Protein is a vital macronutrient that’s found in pretty much every tissue and organ in the body. Your hair, muscles, bone, and skin as well as many processes in your body like carrying oxygen to your blood, use protein to function (1,2).
The problem with protein is that sometimes it can become expensive to maintain optimal daily intake because of the cost of certain protein-rich foods like beef, fish, and seafood, for example. Read below to learn more about protein, how much protein you should be eating, and about 5 budget-friendly protein sources you can add to your eating plan today.
What is protein?
Protein is one of the major macronutrients in the foods you eat, along with fat and carbohydrates. Every cell in your body contains protein, therefore it’s sometimes called the building block of life. Each protein contains a chain of amino acids that are important for processes in the body like immunity, mobility, as well as carrying messages between the cells of the body, among other things (1,2).
The body contains some amino acids known as non-essential amino acids. There are some amino acids called essential amino acids that must come from the foods you eat (3). These essential amino acids are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine (1). You will see such amino acids listed on the label of some protein powder products.
Protein-rich foods break down into amino acids once you digest them (3). Amino acids are a part of animal proteins like eggs, meats, fish, as well as dairy products, soy, beans, legumes, nuts, and grains.
How much protein do you need?
The amount of protein you need each day depends on a variety of factors that include height, weight, activity level, and health status. The average daily recommendation for protein by the National Academy of Medicine is about 7 grams of protein for every 20 pounds of body weight, or 0.8 grams protein per kilogram (1).
However, this is the minimum recommendation for protein intake, and more recent studies have shown those with not as serious about their fitness goals but still active might benefit from increasing their protein intake to 1.2-1.6g/kg and for those who are a bit more serious about their training and athletic performance will benefit from bringing that intake to 1.6-2.2g/kg of body weight. (4,5)
5 Budget-friendly protein sources
To help meet your protein needs, you should include protein-rich foods at each meal and snack. Animal products such as beef, pork, poultry, fish, and seafood are common sources of protein in the diet but can be expensive over time. Therefore, read below to discover 5 budget-friendly protein sources that can help you meet your daily needs without breaking the bank.
One medium egg contains about 6 grams of protein per serving (6). The average cost of one dozen eggs in the United States or United Kingdom (UK) is about $2.50, which comes out to about 20 cents per egg (7). Therefore, you can consume over 10 grams of protein from eggs for about 40 cents.
One-half cup (about 115 grams) of nonfat Greek yogurt is equal to about 11.5 grams protein or more. This equivalent of protein costs on average about 63 pence in the UK and 43 cents in the United States.
The most common form of protein powder is whey protein derived from milk and it contains about 20 grams of protein per ounce (8). This serving size of whey protein powder costs on average about one U.S. dollar per serving depending on the brand of protein powder you purchase.
Other forms of protein powder include pea protein powder which is sold in its pure form or combined with other plant-based protein sources in protein powder products, therefore may vary in protein content. However, the cost is usually like that of whey protein, but like whey protein will depend on the brand.
My protein powder of choice is Beauty Whey.
One-half cup of cooked beans or lentils on average contains about 8 grams of protein and costs less than $0.50 (9,10,11). Therefore, about 10 grams of protein worth of beans or lentils costs around $0.62. Dried beans or lentils will be even cheaper, however, they will require soaking and in turn a bit more preparation time than canned beans.
One cup of cooked peas on average contains about 8.6 grams of protein and on average costs less than $0.50 depending on which brand of peas you purchase (12). Therefore, about 10 grams of protein worth of peas costs less than $0.60.
How can you add protein to your daily routine?
You can add protein to your daily routine in the form of an entrée, side dish, or beverage. Examples of budget-friendly protein meal and snack ideas include:
- Greek yogurt for breakfast or a snack drizzled with honey and/or topped with your favorite diced fresh fruit
- Peas or beans in a one-bowl lunch along with steamed rice and vegetables like peppers, onions, or corn, for example
- Smoothie made from unsweetened almond milk, a few tablespoons or so of Greek yogurt, one scoop of protein powder, and your favorite fruits and/or vegetables blended
- Scrambled eggs with baby spinach, peppers, and onions for breakfast or a couple of hard-boiled eggs for a snack
- Add beans to your vegetable soup, top your salad with chickpeas or black beans, or blend cooked bean to create a high-protein dip or sandwich spread that’s also full of gut-healthy fiber
- Enjoy dried chickpeas or soybeans with a touch of your favorite seasoning for a crunchy and high-protein portable snack in between meals
- Add a scoop of protein powder as an additive to blended soups, smoothies, or yogurt
To save money grocery shopping, you could pick a few days during the week to consume just budget-friendly protein sources. Use these days to experiment with such protein sources by seasoning and preparing them in different ways so you can find the recipes you like best. This will help expand your palate, and in turn, will help make it easier for you to meet your daily protein goals.
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (accessed September 10, 2020) “The Nutrition Source: Protein.” https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/protein/
- NIH U.S. National Library of Medicine (published August 17, 2020) “Genetics Home Reference: What are proteins and what do they do?” https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/primer/howgeneswork/protein
- Medline Plus (last reviewed April 30, 2019) “Protein in diet.” https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002467.htm
- Caspero, M.A., R.D., A. (published July 20, 2020) “Protein and the Athlete- How Much Do You Need?” Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, https://www.eatright.org/fitness/sports-and-performance/fueling-your-workout/protein-and-the-athlete
- Mayo Clinic (October 19, 2017) “Whey protein.” https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-whey-protein/art-20363344
- Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (accessed September 10, 2020) “Nutrition Guide for Clinicians: Macronutrients in Health and Disease.” https://nutritionguide.pcrm.org/nutritionguide/view/Nutrition_Guide_for_Clinicians/1342092/all/Macronutrients_in_Health_and_Disease
- Johns Hopkins Medicine (accessed September 10, 2020) “Protein Content of Common Foods.” https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/bariatrics/_documents/nutrition_protein_content_common_foods.pdf
- Nutrition Data (accessed September 10, 2020) “Whey Protein Powder.” https://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/custom/933507/2
- The Bean Institute (accessed September 10, 2020) “Dry vs. Canned Beans: Which is Better?” https://beaninstitute.com/dry-vs-canned-beans-which-is-better/
- Nutrition Data (accessed September 10, 2020) “Beans, white, mature seeds, cooked, boiled, without salt.” https://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/legumes-and-legume-products/4319/2
- Nutrition Data (accessed September 10, 2020) “Lentils, mature seeds, cooked, boiled, without salt.” https://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/legumes-and-legume-products/4319/2
- Nutrition Data (accessed September 10, 2020) “Peas, green, cooked, boiled, drained without salt.” https://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2521/2