Comparison of food costs for nutritionally adequate diets

(Take time to smell the bacon) #1

A paper by Chungchunlam et al., comparing the prices of diets balanced for least cost and maximal nutrition under various constraints:


From time to time I’ve wondered about a “lowest cost diet for reasonable survival / avoiding malnutrition” and otherwise wondered how reasonable it would be to maintain a ketogenic diet if one were homeless, for instance. I’ve heard, but not done the calculation myself, that bulk Olive Oil (Kirkland in particular) ends up being a very good calorie/dollar ratio compared to most other foods (for what that’s worth), and eggs can be pretty cheap, but that’s not doing real comparisons.

The one caveat I would say about the study above that I can see from a brief glimpse, and is going to be a limiter on any such study: results are likely to vary by region/location, because the price of particular foods will vary by region (due to what is available and other market factors). I don’t know enough about New Zealand to know how comparable it would be to other regions in that regard.

I’ll need to look more carefully, but it also seems that while they did more comparison, the primary bottom line was between “contains animals” vs “does not contain animals”, so a more simple “vegetarian vs non-vegetarian” rather than something like “exclusively animals” or even a specific diet that includes animals but not exclusively (like a general ketogenic diet). If it’s not somewhere in there, might be interesting to see what would happen with other exclusion sets to line things up with other more particular diet plans.

(Laurie) #3

I’ve been poor and had to do this. For survival, large bags of flour and oats work. Pasta is cheap, but not if you put sauce on it. Large bags of dried beans are cheap. For “fresh” produce, I could only afford carrots, cabbage, and apples. This was 40 years ago, and some of that might have changed.

When I wasn’t quite as poor, I also did calculations for animal foods. At the time (about 10 years ago) I was surprised to find that cheap supermarket eggs and canned salmon provided the most protein per dollar. Canned mackerel is usually cheaper than salmon, but it can be hard to find (or expensive) in some places.


I don’t think canned salmon is a cheap source any longer. The canned fishes I looked at were very expensive in terms of how many calories (energy) and proteins (building blocks) they provided.

A while back, I started a table comparing cost per 100 calories and cost per 100 grams of proteins for several foods, just to compare cheap carbs to cheap keto.

I added the cheapest cans (i.e. cost per oz) of mackerel and salmon I could find at Walmart:

Description $/100 Calories $/100g Proteins
Rice $0.03 $1.51
Pinto Beans $0.06 $0.83
Eggs $0.10 $1.23
Chicken Thighs $0.12 $1.47
Canned Tuna $0.70 $4.41
Canned Salmon $0.65 $4.90
Canned Mackerel $0.53 $4.45

But prices can vary quite a bit.

(Jane) #5

Same here. My weekly food budget was $10/week in college and I took a calculator to the store with me.

Cheese, meat, sugar - all too expensive. I splurged on coffee and it wasn’t too expensive in the late 70’s. Occassionally made unsweetened sun tea.

The only animal protein I could afford were eggs and milk, and the milk I made into yogurt with a cheap Salton yogurt maker from Service Merchandise. Lived on cheap veggies, rice and beans. Sometimes treated myself to an avocado if my budget allowed. Didn’t eat much pasta since like @islandlight said - the sauce ran the cost up even if made from scratch and meatless.

I also made my own bread and this was a luxury since I made it with honey, wheat germ and whole wheat flour. You couldn’t buy whole wheat flour or wheat germ at the grocery store in the 70’s, so I drove into Bryan to a health food store. They had a large vat of honey with a spigot you could fill your own jars so it was affordable.This was a once-in-three month trip I had to save up for but was worth it.


I might have gotten carried away again but it’s such a delicious topic, I never can resist.

I didn’t do calculations lately but I am pretty sure carnivore is the cheapest somewhat sustainable diet for me. As I eat the least fat and protein there. (I talk about diets that I can do, I surely would spend the least on a HCLF diet as I simply wouldn’t eat at all. But I wouldn’t last for very long there anyway, I would be dead in several months at most. And I can’t even imagine not eating animals. I was a longer-term vegetarian but I ate very much animal food and tons of fat.)
And meat is quite cheap. If one likes supermarket chicken and pork liver. I dislike both. It’s very hard for me to find a cheaper protein source than meat, wonderful for price per calorie too if one chooses fatty (and very cheap, that’s the point) options. Split peas are exceptional, they are even way cheaper but as they are carby, it’s counterproductive, I wouldn’t spend less, I would just overeat more (not just split peas, of course, I need something with it). (But maybe not. Never tested eating copious amounts of legumes, it’s not something I ever liked to do. But the cheapest legumes are my plan C for extra protein in cases when I can’t have much animal protein, B being gluten due to its lower carb content. Split peas are the winner price wise and I don’t like split peas… Maybe as dahl, that’s nice. Lentils are lovely and beans are either not tasty or expensive.)
But the protein (and some carbs) part of my plant-based plan (that I hopefully never ever will need), that is gluten and legumes. I never read about ratios in completting amino acid profile so I would just eat a lot of both. And possibly research more… I never went beyond being lacto-vegetarian (I had 1-2 years when I felt eggs too smelly. no idea how I survived those times).

I am still poor but not poor enough to need the mentioned cheapest options. I just can’t afford beef more than maybe once a month, even the cheapest cuts are expensive to me. I bought 400g salmon in 2021 but I let my SO eat most of it, this luxury item is a waste on me!
I love my pork. Hungary has cheap pork. Yay.

I consider vegetables among the most expensive items I could choose except eating true luxury items that everyone here considers so. Like steak, I never ate one, it’s too expensive even to buy one for Christmas or for my birthday. :smiley: I could do it, sure but it’s unnecessary so nope.
So, veggies. They are insanely expensive, at least most of them in winter. And what they give to me? Hunger, not much else. Full with water, some fiber, some sugar… Pretty useless and raises costs significantly. A tiny for fun is okay but that’s it. So I would avoid them when poor, I think. But it’s me now, I had a very different opinion before I tried carnivore… Vegs were life. Hunger-inducing, time-consuming but lovely, needed things.
I can buy precious, nutritious, satiating meat with that money… But seriously. With my daily food money I could buy a few cucumbers (okay I am unfair, that thing is really just some crunchy water, not nutritious at all as far as I know. I can say amounts as it matters if it’s in season) - or 1kg pork… Or 2kg chicken thighs… Fruits are mostly sugary water (I still LOVE them :D), not a good idea. I don’t eat much of them despite I am poor and have A TON of fruit in my garden so it’s no extra cost (I don’t use any chemicals).

No matter my situation, I would go for extreme low-carb as it’s best for me. I really, really hope I won’t need to eat plant-based for an extended period of time as I needed 40+g net carbs even for vegetarian keto heavily based on animal protein…

My eggs aren’t sooo cheap but these nutritious wonders are worth it and if I get any more poor, I lose the will to live anyway.

We barely have canned salmon anywhere but salmon is as expensive as steak so 10 times as much expensive as chicken. And I talk about the best part, the thigh, not the dirt cheap frame. Once I calculated it but I need to do it again as I only know the price in HUF/kg. $1/kg? So below $0.5/lbs. That’s for the meat, without the bone. Pretty cheap meat if you ask me… Well okay split pea protein is, like, 8 times cheaper AND it has carbs too (calories! hunger inducing calories for me but maybe my body would deal with that better in real need)… Sorry, still not tempted to live on legumes and gluten.
I have maybe $3 a day for food? Probably often more? It’s very comfortable on carnivore if one loves pork and lives here. I even can afford my more expensive eggs from good sources, as much as I want. I don’t stop just because I am over 10 on some day. But some countries have way more expensive eggs and if I bought better eggs from a supermarket, that would be a different story and price. Many people keep hens here though our only remaining source is complaining about the price of food for her hens.

Tuna is almost as expensive as salmon so out of question. And my SO always talk about overfishing when I eat tuna (I eat 1-2 tiny boxes a year)… Some boring bland fishes are cheap but I dislike them and don’t find them satiating (not like I ever could eat enough from them to tell).
Oh I forgot to mention that 1 kg chicken thighs make me super hungry (tested multiple times and this amount has quite many calories and fat) so chicken is only a good option as a side dish (and I should use a ton of spice to give it some flavor. maybe mixing with eggs?).

It seems chicken thighs are similarly priced here as in @OgreZed’s list… Canned fish is loads more expensive though - except the cheapest kind like sardines and sprats. They aren’t nice at all if you ask me so I never eat those, yuck. Full with seed oils anyway. I mean it, I can handle some oil but the hell do I do with 50g from a tiny box? It’s a chore to mix it into the food of the cats… Poor obligate carnivores. I can only buy tuna in brine but as I wrote, it’s a luxury item for me. Still may worth it, I can use a little in my deviled eggs, it’s tasty - but not a good staple for protein.

I calculated gluten… With the best price I found on a webshop, itás $0.6/100g protein and little carbs. $0.8 on a pricier webshop (I often used that, almost everything is a bit pricy there so I usually buy stuff elsewhere but gluten isn’t so easy to get. it’s good it’s not one of my staples :D). Not bad. For price per protein without heeding the amino acid profile. And it’s super satiating for me. And fun and while I dislike the taste of it, there is the amount of paprika and other things that helps :wink: I easily eat 160g gluten in a few minutes so it wouldn’t be a problem to eat it. That’s why it’s part of my plan B. I had gluten-free years and I felt the same so I probably wouldn’t have huge problems for a while. I still wouldn’t live on huge amounts of gluten if possible… Pork is tastier than seitan anyway and I make quite tasty seitan (with lard but it’s edible without too, my sausage spice mix is great and I use it galore in it, my seitan is definitely red. I am not the type who can imagine a sausage without lots of paprika).

I actually looked at the original article but it wasn’t particularly informative to me. And one can’t just comparise food costs like that, we can do any woe on very different budget as long as the woe has no super fixed items.
People are different too, of course and it matters. If carbs force me to eat way more fat (it’s true for me) and calories, of course the cheap carbs are less useful for me even if my goal is saving money and I don’t care about my health and well-being (I totally do but it affects even my costs).