Calories per Dollar.

I’ve heard many times, on here, as well as in an interview with Michael Pollan that the cheapest calories per dollar in the grocery store was to buy cookies. The discussion then goes on about how this is harmful to the health of poor people.
I didn’t believe it then, and I don’t believe it now. Sure, cookies may be the cheapest calories among ready to eat foods, and things like fresh vegetables are healthier but expensive (especially out of season). However, was at the grocery store tonight, picked up a 25 lb bag of flour for $7.99. A quick look at the cookie isle showed the cheapest at 2lb for $2.79.

The label on the cookies said 27 servings at 130 kCal each for 4320 kCal or $0.00065/kCal. The label on the flour said 378 servings at 110 kCal each for $0.00019/kCal. Cookie calories cost three times as much as a bag of flour. Yes, it is more work to eat the flour, but not all that much, you do need a way to cook or bake. Probably every so slightly healthier too. I didn’t think to price the bucket of lard, thats probably even cheaper (tho not so healthy).

If I was poor again, I would go back to buying the big sacks of beans, oatmeal and flour for my cheap calories. A bit more work, and you need a place to cook and store, but healthier and cheaper than the cookies, or other prepared food.

Does anyone on here feel like defending the cookies claim?

You’d have to cite what he actually said so we can be sure you’re not misinterpreting his claim. I found this:

Good answers from James Krieger here.

Well, you are comparing apples to oranges aren’t you? :slight_smile:

This reminds me of another poster who, once upon a time, read an interview with a learned scholar. The scholar said, “If you dig anywhere, you’ll find water. That’s why dousing seems to work.” Now the poster heard this and decided that it would be an impressive triumph over the scholar by doing a wide geological survey to find a spot where it was known that there actually wasn’t water. He could dig there, show that it was dry, and the scholar would be forced to his knees in awe.

Unfortunately, most people – even learned scholars – assume that most people have a somewhat reasonable level of pedanticism, and so they gloss over the most minute and inconsequential footnotes – particular if they are speaking extemporaneously.

Now I have no idea who Michael Pollan is. He may very well be a crank, not a learned scholar. However, the idea that you have presented is not a clever come-uppance. You are merely being pedantic.

Flour is a single ingredient while cookies are multiple ingredients.

You need to add in the cost of things to make the flour edible before making a price comparison.

I found OP rather silly. For one thing, produce isn’t generally eaten for its calories; indeed many choose foods like lettuce or cauliflower precisely because they’re low in calories. And the cost and inconvenience of converting flour to cookies is non-zero, especially for many poor families lacking the time, space or tools. Thus I agree with Sage Rat:

Clicking on the link to Pollan’s article, we see his real point isn’t yet mentioned in this thread:

I’d guess poor political and cultural choices have indeed contributed to poor American diet. Whether the choice Pollan identifies is a significant one is a topic well suited (unlike OP) to the GD forum.

I seem to recall a similar line of argument about fast food. Supposedly, one gets a lot of bang for the buck at Burger King Or McD’s. This being the case, the poor are supposedly more likely to get a greater portion of their diet through fast food, with detrimental health consequences.

From my own experience with the poor, I’d be willing to give that hypothesis some credence. Besides the economic argument, there’s also the fact that going to McD’s is a lot easier than buying and cooking healthy food.

If your goal was just to maximize calories for dollars, though, I think you’d find that homemade cookies with lots of white sugar and vegetable oil would still be the winner.

Well, the issue seems to be that calories are not perfectly correlated with other nutrients when measured by how much a dollar buys. So a family uses scarce money to buy calories first, putting off other nutrition for (hopefully) later.

Not sure this is a surprise though.

In 2008, someone took pictures of a dollar’s worth of food near where he lived.

what a load of bull. Grains and starch-rich roots were always the cheapest calories out there. For centuries, and long before any sort of government subsidies, people lived first and foremost on wheat/rice/corn and on potatoes/cassava, not on broccoli or what other healthy produce he cares about so much. In 19th century America molasses (i.e. a form of sugar) were dirt cheap food (including for slaves) and a feedstock for making cheap rum. Today it’s no different, the foods that yield the most calories per acre are the cheapest and popular ones.

In related news, diet of cabbage and carrots is very healthful and promotes virility, as has been conclusively shown by multiple longitudinal studies of rabbits.

If you just want the most calories for your dollar, I imagine plain sugar is your best bet. The trouble is, I doubt there is anyone in the US or the West who is suffering from a shortage of calories due to a lack of funds to purchase them. How to get the maximum nutrition for your dollar is a completely different question.

I don’t have the patience to collect all the figures, but one person can buy a couple of meals at McDonald’s, and another person can spend the same amount at the grocery store on eggs and orange juice and bread. I will guarantee the second person got the better deal.


No, straight fat is best for calorie by weight.

Then sugars.

Then anything derived from grains. Cookies are much the same as crackers or crispbreads.

Pasta should provide more calories per dollar than cookies, pretty much any food as close to its raw form as possible (sugar, grain, oats, rice, flour, fats) should be cheaper than cookies, since cookies require buying multiple ingredients, mixing them and cooking them.

Unless the original article was referring to foods you can eat w/o cooking them. If so, then maybe cookies do have the most. But generic soda has more calories per dollar (about 1000 per 2 liter, and a 2 liter may be 50-70 cents) and doesn’t need any cooking.

When I was in college I tried to average 1000 calories per dollar at the grocery store. But this was about 7 years ago, and food was cheaper at the time (you could get 3 pounds of rice for $1 back then). But even with that standard I still had a wide variety of foods to pick from.

The conversation is about calories per dollars

I just did some quick calculation based on some packages I happened to buy at the dollar store.

$1 worth of spaghetti = 1,600 calories.

$1 worth of rice = 1,600 calories.

$1 worth of salad croutons = 1,600 calories.

I think we have a pattern here for carbohydrates.

The thing you have to understand about Michael Pollan, is that while he does make some good points, the guy’s a bit of a wanker. I’ve heard some interviews with him, and he’s not shy about using hyperbole.

Around here in Finland the cheapest calories would probably be from macaroni. You can get a 400g bag (1400Kcal) for around 20 cents, which would come to around 7000KCal for 1 euro. Food is generally very expensive here compared to other countries, though.

Though not very appealing, flour is edible right out of the sack. You can turn flour into bread by adding water, yeast and salt. (Strictly speaking the last two are optional, but they cost little and tend to improve convenience and flavor.) You must bake the bread, which requires an oven and consumes something like $0.15 worth of electricity.

Assuming you have access to an oven, the flour is still going to yield substantially more kCal/$ than will typical cookies.