The Healthiest Diet Costs $10 a Day

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I’ve been getting some pushback of the easy-for-you-to-say variety. How can I talk about my fancy diet and losing 28 pounds when the government subsidizes sugar and fat? How can people eat well when the cheapest calories are at McDonald’s? Sure, it’s cheaper to cook healthy meals at home. But who has time to cook?

Well, I’m here to report the successful outcome of a no-cook, super-cheap, maximum-nutrition, weight-loss challenge. I asked Time Barrier researcher Lee Michaelides to devise a diet with these criteria:

  • Cost of $10 a day, including feast days.
  • Food readily available at a chain supermarket, not a food co-op or Whole Foods.
  • Maximum five minutes’ prep time for each meal.
  • No stove or oven. Just fridge, blender, and optional microwave.
  • Must supply all nutritional needs for an adult.
  • Must create a calorie deficit allowing a pound of fat loss per week.
  • Budget must leave room for a restaurant feast every two weeks. Not a fast-food meal but a real sit-down meal with waiters. Why? Because man does not live on blenders alone.

Lee came up with a plan costing $8.67 a day, allowing an $18 restaurant meal at the equivalent of an Appleby’s or Ruby Tuesday’s every two weeks. Total calories (not counting the restaurant meals): 1,289 per day. It meets all the nutritional requirements for an average adult. He did it starting with my own successful diet, tweaking my meals to get the price down while keeping the nutrition high.

Obviously, this is just a template. Most people would want to make changes. For one thing, if you could afford it, I’d recommend adding Garden of Life Superseed to the breakfast smoothie, at a cost of 50 cents a day. Even better would be to add Beachbody’s Shakeology ($4/day) to that smoothie while eliminating the whey protein Lee includes. Plus you'd want to vary the ingredients in the salad and smoothies just for variety.

A caveat: Diet alone won’t get you the body or health you want. If you're a runner, you already know you need the exercise to speed the weight loss, keep the fat off, and have fun with your body. If you’ve been reading these posts, you know I’m a huge fan of Beachbody’s workouts. The new T25 would let you burn 300 or 400 calories a day in just 25 minutes. They’re much easier than P90X and Insanity—the programs I’ve been doing. Indoor workouts are much cheaper than gym memberships. And if you can sell Beachbody stuff to others, you could actually come out ahead financially. (I don’t make money selling it myself, but would be happy to tell you how you can.)

So here’s Lee’s plan. For the biweekly feasts, Appleby’s and Ruby Tuesday offer the healthiest pigout menu options. I especially like Ruby Tuesday’s salad bar and steak for under $15. The rest of the time, you follow the plan, lose weight, and save money. This is cheaper than McDonald’s, and can even take less time.

Breakfast: Smoothie. Combine in a blender six frozen or fresh strawberries, one banana, a scoop of vanilla whey protein. Add ice to the mixture for a thicker, colder shake.

Morning Snack: Handful of almonds (12), 6-ounce glass of orange juice.

Lunch: Salad of mesclun greens, one diced carrot, 4 heads of raw broccoli, 2 hard-boiled eggs, two tablespoons of canned garbanzo beans, and a lemon wedge. Squeeze the lemon over the salad. (Note: I like to add avocado for the fat, which helps your body absorb nutrition. And I’ll add pickle juice, which makes a great low-cal salad dressing.) For dessert, one square of dark chocolate.

Afternoon Snack: Fruit (for example, a peach, or eight cherries, or six figs).

Dinner: Smoothie. 1 cup of blueberries, 2 tablespoons of raw oat bran or instant oatmeal, one tablespoon of plain yogurt. Also, small bowl of popcorn. Buy unprocessed, unflavored popcorn and microwave it in a bowl covered with a paper towel. You can also buy a cheap microwave popcorn bowl that cooks more efficiently. Spray with a bit of canola or olive oil and sprinkle with salt. (Popcorn salt works best.)

This is very close to my own diet, though I’m using larger proportions to get up to   2,300 calories a day (I burn 600 to 2,000 daily calories through exercise). Two smoothies a day will seem crazy at first, but it’s an efficient, filling way to get your food, and you can experiment to make your smoothies delicious and give them variety. Lunch is your big meal, and you can pack your salad for work—especially if the workplace has a fridge.

If you have a family who insist on hot meals, that’s a different problem. We worked up this diet for an individual who wants to spend minimal money and time while getting maximal nutrition. The more you vary it, the more it’ll cost and the higher the calories.

Let me know what you think!