Could the real superfood be… a cheese sandwich?

Dr Jacqueline Rowarth is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Lincoln, with a PhD in Soil Science (nutrient cycling) and Director of Ravensdown, DairyNZ and Deer Industry NZ.

NOTICE: Those of us of a certain age remember the idea of ​​school and the importance of fresh fruits and vegetables in the diet.

Since then we have had 5+ per day and the food pyramid. But the consumption remains lower than the recommendations and results from a survey by Research First published in October gives the price as “often the justification”.

The confirmation from NZ Stats that we hit a 32-year high, 11.3% food price inflation for the year ended December, supports the rationale.

Compared to December 2021, fruit and vegetable prices have increased by 23%. Other food categories also increased, but not as much as fruits and vegetables.

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The food is clearly more expensive than it was, but the question of the actual expenses depends on what one is trying to calculate. This may be producer or supermarket profit margin, affordability relative to income, or ‘value for money’.

If the latter, what is the desired value? To taste? Energy? Vitamins? Protein? Caffeine?

A cup of black coffee proves that the value of any food depends on what you expect from it.  A hit of caffeine?  Absolutely.  A boost of energy?  Not really.

A cup of black coffee proves that the value of any food depends on what you expect from it. A hit of caffeine? Absolutely. A boost of energy? Not really.

Coffee contains three to four times more caffeine than cola, but black (sugar-free) coffee, like diet cola, has no energy like regular cola.

Whether at home or in a cafe, a cup of coffee and a glass of Coke have a similar cost. If it’s caffeine that’s wanted, coffee offers better value.

For most animals, the first need after sleep is energy, followed by protein. Protein theories include the need to acquire enough essential amino acids to meet physiological needs.

These are obtained for the least amount of calories (energy) from animal protein. Indeed, the essential amino acids are in an absorbable form in proportions that meet the needs of animals (including humans).

The question of how to achieve essential nutrient intake has been answered by Canterbury-based nutrition scientist Dr Graeme Coles.

He calculated that an adult’s essential amino acid, energy and fiber needs could be met with six cheddar cheese sandwiches.

More good news is that a cheese sandwich (or six) meets nutritional needs with less environmental impact than other choices.

The key is that cheese is made from milk which is a complete food for infants. All the proteins in milk are accessible, unlike those in meat or soy.

In addition, essential amino acids are at a favorable protein to calorie ratio. In 100 grams of milk, the 3.7 g of protein are usable and associated with 42 calories. For information, 100 g of steak contains 18.4 g of usable protein associated with 187 calories.

In an unsubsidized food distribution system like that of New Zealand, meeting daily essential amino acid requirements is significantly cheaper using dairy products, especially cheese and butter, than any other approach.

Coles calculated that 2000 calories can be provided by sandwiches using 180g of cheddar cheese, 60g of butter and 12 slices of wholemeal bread, and this also provides all of the essential amino acid requirements and enough dietary fiber to meet the recommendations. health. All for around $8…

Additionally, research has shown that such a diet also minimizes greenhouse gas emissions.

“A well-managed dairy cow meets the annual essential amino acid requirements of about 17 adults and the energy requirements of about 15,” says Coles.

This calculation does not exclude the importance of fruits and vegetables, essential for vitamins as well as contributing to fiber, hence the mantra 5+ per day.

A shopping cart like this would make a dietitian happy, but it can be a pain at the checkout.


A shopping cart like this would make a dietitian happy, but it can be a pain at the checkout.

The New Zealand Health Survey published in November suggests that half of adults and 70% of children meet the fruit consumption recommendation (about two pieces per day per person), but only 10% of adults and 6% of children meet their vegetable consumption recommendation ( 2.5-5.5 servings daily, increasing with age/size).

For vitamin A, E, B3, phosphorus and potassium, carrots (33c/100g) trump oranges (40c/100g).

For vitamin C, oranges have it. But oranges also contain a lot more sugar than carrots.

Adding shredded carrots to cheese sandwiches, with a squeeze of lemon juice to delay browning, might be the solution.

Lemons (free in many gardens, but currently $1.05/100g in supermarkets) generally contain less vitamin C than oranges but are lower in sugar.

Fruits and vegetables are valuable sources of energy, vitamins, minerals and fibre.

Jacqueline Rowarth is an adjunct professor at Lincoln University.


Jacqueline Rowarth is an adjunct professor at Lincoln University.

There is also growing evidence of the additional health benefits of the range of phytonutrients they contain.

Yet in the Research First survey, 64% of respondents said they don’t meet the 5+ per day recommendation because fruit and vegetable prices are too high.

Instead of price, we should consider the value of food consumed, as well as taste and convenience.

Advice from the journalist and author Michael Pollan makes sense – eat a variety of foods as close to unprocessed as possible, summarized as: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

And don’t forget to include a cheese sandwich.

  • Jacqueline Roarth has been a vegetarian for almost 50 years; Graeme Coles is an omnivore.

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