diet assumes 100% efficiency of preparation, storage and consumption (i.e. no food is wasted at any stage). This is unreasonable, and version 0.2 should include some buffer calories to account for this.

Lessons learned from version 0.1

To me, the biggest lesson is this: avoiding starvation is easy, avoiding malnutrition is hard. As it has been for thousands of years, grains products are the cheapest sources of calories because they’re incredibly thermodynamically efficient. For our £1, we can get over 9000 calories a day from rice, almost 5000 from oats or almost 4000 from bread. We’re in no danger of not having enough to eat. The hard part is finding the right things to eat.

Although I know animal products are expensive, I didn’t fully appreciate the extent; beef liver is far and away the cheapest meat, and it still provides less food energy per £1.00 than a bunch of carrots or bananas. More premium cuts are nowhere near cheap enough for our diet.

Some foods I had always assumed were cheap sources of calories, like canned kidney beans or frozen peas, actually fare quite badly. I find it interesting how my intuition is correct in some areas but way off base in others.

 Aims for version 0.2 of the £1-per-day diet

  • More palatable with firmer meal plans and recipes
  • Greater variety of foods, particularly fruits and vegetables
  • Less dietary fiber to ease gastrointestinal distress
  • Include a calorie “buffer” to leave some room for food wastage

Want to see version 0.2 when it gets posted? Follow via RSS, Twitter or Google+. I’m looking forward to delving back into the spreadsheets to try to make some improvements, and I hope you’ll join me again for the next post.

Footnotes:
  1. For certain foods, calorie information isn’t directly available so I used the best estimate I could find or compute, For example, calorie information is published for de-boned sardines and chicken, but not for whole. I assumed 60% of the mass of whole chicken and fish was edible, based on similar estimates used elsewhere in the NNDSR. []
  2. Olive oil and the cardiovascular system []
  3. Efficiency of conversion of alpha-linolenic acid to long chain n-3 fatty acids in man []

Hi! I blog about food and health for Supplement SOS. I like green vegetables, long walks on the beach and triple-blind placebo-controlled intervention studies with large sample sizes. Liked this post? Follow on Google+, Twitter or via RSS or email me!.

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132 comments on “How to (actually) eat healthily on £1 per day
  1. Erik says:

    Awesome work! I also found the original BBC article pretty misleading. Looking forward to v0.2 :)

  2. Laurence Dawson says:

    Great article, look forward to seeing the meal plans!

  3. Bobby Jack says:

    I’m really glad you carried out this research and wrote it up – I too was quite annoyed at the original BBC article and just how unrealistic it was. As a veggie, I’m also quite glad that the resulting diet is meat-free! Will be interesting to see version 2, especially if you can vary the vegetables a bit. I’d also like to see if some ‘treats’ can be included, factoring in their cost over a long period of time – dairy for example, or bread + peanut butter.

    • Lena Zegher says:

      Thanks! I too was a little surprised the diet turned out to be not only meat-free but completely free of animal products. Will see if this remains true when more complete analysis of micronutrient balance is performed. Agree, trying to get more variety and ‘treats’ in v0.2

  4. Alex says:

    I appreciate the rigor of your work, and I’m very impressed with the budget you’ve managed to create. It’s interesting to see how a bit of forethought can completely change your perceptions.

    In the US, we have a subsidized food program that dramatically decrease the prices of some products (fatty, sweet foods made with corn syrup and its varients) with high kCal content, making them more appealing to those unfortunate enough to have to eat on $1 a day. I think this really contributes to the obesity issues were currently seeing as the perceived inital cost of a food like packaged baked items (Twinkies come to mind) is much greater than its actual cost (health issues) later on. By and large, people fail to properly discount these kinds of costs, and as a result end up feeling like their saving money despite injuring themselves in the long run. As such, the population that can least afford health problems ends up suffering more obesity-associated issues than the general population as they try and stretch their limited budget by purchasing foods with high kCal content and no regard for health value – the opposite of what you’ve done. I think a greater awareness of the “diet” you’ve created, at after the first beta, has the potential to shift this as people are taught that they can afford to eat healthy, rather than simply being told they should without any additional instruction.

    Of course, this doesn’t take food deserts into account, but the drift is there. There’s a lot of potential here. Well done.

    • Lena Zegher says:

      Thanks for the positive feedback! I agree that incentives are really skewed by subsidies. The EU also has a fairly distorting (and extremely large) subsidy program.

  5. Davide says:

    Great post. A good thing to mention in a subsequent version is the possibility of growing some things on your own (small vegetables, some spices), especially those that do not require special care (tomatoes, just to make an example, are very sturdy and require little more than a pot with soil, water and sunlight)

    • Lena Zegher says:

      Thanks!

      I actually have plans to incorporate herbs into a future release, because they’re sold by the big supermarkets and can be grown virtually everywhere.

  6. Terence Eden says:

    Really interesting.

    I’m a vegetarian, so I get a lot of my protein from Quorn, tofu, and other non-meaty products. I know that rearing animals for meat is an incredibly inefficient way got get nutrition on the plate. I wonder if meat substitutes might be a cheaper alternative?

    A quick look. A big bag (500g) of Quorn mince is £3. Or 300g for £1.89.

    It provides 14.5g protein per 100g. (£1.33 / 400g)

    Cheap mince provides around 20.1g protein per 100g.

    However, Quorn also contains 4.5g carbs, whereas mince contains none.
    Fat is 2g for Quorn, 20g for beef.

    Hmmm… So perhaps not quite ratio of price to nutrition to be a wonder-food.

    Fascinating article, thanks.

    T

  7. Jordi says:

    You shouldn’t be looking for how much you spend on food (note for the English: raw food, not pre-cooked, which is normal food for not anglo-saxon countries).
    Buy vegetables, meat, pasta, bread, but not cookies, bacon and the shit you eat. And if you can’t afford eating for more that 1 pound a day, then don’t use Internet at home and eat for 2 pounds. Eating is the most important thing to do, since it’s your fucking health.

  8. MCG says:

    You could try popcorn kernels as another snack food. I calculate them to be 2084 calories per £1 (island sun popcorn at ASDA – see ASDA’s own brand stuff for a nutritional breakdown), they are pretty healthy as they are a whole grain, and they can be prepared by frying in some of that olive oil to get a bit more use out of it. Decent amount of protein in them too.

    Popcorn is also fairly versatile: flavour it with salt, or chilli, garlic, etc….

    Great article by the way! As you say, the BBC one was pretty half-hearted.

  9. MCG says:

    Also ASDA peanut butter is significantly better calorie-value than peanuts themselves. It can be used in a meal to add flavour to sauces, if you’re into that.

  10. Butler says:

    Nice post.

    It’s probably worth mentioning that split peas alone aren’t a complete protein. They need to be eaten with rice (I think) to form a complete protein source.

  11. Nicola Terry says:

    Its great to see a sensible approach to a difficult issue which people can get very silly about. I would like to recommend something I have slowly come to understand which is that wild food and foraging have good potential to add variety, both in taste and nutrition, to a boring staple diet. Even in a city there are often sources of fruit and edible leaves (e.g. nettles) in season (look up Transition Cambridge Fruit Map) if you have time to fetch them. Also, it takes almost no time to grow some herbs in a pot or on the window sill. Thyme, mint, rosemary (outside) are my favourites. Also you can grow parsley and coriander cheaply from seed and you can snip off what you need when you need it. You can grow chillies from seed and freeze them. These small extras can help to make your diet more interesting.

    • Lena Zegher says:

      I think home-grown herbs have a lot of potential (especially from to improve flavor and quality-of-experience) and I’m going to try to incorporate them into a later release.

      For foraging, even urban foraging — I think it’s wonderful for people who live in the right area / have the time / have the knowledge, but I don’t think it’s something to be *relied upon*. I suppose the assumption I’m making with trying to compose this diet is that if you can have an adequate diet within budget, then everything else (like foraged food or getting great bargains from reduced food) is icing on the cake.

  12. Alan Doyle says:

    Great work put into this article but I live in Ireland and if you look up Irish food prices you will see that we haven’t a snowballs chance in hell of surviving on 7£ a day, over here one would be lucky to do it on twice that amount.

  13. Nick says:

    Very interesting article. A few thoughts – what about eggs? They’re inexpensive (can be only £1 for 6, even if free range, especially if you live near a farm) and packed full of goodness. In our experience pigs liver is cheaper than beef liver, though it must be said beef liver tastes better! (slow cooked we find the best). We shop little at supermarkets. We use a local greengrocer for fruit, veg, eggs, and Farmfoods for milk. We throw in garden herbs like rosemary, thyme, bay leaf, and make mint tea from the garden. Most people could grow herbs like that even if just on a windowsill. We bake our own bread which works out cheap as well as satisfying, and make marmalade from a tin. PS what’s really wrong with a couple of value ginger nuts every couple days or so? ;)

    • Lena Zegher says:

      I think one of the biggest problems with liver is that, while it’s cheap and healthy, you can’t eat it too often because of the very high vitamin A content. Because it’s sold at Asda in 1kg packs, the only viable option would be to eat a portion and freeze the rest.

      I don’t have a *huge* problem with the occasional ginger nut — so long as one’s nutritional needs are being met!

      Thanks for the comment!

  14. Ryan C says:

    Even though I have little interest in nutrition, I found this article really interesting. I think it was more the stats side of it and most likely the idea I could eat for £365 a year and stay alive.

  15. Nathan says:

    Wonderful write up, thanks for posting. It makes me think a lot about how to improve my own eating habits, cost notwithstanding.

  16. Tom Campbell says:

    Blessedly non-political, well-researched, and bristling with a healthy dose of humility. Thanks for an unusually solid piece of work. Plus, TIL about ginger nuts, which I assumed on first reading were some kind of exotic European produce item.

  17. Andrew Bainbridge says:

    Nice article. I should eat more yellow split peas!

    I wonder how much poor people (lets say those below 60% of median income) really spend on food each day. My guess is that it is a lot more than £1. Possibly a similar analysis for a £2 or £3 per day diet would be useful.

    BTW, is there enough calcium in the version 0.1 diet?

  18. Bobby Jack says:

    Can you clarify your method for gathering the nutrient data? For example, the first item in the first table is listed as “Spaghetti (refined flour)”. I cannot find any mention of “refined flour” on Asda’s site, but I’m guessing – based on price – it’s this item:

    http://groceries.asda.com/asda-estore/catalog/sectionpagecontainer.jsp?skuId=392270&departmentid=1214921923813&aisleid=1214921925558&startValue=

    However, the energy provided by that spaghetti is 147kcal / 100g, rather than the 371 you’re claiming. Can you clear up that inconsistency?

    Thanks!

    • Lena Zegher says:

      Hi Bobby,

      Happy to clarify. Asda provides calorie information for the spaghetti after cooking — “(cooked as directed) Per 100g”. I needed calorie information for the spaghetti as-bought, before cooking. I used data from the USDA ARS NAL National Nutrient Database, specifically this entry

      In fact, most of the nutritional information on food packaging is for the food “as eaten” rather than “as bought”. This makes some sense for the consumer, but it means I have to rely a lot on the USDA data for projects like this.

      Thanks for the question — it makes me think I should include more source data in my next post. I’ll consider adding a download with all this data included.

    • excellent article thanks for sharing

  19. Ducky says:

    Utterly inspirational. Despite my blog name, I do not eat a lot of meat, though I like it and am unlikely to give it up altogether. What really impressed me the most was that there is nothing on your shopping list that is unavailable in any corner shop, at least in London. Also, when I look at the list, there’s nothing on there that I don’t eat as a matter of course except the yellow split peas because generally I’ll go for red lentils or butter beans if I’m buying pulses. Yet I can easily spend £40 a week on food. So where does it go? It goes on meat, cheese, and junk food. Why buy them? I think it’s partly upbringing and partly the fact that the supermarkets shove stuff like this at you because that’s where their profits are.

    I doubt I could stick to your £7 a week diet for long. As someone else remarked, I love eggs and there are no eggs. I’d want a bit more variety in the fruit and veg. But tell you what, I’m going to seriously try eating for £15 a week and see how I get on.

    Get back to you on that. All the best.

  20. Scott Klinepier says:

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  21. Valerie says:

    You could try adding bacon as long as you have very small amounts of it. I have made very cheap split pea soup with carrots by adding just 3 slices of bacon to an entire pound of split peas. The bacon flavor won’t be very strong when you first make it but if you freeze it and reheat later the flavor is strong enough that it tastes like it was made with stock.

  22. martin smith says:

    What do you drink? Only water to keep cost to a minimum?

    • Lena Zegher says:

      Yep, this assumes no liquid calories and drinking only water.

      However, Asda’s cheapest tea bags cost less than half a penny each, so a daily cup of tea or two is well within the budget (so long as you don’t mind drinking it black).

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