Chris enjoys writing about a variety of topics, including science, health, and fitness.
Inexpensive Sources of Protein
Protein is an important macronutrient that is needed in a person's diet to both retain and grow muscles. It is also necessary for the body to be able to function normally on a daily basis as protein is required for hormone and enzyme synthesis. For these reasons, many people concerned with their diet and overall health tend to track their protein intake. Ample protein consumption is also a major concern of bodybuilders and fitness fanatics looking to grow healthy, lean muscle.
As any bodybuilder will tell you, finding quality protein to eat can get very expensive. This is especially the case when meat becomes a person's predominant source of protein. However, protein is actually available in quite a number of foods beyond meat and can be purchased for reasonable prices in many cases.
In this article, I will focus the discussion on the least expensive sources of quality protein that you can buy. If you're looking to save money while bulking up and growing some muscle, this list of inexpensive sources of protein, ranked by price per 100 grams, should give you a good starting point to planning out your future meals.
20. Ezekiel Bread
Would you believe that a bread product made it on to a list of the least expensive sources of protein? In fact, it's true! Ezekiel bread is notably healthy and comparatively high in protein. One of the reasons for this is that there is a lot of soy in this kind of bread. A single 34-gram slice of Ezekiel bread has about 4 grams of protein in it. A 20 slice loaf of this amazing bread will run you about $4.85. This means that you’ll expend about $6.06 to obtain 100 grams of protein from this bread.
19. Protein Powder, Soy
Vegetable-based protein powders seem to be more expensive than their dairy counterparts. I found one soy protein supplement product that had 15 servings in it. Each serving contained 20 grams of soy-derived protein. This product was priced at $17.60, which means that for every 100 grams of protein you consume you would expect to pay about $5.87.
18. Ground Beef, 90% Lean
Lean ground beef is a great source of protein. This meat product is also very versatile and can be used in a variety of dishes. The price of beef has gone up significantly in the last decade, which is why ground beef is number 18 on this list. A 4-ounce patty made from 90% lean ground beef should have about 23 grams of protein in it. Sometimes you can score a deal on lean ground beef, in which case you might expect to pay about $4.99 per pound for it. At this price, you can expect to pay about $5.50 for every 100 grams of protein.
17. Turkey Breast
Turkey isn't just something you eat once a year or when you're having a sandwich. In fact, it can actually be an amazing source of protein, especially for someone who's looking for an alternative to the standard meal with chicken breast. A 3 oz piece of turkey breast should have about 21 grams of protein in it. Although it's a bit harder to find at the market, I was able to locate a whole turkey breast at a price of about $5.99 a pound. With this information, 100 grams of protein from turkey breast should cost you about $5.43.
Edamame isn’t just something that your vegetarian friend eats. In fact, edamame is a great source of vegetable protein (it's soy!). A 1 oz serving of edamame would bring you about 3 grams of protein. I was able to find a 10-ounce bag of edamame in the frozen food section for only $1.67. For 100 grams of protein from edamame, expect to pay at least $5.37.
15. Lean Beef, Top or Bottom Round
Lean beef is a wonderful source of protein. Unfortunately, as was mentioned earlier, the cost of beef has risen significantly over the last decade. In any case, beef still remains a popular source of protein for bodybuilders and for people looking to increase the size of their muscles. For lean beef, expect to pay about $4.99 per pound when it's on sale. A small 4 oz steak should have about 25 grams of protein in it. At this price and with this much protein, you would expect to pay about $4.99 for every 100 grams of protein you eat from lean beef.
14. Mozzarella Cheese, Low Fat
The first cheese on this list is a crowd favorite. Mozzarella cheese tastes great and is good on a multitude of foods, including a variety of Italian dishes. Mozzarella is common, which makes it relatively inexpensive; however, it's not as protein-dense as other cheeses. You will get about 7 grams of protein for every 1 oz portion of mozzarella cheese that you eat. I looked around at my local grocery store and was able to find a large 2 lb bag of mozzarella cheese for about $10.09 or about $0.32 per ounce. At this price, it will cost you $4.32 to get 100 grams of protein.
13. Pork Tenderloin
Depending on your source, pork tenderloin can get pretty pricey. Nonetheless, I was able to find several good deals of lean pork tenderloin at a price of about $3.99 per pound. This is more expensive than chicken and provides about six grams of protein per 1-ounce serving. In either case, pork is a great addition to your protein regimen, provided that it is lean and acquired cheaply. If you can score a deal on pork tenderloin, then you can expect to pay about $4.29 for every 100 grams of protein that you ingest.
12. Parmesan Cheese, Low Fat
Another protein-rich cheese and number 12 on this list is the popular parmesan cheese. This cheese is hard and full flavor as well as protein. A 1-ounce serving of Parmesan cheese can have as much as 10 grams of protein in it. Parmesan comes in a little bit pricier than other cheeses, like Swiss cheese, as a 6 oz bag of it will cost you at least $2.49. This means that for every 100 grams of protein that you get from parmesan cheese, you'll need to spend about $4.08.
11. Pinto Beans
Perhaps surprisingly, pinto beans are number 11 on the list. Pinto beans are often noted for their high protein and high fiber content. In addition, they are very inexpensive. 100 grams of protein from pinto beans is going to cost you almost $3.97 One 6-ounce serving of pinto beans can have as much as 15 grams of protein in it and only 163 calories. A one pound bag of pinto beans can be purchased for less than $1.67 in many cases.
10. Swiss Cheese, Low Fat
Did you know that Swiss cheese is high in protein? In fact, next to parmesan, this cheese is one of the most protein-dense cheeses that you can buy. This flavorful cheese is commonly used to top and steak or sandwiches. Swiss cheese can be purchased for about $4.99 a pound. A single 1-oz slice of Swiss cheese and have as much as eight grams of protein in it. Given the price and the amount of protein that this week contains, expect to pay $3.92 for every 100 grams of protein that you consume.
9. Protein Powder, Whey
Whey protein powder is another efficient source of protein for people looking to change their macronutrient intake without adding too many extra calories. There are many choices when it comes to whey protein powders; however, I was able to find some brands at a price of only $0.97 per 26-gram serving of protein. For 100 grams of protein, the price is just $3.73.
8. Protein Powder, Casein
Number eight on this list is casein based protein powder. Protein powders may seem expensive; however, gram for gram, they are a great source of low-cost protein. One of the main advantages of protein powders is that the high amount of protein given the number of calories that it contains. I was able to locate a 26 serving container of casein powder for $17.06, which results in a cost of $3.28 for 100 grams of protein.
7. Cottage Cheese, Low Fat
Cottage cheese is a great dairy-derived product that makes for a healthy, protein-rich snack or meal accompaniment. A 2-ounce helping of low-fat cottage cheese would have about seven grams of protein in it. A 16oz container can be purchased at the grocery store for as little as $1.67. At this price, 100 grams of cottage cheese based protein will cost you about $2.97.
6. Chicken Breast
Chicken breast is another staple source of protein for people looking to get or remain fit. This food tastes good, can be prepared in numerous ways, and is number six on the list of least expensive protein sources. A good price for chicken breast seems to be about $2.99 per pound and each 2.5 oz serving contains 16 grams of protein. It will cost you about $2.93 for every 100 grams of protein obtained from boneless, skinless chicken breast.
5. Peanut Butter
If you can look past its high-calorie content, peanut butter is a good, cheap source of protein. A 1 oz helping of peanut butter has 167 calories and seven grams of protein. A 16 oz jar of peanut butter may cost you around $3.29. Therefore, to get 100 grams of protein from peanut butter, you're looking to spend about $2.88.
Canned tuna is another proven protein-packed food that is also inexpensive. This product has a long shelf life and is a staple diet food for many bodybuilders and people just looking to live healthier lives. Depending on where you shop, you could buy a can of chunk light tuna in water for about $1. For every 100 grams of protein from tuna, it will only cost you about $2.79.
3. Chicken Thighs
Chicken thighs have less protein and more fat than boneless, skinless, chicken breast; however, they are much cheaper. Many grocers sell bulk chicken thighs for about $2.49 per pound. You may even be able to get them cheaper than this. This means to get 100 grams of protein from chicken thighs, you'll need to shell out at least $2.71.
2. Milk (1%)
It's no surprise that milk is number two on this list. A gallon of skim milk can be purchased at any grocery store for about $2.49 more or less. Every one cup serving of skim milk has 7.8 grams of protein in it. This food is so inexpensive that you'll end up paying about $2.01 for every 100 grams of protein that you can soon. And when you choose low-fat milk, each gram of protein comes with 7.8 calories as well.
Next to milk, eggs are a protein staple. They are very inexpensive and sold almost everywhere. You can purchase a dozen of them for about a dollar depending on where you buy them. For every 100 grams of protein that you get from an egg, you'll have paid about $1.37 for it. In addition to being high in protein, eggs are a great source of other nutrients as well.
I spent quite a bit of time researching dozens of different protein-rich foods in order to come up with this list. I realize that food prices are different everywhere; however, the relative price difference between all types of foods should not change much from one location to another.
In any case, I felt that my local grocery stores prices were sufficiently representative for this article. Most of the nutritional information was obtained from https://nutritiondata.self.com/
The table below summarizes the results of the top 20 least expensive sources of protein based on my research.
|Protein Source||Grams Protein Per 100 Calories||Price Per Gram of Protein||Price Per 100 Grams of Protein|
Cottage Cheese, Low Fat
Protein Powder, Casein
Protein Powder, Whey
Swiss Cheese, Low Fat
Parmesan Cheese, Low Fat
Mozzarella Cheese, Low Fat
Lean Beef, Top or Bottom Round
Ground Beef, 90% Lean
Protein Powder, Soy
Let me know in the comments if you think that I missed an important source of protein, or if you are eating other foods that you think should be on this list.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2018 Christopher Wanamaker
Angel Guzman from Joliet, Illinois on July 27, 2019:
I am loyal to my 2% milk. Very good informative read. I can't stomach tuna.