Thursday, 08 June, 2006

How much do calories cost?

Somebody recently told me that the energy required to bend over and pick up a penny cost more than a penny.  According to this person, it cost more than a penny's worth of food in order to retrieve the penny from the ground.  When I asked him where he got his information he said, "It's obvious.  Everybody knows that."  Which means that he either made it up or is repeating what somebody else said because it sounded good

I thought I'd see if I could figure out whether or not it's true.

I needed to know two things:

  1. How many calories does it take to bend over and retrieve a penny?
  2. How much do those calories cost?

According to the "Solutions Manual" that I got when Debra and I signed up at Lifetime Fitness, somebody my size burns about 50 calories every ten minutes when doing high-intensity calisthenics:  jumping jacks, push-ups, sit-ups, etc.  That's about five calories per minute.  I don't know if squatting to pick up a penny counts as "high-intensity calisthenics," but I did find out that I can pick up 35 pennies in one minute without trying too hard.

Oddly enough, I was a little out of breath after that experiment.

I'll give my friend the benefit of the doubt and assume that I burned five calories during that minute of "exercise."  35 cents divided by five calories equals seven cents per calorie.  If it costs more than seven cents per calorie, then it costs more than a penny to pick up a penny.

There is no hard and fast answer to how much a calorie costs.  It all depends on what you eat and how much you pay for it.  But, it's possible to get a ballpark figure.

The first thing I did was go to McDonald's Web site and figure out how many calories are in a Big Mac Meal.  Did you know that those two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce cheese, pickles onions on a sesame seed bun weigh in at 560 calories?  Add large fries and a medium Coca-Cola and you're talking 1,350 calories!  Here, that meal will set you back about $4.50.  That works out to 0.33 cents per calorie.  That's right, three calories per penny.  Even with the expensive Big Mac meal, you're money ahead bending over to pick up a penny.

This turned out to be a fun and interesting area of research for me.  How much do calories cost?  Big Mac calories, at three for a penny, are very expensive and all that fat isn't very good for you.  There are less expensive and healthier choices.

I won't go through the whole list.  I will mention, though, that in general carbohydrates are more expensive than fats, and protein is all over the map.  It's too bad that my favorite food, peanut butter, has so much fat.  At 15 calories per penny for the good stuff, it's a heck of a bargain!