Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A "Simple" Matter of Eating

Start a discussion on Jewish eating habits and inevitably the vegetarian versus meat question arises. Discuss budgeting and the same question arises. Here's the thing; there are valid points made on both sides of the issue. What neither side likes to concede, however, is that the other side has any good points. I'm in favor of changes to our diet, but I'm not in favor of going to extremes.

Take a look at the USDA Food Pyramid. (Go to and type in "The Food Pyramid".) It sets out what should be in our diets for nutritional health and tells us how much of each item in the pyramid we should be getting. It does so for children and adults, for men and women, for younger and older people, for healthy people and for those with some type of illness. In short, it takes into consideration differences among people. How many people can say that they 1)know what's in the Pyramid exactly and 2) follow the pyramid exactly every day? Careful, I might administer a polygraph test.

One of the problems in our diets is not that we don't know which foods we should be eating (although that is a problem as well), but that we are eating too much of some foods and not enough of the others. How many readers can say that they know for sure what a portion size is supposed to be for everything they eat? How many weigh and measure all portions of all foods? How many check the nutritional information on a package for recommended portion size before they take a serving? How many check the pyramid to know who in their family needs how much of what? How many check the RDAs for all the different age groups in their family? (RDAs are the Recommended Dietary Allowances posted by the government for the range of nutrients the body needs. See the site above for information on this as well, keeping in mind that they vary by age, sex and condition.) In the veggie vs. meat argument those on the veggie side frequently point out that we are getting obese as a nation because we eat meat. Not a logical argument. It is not the meat itself but the portion size and method of preparation that causes some problems. On the veggie side as a plus is the fact that we aren't consuming enough vegetables, fruits and whole grains, and this also is a factor in the obesity/health problem.

There is room for improvement in our diets and in our food preparation methods. But let's add in something that the food pyramid doesn't include: money. Today, the price of produce in the markets has gone sky high. Precisely those things that are relied on in a pure vegetarian diet are the ones that cost three arms and four legs. And meat and dairy aren't bargains either. Yet, some people recommend cutting money by starting with meat and dairy products. Will that really work?

If you look at the Pyramid and do the reading, a portion of animal protein is smaller than a portion of fruits or vegetables. An apple is one portion, where 3-4 ounces of meat may be a portion. If 8 ounces of milk is considered a portion for dairy, then there are 8 portions in a half gallon of milk. Let's make milk expensive at $3.20 a half gallon. That's 40 cents per portion.

Now look at a chicken. For a three pound chicken you have to remove at least one pound for bone, fat and skin weight. So that three pound chicken is only about a 2 pound chicken. But that's a raw chicken. Cooked chickens have less weight than raw ones do. Let's be conservative and say that a cooked chicken has 1 pound 10 ounces of usable meat. That's 26 ounces to divide into serving portions. The recommendation for portion size for men and for teenagers is higher then for children and for women. That chicken should be able to feed 4-5 people in the adult range or 6-7 in the young child range. If I paid $9.00 for that chicken then the cost per serving is going to be from $1.28 to $1.80 per serving.

I can cut my expenditures on that chicken in a few ways. I can look for sales and bargains on the chicken and cut the price up to half, making my cost per serving 64 cents to 90 cents per portion. I can cut the amount of chicken that I am using into half, also resulting in the same savings. After all, meat is not the only source of protein that we have available. (Back to this point shortly) I can skip using meat altogether and substitute a different protein for it. And that is, today, where the problem arises. Where once conventional wisdom said that other proteins are cheaper than meat, that is not the case today.

The U.S. RDA is .8 grams per Kilogram of appropriate body weight or 200-600 (50g-150g) of calories from protein sources. Below is a list of the amount of protein in some common foods.

1 cup oatmeal6
1 cup cereal (corn flakes)2
1 cup cereal (Cheerios)3
1 cup cereal (Kashi Go Lean)14
1 bagel9
2 slices whole wheat bread5
1 cup milk 8
1 cup soy milk6-10
6 oz yogurt7
6 oz soy yogurt6
1 cup lowfat cottage cheese 28
1 oz soft cheese (mozzarella, brie, camembert) 6 per oz
1 oz medium cheese (cheddar, swiss)7-8 per oz
1 oz hard cheese (parmesan)10 per oz
fish7 per oz
chicken7 per oz
beef7 per oz
1 egg7
1/4 cup peanuts9
2 tbsp peanut butter8
1/4 cup almonds 8
1/4 cup walnuts 7.5
1/4 cup cashews 5
1/4 cup sunflower seeds 6
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds 19
1/4 flax seeds 8
1/2 cup brown rice2.5
1/2 cup quinoa10
1/2 cup couscous6
1 cup cooked whole wheat pasta7
baked potato4
baked sweet potato2-4
1 cup cooked squash (butternut)2
1 cup steamed broccoli4.65
1 cup asparagus5.31
1 cup brussel sprouts5.64
1 cup steamed spinach6
1 cup green peas8.24
1 cup mixed vegetables5
1/2 cup lentils9
1/2 cup beans (kidney, black, pinto, adzuki)7-10
1/2 cup split peas 8
1/2 cup tofu 20

If you peruse the list you can see that you could get your day's requirement for protein in many ways, not just with meat. But you need to eat more of most of those products. To get the same amount of protein present in 4 ounces of cooked chicken you would need to eat 8 tablespoons of peanut butter or 4 1/2 cups of whole wheat pasta. Priced these products lately? Looked at the calorie count?

There are many nutrients present besides protein in the foods we eat. We need to eat a balanced diet in order to get our RDA of these nutrients. Just those products that might be the "best" for us have also gotten exceedingly expensive.

Yes, a "pure" orange, eaten out of the peel, offers a lot. But it doesn't necessarily offer a full portion of Vitamin C. And at 50 cents an orange it is no bargain on the budget. A strange world but pure orange juice is cheaper per portion than fresh oranges and offers more vitamin C as well.

If healthy eating alone were the objective, then we have a way to go before we get to that point. Check the Pyramid to see just how far. But if the objective is to eat healthily while still maintaining a food budget, then we have now gone into "rocket science." "Snack food" costs less then "real" food in the markets, but offers no or very few nutritional benefits. Vegetables, fruits and whole grain products are among the most expensive in the market.

Money on one hand, nutrition on the other--a battle that requires constant vigilance on our part.


Anonymous said...

The money is only an excuse for those who haven't got the knowledge that a vegan diet is more healthy then one with meat or dairy in it. And for kosher people to continue to eat meat makes you wonder about how compassionate they really are. Why are we still causing pain to animals? For what? Because we think we need meat to eat? Our first ancestors didn't eat meat and they lived longer and in more health then we do.

The pyrimid and the rdas are only helpful if you change over to not eating meat or dairy. Include meat and you screw up all the percentages. And health shouldn't be about money but about common sense.

Lion of Zion said...


"Why are we still causing pain to animals? For what? Because we think we need meat to eat?"

how about because there are few things that taste better than a medium-well bbq burger on a sesame bun with ketchup, onions and pickles.

"Our first ancestors didn't eat meat and they lived longer and in more health then we do."

the chumash is not a medical textbook. (and you should probably double check how long בני נח lived)

Anonymous said...

"Our first ancestors didn't eat meat and they lived longer and in more health then we do."

Tibby, you need to look at some basic biology. Human beings are omnivores, capable of eating everything, vegetable matter and flesh. Our jaws are hinged and our teeth are ideally suited for meat eating. Our digestive systems and our organs can process meat. We weren't created vegetarians without the taivoh for or the ability to eat meat. Unless, of course, you are making the statement that God made a mistake when he created us. Wouldn't try that argument in a frum community.

If you want to argue vegetarianism versus meat eaters then leave Chumash out of it--far too much evidence that we have a history of meat eating.

Besides, it's moderation in all things that we should be striving for, and extremes of eating on either end are not good.

Anonymous said...

True that the foods that are supposed to be the healthiest6 for you are now very expensive. The whole grain pastas are 3 to 5 times as expensive as the regular ones and aren't on sale very often. Fresh fruits and vegetables are incredibly expensive for its being the summer time already. And if you want to substitute healthier fish for meat it's 2 to 5 times as expensive as the meat would be.

And yes Tibby it is also about the money. Feeding my family fresh fruits and vegetables and good things for them costs so much more now and that has to be cut somewhere. Just cutting meat doesn't save all that much because adding in the extra needed to make up for the meat and dairy costs that much more.

Orthonomics said...

Legumes are still very inexpensive in comparision and if one learns to use grains and legumes properly they will find they can cut their budget while getting the nutrients needed at the "right" price, which is still a lot higher today than a year ago.