For a moderately active man weighing 154 pounds, how much of each of 77 foods should be eaten on a daily basis so that the man’s intake of nine nutrients will be at least equal to the recommended dietary allowances (RDAs) suggested by the National Research Council in 1943, with the cost of the diet being minimal?It was simply a thought problem: what is the optimally cheapest way of maintaining RDA nutrient intake?
A few things jump out from the original paper, he used 3000 calories a day for a "moderately active" man weighing 154 pounds. Obviously moderately active had a different connotation back in 1939*. Also, beef liver made it into a list of mostly scary but cheap foods, presumably because of its dense vitamin profile.
I decided to download the free Windows GLPK program which includes the Stigler problem and mess around with it a bit. The actual GLPK code for the Stigeler diet problem, with plenty of useful commenting by its author, Andrew Makhorin, can be seen here.
Here's a list of the original nutritional parameters used by Stigler.
And here's the classic solution:
|Back when 39 bucks actually meant something|
Computers are really, really good at certain things and this sort of optimization is definitely one of them. It is pretty amazing to me that my five year old computer solved a problem that was unsolvable in 1945, and it solved it in 0.0 seconds!!!
Ok, obviously, 300 pounds of flour, 110 lbs of cabbage and 377 lbs of navy beans aren't anyone's idea of good eats. And it certainly wouldn't fly in paleo circles. So I tried it without the flour:
Interestingly, beef liver has dropped off and we are down to only four foods. We are now looking at an annual consumption of 648 lbs of navy beans. Yum. And the price has gone up 13%. Ok how about taking out the navy beans?
A 16% jump and beef liver is back on the list. Plus we now have a whopping 6 foods to eat for a whole year.
Ok, last one. Take away cereal and corn meal and what is the optimized diet? Enriched wheat cereal is a bit of a ringer anyway.
Hmmm, 134 lbs of lard, 6 lbs of beef liver and 120 lbs of Lima beans (refried Lima beans anyone?). We're up to 7 foods, now, and some of them even look healthy. Still nothing to write home about but a pretty big improvement, in paleo terms at least, from the original subsistance solution. And the annual price has yet to double from the original $39.69.
This was all pretty simple, just knock out some foods from the original Stigler diet problem and see what happens.
What would be much, much more interesting (and even practical) would be to add in modern prices and paleo type nutrition parameters (like n-3/n-6 ratio) and play with it. An often heard criticism of paleo is that it is simply too expensive for many people. This is something I'm pretty skeptical about. Don Matasz has been doing some posts (such as this) about being primal on a budget, and he's been listing prices so it would certainly be do-able.
I'm not sure if I have the gumption to actually do all that, though, interesting as it would be to play around with once it was working. Did I mention how much I hate computer programming?
* Stigler published his paper in 1945, using commodity prices from 1939 and the RDA guidelines from 1943
Addendum: It occurs to me that enriched wheat flour or enriched anything really ought to be prohibited from a proper solution of the Stigler diet problem. Otherwise the solution would (presumably) reduce down to a cheap multivitamin and a ton of flour.