Followup: sugar, and making things from scratch.

September 14, 2008

I see we had a very informative comment from Mellopuffy, who has solved two mysteries. In comments on this earlier post, Able Commenter Weka linked to the Food Cost Survey published by the Department of Human Nutrition at the University of Otago. That prompted a long but inconclusive discussion. What did that 400g of sugar per week mean? And second, why are some of us consistently spending far less than the survey suggests is normal?

Mellopuffy writes:

I just went and had more of a squizz at the info pack – the sugar is the amount included in all products that would be consumed over the week (including processed foods, any biscuits, baking, ice cream etc.). They have used the food groups discussed in the Food & Nutrition Guidelines (e.g. breads & cereals, fruits & vege, protein sources, dairy products) to determine a balanced diet for the average person per week, then done a breakdown of the foods themselves to determine how much of the basic purchasable constituents would be required to make these up (I think the milo is included as a commonly consumed caffeine free hot beverage). So the 400g for an adult man would be spread amongst all foods containing added sugar (as well as discretionary intake such as in cuppas). It might seem like a large amount, but processed foods do contain a lot more sugar than many people realise and many NZers think nothing of including cheap ready made items in their grocery baskets (as is evidenced by the food item suggestions included in the report). If you’re baking cakes muffins, biscuits or muesli bars at home, many recipes include around a cup of sugar or equivalents (approx 250g) per recipe.

I do think that where many of the commenter’s savings are being made is via the ‘making from scratch’ ethos. The Otago study will be coming from the standpoint that this behaviour is not the norm in contemporary NZ society. Indeed, they refer to the Basic category as one in which people prepare all food at home, yet the shopping suggestions for meeting the budget in this category still includes bought crackers & biscuits, ice cream, basic pasta sauce etc. I don’t see anything particularly ‘disturbing’ in this, just that the study aims to reflect patterns of food consumption as they currently exist across NZ society. Also, for Nutritionists & Dietitians to make effective recommendations and suggestions about food related spending, recognition and accommodation of these habits is more effective than issuing instructions that someone who’s never baked in their life (and doesn’t have the time to either) should start making all their own bread and bikkies in order to be able to eat affordably.

If any other commenters want to write gargantuan, fact-packed comments that save us the trouble of composing a post, please do.

[Editorial from Che: In fact, if you want to write a fact-packed post like this for our site, we welcome them, we’d like this to be a community blog.]



  1. I have few facts (sorry) but was thinking about the ‘from scratch’ aspect. I have time to make most things from scratch as I am at home with little ones but they are time suckers and I do a little work from home too. I can’t imagine how it would be working full time and doing the same stuff, although I am probably soon to find out. One thing that did strike me is that its so much easier being frugal and making things from scratch if you have freinds doign the same.

    When I lived in Central Otago I used to do a lot of preseving, jam making, pickling and drying of stores. However I always used to do this with a neighbour which made it social and fun as well as being more practical. The thought of doing that all now on my own with a kitchen full of kids has basically stopped me in my tracks and I tend to just bung things in the freezer.

    We also used to swap produce round the neighbourhood if someone had an excess and as it was rural area any one going to town might bulk buy certain items etc. I used to have a computer business and often took food as payment. I love barter systems.

    To me frugality and ‘homemade’ is easier in a community and community of like-minded people is usually all good.

  2. Heh – yes it was a bit of a long post (subject dear to my heart, etc etc). Would be happy to post the occasional contribution. How do I go about it? Any ideas, suggestions?

  3. if you have good ideas for a post then let us know, we’ll send you a guest account (and moderate it if necessary!)

  4. Mello, can you clarify something further. I always though the survey was of what people in different income brackets actually spend. But when I looked at this years survey I thought it’s about what people ‘should’ spend in order to eat well. Which is it?

  5. Hi Weka – um kinda both but kinda neither actually. The whole study is about people eating ‘well’ – or perhaps the word should be ‘adequately’ (in relation to the recommendations of the MOH Food & Nutrition Guidelines – the food groups and serving(s) recommended in these ensures that a person following the guidelines will receive the quantities of macro- (protein, fat, carbohydrates) and micro-nutrients (vitamins/minerals) required for their body to function properly and good health to be maintained) The brochure summarising the adult guidelines can be downloaded off here (sorry I’m not so good at inserting links): http://www.healthed.govt.nz/resources/eatingforhealthyadultnewzealanders.aspx

    The study does not survey people of different income groups, rather it surveys each year how much the basic food constituents (the quantities they use for each population group are summarised in Table 1 of the info pack) will cost in each of the main centres, then breaks that down to a weekly amount for each sector of the population (people can then use these figures as guidance for budgeting if they so desire). They then work out the figures for moderate and liberal spending by adding a further 30% and 50% (30% + 20%) to the basic food costs.

    The food shopping suggestions are just that – suggestions of the types of food you would be/ could be buying in order to keep to the budget of each of the income categories.

    Hope this clarifies things…

  6. The introduction to the info pack says it pretty well actually…
    “Most healthy families or individuals will meet their nutritional needs when spending the amount of
    money specified as the basic costs (Table 1). However, spending less than this amount increases the risk of not getting all the necessary nutrients.
    Many people will not lack energy or nutrients when spending less than this amount on food if they make careful management choices.
    However, the chances of consuming an inadequate diet increase as the amount spent to purchase food falls below the basic costs.”

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