Despite my insistence that the MMM family eats outlandishly well these days, I take a fair amount of flak from certain readers on the subject of food:
“Food is not something I take shortcuts on, and thus our food bill will always be higher than that of the MMM Family. They are cheaping out on something we should all spend MORE on!”
Other people pick up a different vibe, saying
“Mr. Money Mustache, you seem to eat a good [Nutritious/Primal/Paleo] diet. How can you do this, and feed a family well on less than $1000 per day?”
I welcome the idea that food is important: since about age fifteen I have tended to experiment with my own eating in an attempt to optimize nutrition. Far from seeking out the cheapest calories, I often put nutrition ahead of even tastiness, over the years shoveling things like raw brewers yeast, oddly colored concoctions from the blender, and raw vegetables galore into the belly. Some experiments have worked and some have failed, but these days, after sufficient reading and learning, I’m finally starting to get some things right.
The biggest helpful shift for me has been the realization that “fat” (also known as “oil”) is not a taboo toxin that immediately sticks itself atop your nearest existing reserve of stored bodyfat if you accidentally ingest it. Quite the opposite, it is a pure and clean-burning fuel that your body will happily run on for great distances, much like an old Mercedes Diesel will burn unprocessed vegetable oil while creating only pleasant french-fry-scented tailpipe emissions. Fat is not fattening. Eating when you don’t yet need refueling is what makes you fat, and high-carbohydrate eating is what causes the craving to eat too often.
This change in dietary philosophy can be unintuitive to those who still eat according to the USDA’s grain-intensive food pyramid. At a recent breakfast at a friend’s house, someone noticed me cooking a pan of eggs for myself. I started by heating an obscene lake of olive oil, then added the eggs and grated on a thick layer of full-fat cheddar cheese and another of spicy curry powder. After this delicious smelling treat was sizzled properly, I served it onto a plate, added some almonds on the side, and sliced on an entire avocado over top to add even more Good Fat.
“Why are you adding so much fat to your breakfast?”, asked the friend.
“Because it adds more calories”, I replied.
“But don’t you want LESS calories rather than MORE?”
“No. If I eat fewer calories at breakfast, I’ll just need to eat again sooner in the day. A meal like this will keep me going until 2PM. But if I eat bread, juice, or other simple carbohydrates at breakfast, I’ll be hungry in just an hour or two.”
“This blows my mind.”
“Good! Maybe you should try it!”
2TBSP olive oil (240 calories, 27g fat, $0.36)
3 Eggs (21g protein, 240 calories, 18g fat, $0.60)
1/2 cup shredded cheese (14g protein, 18g fat, 225 calories, $0.31)
1/2 TSP Curry powder, pepper and garlic to taste (0 cals, $0.10)
Diced Mushrooms and Onions (optional) (10 cals, $0.25)
1 Avocado (1g protein, 27g fat, 300 calories, $1.00)
Fry the vegetables in the oil, then add the eggs and cheese. Sizzle and flip. Put on your plate, and slice on that Avo.
Total Power: 1015 calories, 90 grams fat, 36 grams protein, $2.62
Carbohydrates: almost none
Calories per Dollar: 387
Bicycle miles fueled at 18MPH: 17.2
Hours of outdoor work fueled at moderate intensity: 4-6
This is a big meal designed to start an active day. If you’re just planning on writing some software after breakfast, you might scale down the ingredients accordingly. But the principle remains the same: a low-carb meal like this works better than one with juice, toast, bagels and other sugar-spiking ingredients. And it’s still relatively inexpensive, because there is no meat.
But won’t it give me a heart attack?
Again, quite the opposite. The most recent research on fat shows that it is not an artery-clogger or an abdomen-thickener. The proponents of this type of diet encourage you to get your own blood tested before and after the switch in order to see for yourself. I only have my most recent blood test on file, but the numbers are excellent after almost a year of eating this way. A friend of mine with past blood cholesterol problems switched to a low-carb, high-fat diet and saw immediate and complete improvement in his own blood test results – completely the opposite of his doctor’s prediction but exactly in line with the high-fat/low-carb research. Mark’s Daily Apple will entertain you for days if you are looking for more stories and research citations on the topic.
But perhaps even more relevant to you and me, being assembled today at this Personal Finance blog, is that this nutrient is extremely cheap. It is easy and land-efficient to grow, easy to store and ship, and easy to use in the preparation of delicious food. You can find most of the best oils (and nuts) in organic top-of-the-line form at Costco in huge quantities at great prices.
So nowadays I seek out fat rather than avoiding it. Homogenized rather than skim milk. Heavy unsweetened whipping cream instead of ‘lite’. Butter and bacon, and using bacon grease for additional cooking. Coconut and olive oils, used in cooking with no restraint. Nuts of all sorts.
But the key to all of this fat, is that it must replace, rather than supplement, your refined carb intake. I think of slices of bread as “weight gain squares”. Beer is “liquid belly expander”. A plate of pasta is “Ultra Mass-Up 2000”. Pizza is no longer my favorite dinner treat. I’ll still indulge in these things occasionally, but only as a tool to gain weight after a heavy workout.. not as part of a lazy vacation. And drinking sweet things is totally out – no fruit juice or soda, pretty much ever. Go for water, milk, unsweetened coconut or almond milk instead.
And while fat does the heavy lifting for me, I still eat raw and cooked vegetables freely with every meal, and plenty of fruit too. This is not the Atkins Diet or anything overly restrictive. Just a general “avoid flour and sugar” philosophy is all it takes.
Another breakfast I’ve been eating recently when I need quick calories in a lighter package:
2-4 TBSP Coconut Oil, melted into a bowl
2 TBSP almonds, ground in a blender
2 TBSP ground flax seeds
1 Banana, sliced
Optional: Mixed Berries (can be thawed from a big frozen bag)
1 huge pile of unsweetened whipped cream
Cinnamon on top
It’s delicious, and rich. All the power of 3-4 bowls of cereal, but much longer lasting energy!
1 Cucumber, diced (keep the skin on, it is good for you)
2 tomatoes, diced
1 red/orange/yellow pepper, diced
green onions, snipped up
1 cup cilantro (just cut a bunch in with scissors, straight from the bunch)
1 carrot, grated over top
… mix it all into a big bowl and pour this over top:
MMM’s 3-2-1 Spicy Balsamic Soy Vinagrette dressing
3 oz olive oil
2 oz balsamic vinegar
1 oz soy sauce
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp honey or brown sugar
This makes about the right amount to fill a reused salad dressing bottle (I recommend reusing a bottle from a fancy brand like Annie’s or Newman’s Own, since you don’t want to see the KRAFT logo staring you in the face when enjoying MMM dressing).
Shake this up and serve it over salads and many other things. Delicious and rich in calories. And of course, nearly free to make.
While the ideas above are only a few very simple examples*, I feel like a food revolution is happening here at the MMM household. Maybe it’s just our gradual growing-up, but we are now actually using cookbooks, improvising, and making good meals in a way I wish we would have started ten years ago. It’s a fine and luxurious ritual to sit down at a well-stocked table after a hard day of work, and I wish the same luxury upon you as well.
*Only slightly more complicated but amazing for dinner is “Fish Molee”. Now that I’ve mentioned it, I cannot deny you the joy of eating this amazing curry dish:
Take 1/2 lb of any white fish (tilapia, cod, swai, etc)
Rub on 1/2 tsp turmeric and 1 tsp salt
Put 2 TBSP of coconut or olive oil into a big pan and start sizzling it
Dice in 1 onion
Grate in 3 garlic cloves
Grate in 1 tsp of ginger
Spoon in 1 TBSP of curry powder
Slice in 1 red pepper or other big chile pepper of your choice
Cook for 2 more minutes
Add about 14 ounces of coconut milk and cook for 5 more minutes, at a simmer
Add the seasoned fish and finish it up for 6-8 minutes
It’s relatively easy and it is good enough for a young man to impress a young lady on his first time having her over for dinner. A truly handy recipe.