Barack Obama And The Case Of The Seven Almonds

Earlier this month, James Joyner took note of a part of a long piece about President Obama’s late night work habits that seemed, well, rather odd. Specifically the fact that he limited his snacking to seven lightly-salted almonds. Not six almonds mind you, not eight, but precisely seven. And not regular or unsalted,  nut “lightly salted.” As James and others who commented on the anecdote, it demonstrated a self-discipline that was odd to say the least.

Well, it turns out the whole story has its roots as a joke:

PHILADELPHIA — Does President Obama really eat only seven almonds at night?

As people watched Mr. Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday, many took to Twitter to offer a thought: That he did such a good job, he deserved to let himself eat more than seven almonds that night.

“Tonight, Obama’s going to eat seven chocolate-covered almonds,” Matthew Yglesias, a journalist at, posted on Twitter during the speech.

The observations were referring to a story I wrote this month about how Mr. Obama spends his time in the evenings, reading briefing papers and watching sports in the Treaty Room, often into the early hours of the morning.

Among the details in the story, from his personal chef and close friend, Sam Kass, was the fact that Mr. Obama was disciplined about not snacking on junk food or drinking soda. His snack of choice, Mr. Kass told me at the time, was seven almonds.

“Michelle and I would always joke: not six, not eight,” Mr. Kass said. “Always seven almonds.”

But in an interview that aired on Thursday, NBC’s Savannah Guthrie put the question directly to Mr. Obama, who seemed eager to set the record straight.

“This is an example of the weird way that the press works,” Mr. Obama said, chuckling. “Michelle and Sam Kass, who was our chef here, one night they were talking about me and teasing me about how disciplined I was, that I didn’t have potato chips or I didn’t have a piece of cake. And this is when Michelle said, ‘Yes, and he just has seven almonds. That’s it.’ To really drive home the point that I needed to loosen up a little bit. And Sam relayed this joke to The New York Times in the article and somehow it was relayed as if I was counting out the seven almonds.”

In the interview with Ms. Guthrie, Mr. Obama acknowledged the point that Mr. Kass made during our interview: that what impressed him about the president’s nighttime habits was the discipline he has in getting through hours of difficult work without unhealthy snacks.

But Mr. Obama insisted that he’s not quite so disciplined that he counts out seven almonds every time.

“All my friends were calling up and they’re saying, ‘You know, this seems a little anal. This is kind of weird,'” Mr. Obama told Ms. Guthrie. “And I had to explain to them, no, this was a joke.”

Asked whether he would allow himself to eat 10 or 11 almonds once he has left the White House, Mr. Obama said, “Absolutely.”

Way to be rebel there, Mr. President.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. PJ says:

    Paul Ryan has initiated impeachment proceedings.

  2. Neil Hudelson says:

    Eleven almonds? Greedy post-colonial mindset.

  3. al-Alameda says:


    Paul Ryan has initiated impeachment proceedings.

    He had no choice: Those were Iranian almonds, and the Iranian government uses proceeds from the sale of those almonds to purchase enriched uranium from the ISIS distribution network which is managed here in the United States by Debbie Wasserman-Schultz.

  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I’ll bet when he leaves office he’ll ditch the almonds and go for the pistachios. Those things are addictive.

  5. JohnMcC says:

    Obvious proof of his foreign birth! A real ‘Murican would be having boiled peanuts.

  6. James Joyner says:

    This is great. Not shocked that the joke was taken seriously and went viral: It’s just *so* Obama.

  7. Franklin says:

    Seems kind of environmentally reckless … those almond trees use up a lot of water in drought-stricken California.

    /yes I’m mostly joking

  8. Rafer Janders says:

    Ahh, but the lightly-salted almonds that’s… that’s where I had them. They laughed at me and made jokes but I proved beyond the shadow of a doubt and with… geometric logic… that a duplicate set of another seven lightly-salted almonds DID exist, and I’d have produced those almonds if they hadn’t of pulled Obama out of action to address the DNC. I, I, I know now they were only trying to protect Hillary…

  9. Guarneri says:

    The only thing that is weird is the ability of some commenters to project their obsession with political issues of the day onto the almond story. Really weird.

    For what it’s worth, from about 9pm to 1am is some of the most productive time for reading and sorting through work issues. For anyone who has lived and worked in NY it becomes, especially in the finance and related legal documentation business, simply the way it’s done. A lifestyle.