Calories per dollar vs calories per glycemic load: some notes on my diet

Re­cently I de­cided to try to bet­ter mea­sure and im­prove my diet a lit­tle bit. Th­ese were some of the pa­ram­e­ters that I was and am in­ter­ested in:

1) Ease of prepa­ra­tion. My time is scarce, and more im­por­tantly my willpower is scarce, and I of­ten will just not make foods if they take too long to pre­pare, and then some­times the in­gre­di­ents will just end up go­ing bad. I know, #priv­ilege, but I’m try­ing to be hon­est with my­self and re­al­is­tic here.

2) High calorie to glycemic load ra­tio [1]. I need to con­sume calories—ob­vi­ously—but while I’m do­ing so I want to min­i­mize the num­ber of times that I ex­pe­rience high glu­cose lev­els in my blood­stream, which ap­pears to be toxic both in terms of in­creas­ing risk of di­a­betes [2] as well as de­creas­ing cog­ni­tion [3].

3) Min­i­miz­ing an­i­mal suffer­ing. I’d pre­fer foods whose prepa­ra­tion didn’t en­tail the suffer­ing of an­i­mals, or at least foods that came from places that tried to de­crease it, like cage-free chick­ens.

4) Taste. I try to min­i­mize the im­por­tance of this and think that I do a de­cent job, but em­piri­cally it has pre­vented me from more com­monly eat­ing cer­tain foods, such as sar­dines, at least for now. Very open to sug­ges­tions here.

5) High calorie to dol­lar ra­tio. Be­cause money is the unit of car­ing.

6) Available on FreshDirect. Be­cause I’m lazy.

Food is heav­ily mor­al­ized and poli­ti­cized, and I’m ex­pect­ing to be judged for this post by read­ers who are veg*an, by read­ers who are into or­ganic food, by read­ers who are anti those groups be­cause I am per­ceived as pan­der­ing to them, as well as a va­ri­ety of other groups that I can’t fully an­ti­ci­pate and might not even know about [4]. That said, I’m post­ing it be­cause a) I think it might be use­ful to oth­ers and b) I’m in­ter­ested in feed­back.

In terms of in­fluences, I’ve been most in­fluenced by the book The Perfect Health Diet, which has truly a ter­rible name, but which in­cludes lots of dis­cus­sion of trade-offs of differ­ent dietary ap­proaches and seemed to (the rel­a­tively un­in­formed) me to be pretty rea­son­able. It ad­vo­cates a medium-carb, high-fat, medium-pro­tein diet.

Below is my main re­sult. You can find more de­tails at this google spread­sheet and plot­ting code at github [5; 6].

A few notes:

1) The top cluster is ob­vi­ously ar­tifi­cial—their glycemic load of each of those is ba­si­cally neg­ligible, so in­stead of in­finity, I set those ra­tios to 1. Still, it’s in­ter­est­ing to note that none of those are block­busters in terms of calories per dol­lar in the same way that lentils, rice, or pota­toes are. If you know any such foods, please let me know.

2) I was sur­prised that sweet pota­toes did not fare bet­ter in terms of calorie to glycemic load ra­tio. I sup­pose they may be more nu­tri­tious in other ways than the other starches in­cluded, though.

3) Nuts and cheese came away from this anal­y­sis as hav­ing a lot of de­sir­able prop­er­ties, so I’m try­ing to eat more of both of those food groups.

I’d ap­pre­ci­ate any feed­back you might have.


[1]: Glycemic load per calorie makes more sense to me since it nor­mal­izes to the num­ber of carbs you ac­tu­ally get from a given amount of food, rather than glycemic in­dex which uses the same num­ber of grams of car­bo­hy­drate from each food tested.

[2]: http://​​care.di­a­betesjour­​​con­tent/​​34/​​Sup­ple­ment_2/​​S120.ab­stract. Note that there is some con­flict­ing ev­i­dence here so cau­tion is war­ranted.

[3]: http://​​www.neu­rol­​​con­tent/​​81/​​20/​​1746.ab­stract.

[4]: If you in­sist on read­ing this foot­note, I’ll note here that I have tried to go both veg­e­tar­ian and ve­gan be­fore, but each time I found it both difficult lo­gis­ti­cally and liter­ally tiring—I think there was some sort of nu­tri­ent that I was miss­ing that made me worse-off. And this was af­ter some re­search to make sure that I’d get other nu­tri­ents that I needed, in­clud­ing B12. I con­cluded that it wasn’t that easy, and in­stead made a small dona­tion to the an­i­mal welfare char­ity Cer­tified Hu­mane to offset some of my guilt. If I had more money, I’d donate some more.

[5]: Note that I man­u­ally shifted some of the data points to make the text la­bels more leg­ible, which you can see in the code.

[6]: As an ad­den­dum, here are some foods you won’t find on there, and why:

a) Salad. There is ac­tu­ally a way to get pretty cheap sal­ads around where I live, but his­tor­i­cally speak­ing, sal­ads leave me sub­stan­tially more hun­gry two hours later and ba­si­cally have a ten­dency to ruin my day, so I avoid them.

b) In­sects. I re­cently be­came in­tensely in­ter­ested in eat­ing in­sects for 30-60 min­utes, but on cur­sory in­ter­net re­search, couldn’t find any­thing that came close to jus­tify­ing a calorie to dol­lar ra­tio worth con­sid­er­ing. Please en­lighten me in the com­ments if you can.

c) Bread. Sub­jec­tively, I seem to be es­pe­cially sen­si­tive to its glycemic effects—af­ter eat­ing it, I of­ten feel my heart­beat in­crease and can feel my blood ves­sels pump­ing “harder,” which I ex­pect are signs of post-pran­dial hy­per­glycemia and is un­pleas­ant, though of course I could be wrong. I still eat bread, but I’m try­ing not to eat as much.

d) Mealsquares. Un­for­tu­nately, as far as I can tell these con­tain eggs and I seem to have de­vel­oped a food-only (!) egg allergy, plus eggs are like the poster child of the “these are sur­pris­ingly un­eth­i­cal, at least when con­ven­tion­ally farmed” camp, so I’m not that mo­ti­vated to solve my ap­par­ent allergy. This allergy/​opinion is pretty rare and I don’t think they should change just for me, but it means that I didn’t do much re­search into them.