Thursday, May 15, 2014

RD Rob Lazzinnaro Describes His Week of Feeding Himself on Just $1.75/day

A few weeks ago our office's RD Rob Lazzinnaro elected to "live below the line". Below is a crossposting from his blog highlighting his experiences.

From April 28th to May 2nd I participated in the Live Below the Line Challenge to raise awareness around food insecurity and poverty, as well as to raise funds for Results Canada whose mission is to generate the political will to end extreme poverty. The challenge: live on a food budget of a $1.75 a day for five days. You can still donate until the end of June by clicking here.

One of my primary curiosities in taking the challenge was to see if I could actually get in adequate nutrition on only a $1.75 a day. I specifically chose to track vitamins A and C, calcium and iron as these tend to be the most common micronutrient deficiencies in those who are extremely food insecure. I also kept a close eye on protein, as this tends to be the main overall macronutrient deficiency when food is scarce.

With the above nutrients in mind, I purposefully sought out these low(er) cost food items:
  • Frozen Spinach - Vitamin A, iron, calcium (used it in my chana masala and rice patties).
  • Molasses - Iron and calcium (added it to my oatmeal in the morning, but to be honest molasses does not go down easy without something sweet to cut the bitterness, which is why I didn’t have it every day.)

  • Hot chilli peppers - packed with vitamin C (used it in my chana masala and rice patties and as a amazing bonus Vit.C actually helps increase iron absorption!).

  • Split peas & chickpeas - protein, iron, calcium (essentially some of the cheapest sources of protein on the planet.)

  • Corn meal, rice, whole wheat flour(bread) (these are cheap sources of calories, which is essential to meet energy requirements, AND they help complete the amino acids (protein) that are low in the split peas & chickpeas)

Here is my average daily nutrient intake over the 5 days:
  • Calories ~1625 - This was well below my estimated requirements of 2000-2400
  • Protein ~ 95 grams - Did well here! Was aiming for minimum of ~25g/meal.
  • Fiber ~110 grams - my word! Recommendations for men ~35g/day
  • Vitamin A ~49%DV
  • Vitamin C ~70%DV - the chili peppers helped out quite a bit!
  • Iron 101%DV
  • Calcium ~35%DV - I eased up on the molasses and I paid...
My daily calorie distribution between the three macronutrients: (Hello Carbs!)
  • Carbohydrates ~65% Protein ~23% Fat~12%
It is extremely important to note that having strong cooking skills and nutrition knowledge definitely was an advantage that helped me immensely through the challenge. I also benefited from having many grocery stores to shop from and access to kitchen appliances that many would not have. I imagine it would have been a completely different experience had I not had these advantages, and unfortunately makes my nutrition goals somewhat unrealistic.

Nutrients aside, what surprised me the most over the five days was how much this challenge really impacted my well-being. I went in as a pompous dietitian thinking that I would make it through unscathed, but how wrong was I. My energy levels were low (I definitely didn't follow my typical exercise regime), I struggled to mentally focus at work, my mood was at times depressive, I was constantly preoccupied with hunger, and it was only five bloody days! I have lived on a limited food budget before as a student (guessing ~$5 a day), but this challenge gave me a perspective I was not prepared for. When you are truly hungry your world changes, even if you manage to eat enough food volume wise, the nutrients and joy of eating are void. As a food fanatic, I can’t fathom many other scenarios more dire than not having enough quality food to eat. The thought of someone never being able to enjoy one of life’s simple daily pleasures overwhelms me with sadness.

The Saturday morning after the challenge I found it strange to essentially eat whatever and whenever I wanted. I visited a few grocery stores (my favorite activity FYI) that morning, one being a local grocer to get vegetables for a salad at lunch. I grabbed my four vegetables and headed for the checkout where the cashier rang my items through for a total of $9.17...