Saturday, 12 January 2013

Life on benefits: starving?

I've just been reading this article in today's Independent. Charlie Cooper tries getting by on £175 a week. He says poverty made him eat lots of pizza. It's a pity that poverty didn't make him go to supermarkets with a notepad and pencil and make him write down the price per kilo of different foods. If he had done so then he might have come to realize that healthy rice and pasta are much cheaper than unhealthy pizza.

Charlie said that some of the time he went hungry. Many people do go without food. So what is the cheapest possible diet that is reasonably healthy? My calculations are that if you eat two thirds of a kilo of long grain rice and one third of a kilo of frozen mixed vegetables, then you will get all the calories that you need in a day, all of the protein, and also your 5 a day.

That would not be an ideal diet, and it certainly would be boring, but you could live off that indefinitely, and it costs 52p per day. I'm not suggesting that poor people should eat just this, but it's better than not eating anything.

One kilo of long grain rice costs 40p (from Lidl and others) and has 3,550 calories (kcals) and 70g of protein. Two thirds of a kilo costs 27p and has 2,367 calories and 47g of protein.

One kilo of frozen mixed vegetables costs 75p (from Sainsbury's) and has 310 calories and 23g of protein. One third of a kilo costs 25p and provides 103 calories and 8g of protein.

Two thirds of a kilo of rice and one third of a kilo of veg together costs 52p, provide 2,470 calories and 55g of protein. Men need 2,500 calories per day and women need 2,000. People need 55g of protein a day. This may astonish some people who think that to get enough protein you need to eat meat, fish, cheese or eggs. Rice and veg are low in protein but people really do not need as much as they think. People in Britain, including poor people, usually eat 85g a day.

Sainsbury's basics frozen mixed vegetables have peas, broccoli, cauliflower and carrot. Peas contain protein, and this protein balances the protein from the rice in terms of amino acids. So, you can be pretty sure that you're getting both the quantity and quality of protein that you need. As far as your '5 a day', you will be getting most of your vitamins and minerals. You don't need to have both vegetables and fruit, vegetables by themselves are good enough.

I think most people can afford 52p a day. What seems to be happening is that people spend their money on expensive rubbishy foods then run out of money and go hungry. If they ate more cheap healthier food then they wouldn't run out of money.

The cheapest pizza I could find is Tesco Everyday Value cheese and tomato pizza. It costs 60p, has 647 calories and 26g of protein. So it is more expensive and has fewer calories.

If someone had slightly more money, then I would suggest porridge for breakfast, a pasta dish for lunch, and a rice dish in the evening. Porridge and pasta aren't much more expensive than rice. Pasta and rice dishes are healthy, but the more cheese, butter and cream that you add the more expensive it is and the less healthy.

If you have more money then you can start adding fruit, some olive or rapeseed oil, and some animal protein. This may sound like a hypothetical exercise, to try and find the least amount of money that it costs to have a reasonably healthy diet. But it is not hypothetical at all. People are going hungry. And they can do something about it with a small amount of effort and information.

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