eating well on the cheap: you vs. the ramen diet

One of the most common (and accurate) portraits of college/university students and the unemployed is the one where, due to destitution, the person in question is forced to subsist off packages of ramen noodles (and, okay, maybe beer) for the entirety of their poverty-ridden existence. I have been the girl who considered a chicken sandwich from the dollar menu to be the pinnacle of my expectations for fine dining.

It’s too bad that such a diet is actually counterproductive to being in college – or finding a good job – to begin with.

First of all, one of the major additives in the packet? It’s monosodium glutamate, otherwise known as MSG. Monosodium glutamate is an excitotoxin, which means that it overexcites certain receptors in your brain until they basically can’t take it anymore and decide to kill themselves. For someone already frying their brain with excessive cramming and stress, the end result is – well, I won’t say catastrophic, because there are only a few legitimate scientific studies … oh. Uh. I mean, it’s not like it’ll affect anyone immediately … well, crap.

So what in the world do we impoverished souls consume for nourishment if we actually want to continue functioning as productive members of society? Isn’t MSG in nearly every cheap food ever?

No, not really. In fact, there are whole classes of foods that are extremely inexpensive and completely additive-free: fresh fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and legumes.

Speaking from the point of view of someone with a relatively high metabolism, I can tell you that I could probably eat three packages of ramen noodles before scratching the surface of my hunger. Even then, all I’ve really done is told my digestive system to be quiet already by shoving it full of starches and chemicals until it finally complies – for about an hour. Then, I’d be hungry again. Only this time, I’d have that gross bloated feeling because of all the water-sapping sodium, and the fact that three packages of noodles are still chilling in my small intestine. Not to mention the continuing spikes in blood glucose – and the crashes afterward – from eating noodles all day.

Beans and rice are incredibly cheap, and you can make a huge pot of them last a very long time. Recipes for excellent black bean soups are everywhere on the internet – and black beans are good sources of folic acid and B vitamins, which actually improve brain health. Soups and stews are also stock-up foods that stay good for a while after you make them, and depending on how many vegetables and legumes you throw in, they can be high in fiber (the stuff that makes you feel full).

So, to recap:

7 days of eating nothing but packaged ramen (based on a 2,000 calorie diet): 70 packs a week, 1,900 calories a day, 7,700 mg of sodium per day, 35 g of fat per day. $35/week. Pros: cheap, easy to make. Cons: probably neurotoxic, not very filling, may cause some digestive issues in certain people.
7 days of eating nothing but black bean soup (based on a 2,000 calorie diet): 42 cups per week, ~2,100 calories a day, ~2,800 mg of sodium per day,  ~18 g of fat per day. $17.43/week. Pros: cheap, easy to make, good for the brain, lots of fiber. Cons: may cause some digestive issues in certain people.

Really, there’s no contest.