AUTHORITY NUTRITION

17 Cheap and Healthy Sources of Protein

Written by Jillian Kubala, MS, RD on December 25, 2017

Protein is a crucial nutrient. There are numerous benefits to adding protein-rich foods to your diet, including weight loss and increased muscle mass (, ).

Luckily, there are many delicious choices that suit every dietary need.

However, some people may find healthy protein sources to be too costly. While some sources of protein are expensive, there are also many affordable alternatives.

Here is a list of 20 healthy protein sources that won’t break the bank.

Peanut Butter on Bread

Peanut butter is full of protein. It is also cost-friendly, with an average cost of around $2.50 per 16-ounce (454-gram) jar.

A two-tablespoon serving of this creamy nut butter provides 8 grams of protein ().

Aside from being a great source of protein, peanut butter can be used in many ways. Pair it with fruit and oatmeal or add it to your favorite smoothie for a protein boost.

What’s more, studies have shown that people who include peanuts and peanut butter in their diets are less likely to develop certain chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes (, ).

Choose natural peanut butter when possible to avoid unwanted ingredients like added sugar and oils.

Eggs are one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, and are very affordable with an average price of $2 to $4 per dozen.

Not only are they full of vitamins, minerals and healthy fats, but they are also packed with protein. One large egg contains 6 grams ().

Adding eggs to your diet is a great way to increase your protein intake and may also help you reduce your calorie intake and lose weight.

Several studies have shown that having eggs for breakfast helps keep hunger in check by causing you to eat fewer calories throughout the day. This can, in turn, help you lose weight.

For example, one small study found that participants who consumed an egg breakfast for eight weeks lost 65% more weight than those who ate a bagel breakfast ().

Another study showed that eating eggs for breakfast suppressed the hunger hormone ghrelin and helped stabilize blood sugar and insulin response ().

Eating eggs may lead to decreased feelings of hunger and fewer cravings, which is great for weight loss.

This tasty, bright green bean is an amazing, low-priced source of plant-based protein.

Edamame beans are immature soybeans that are sold both shelled or in the pod. They are a delicious snack and make a great addition to meals like salads and stir-frys.

Plus, edamame is an excellent source of protein with one cup (155 grams) providing an impressive 17 grams of protein ().

Edamame is also a great choice for those who follow vegetarian or vegan diets.

This is because they are considered a whole protein source, meaning they contain all the essential amino acids that the body requires ().

This budget-friendly bean can be found in the freezer section of most grocery stores for around $2 per 12-ounce (340-gram) bag.

Fish is a fantastic source of protein and the canned version is no exception.

If fresh fish is too expensive for your budget, canned tuna is an excellent way to boost your protein intake without breaking the bank.

Most brands of tuna cost around $1 per 5-ounce (142-gram) can.

Although a 3-ounce (85-gram) serving only contains around 99 calories, it includes about 20 grams of high-quality protein ().

Additionally, tuna is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which help fight inflammation in the body ().

However, canned tuna may contain high levels of mercury, so it's best for adults to limit their intake to a few servings per week ().

Always choose canned light tuna, which is made with smaller types of tuna that are lower in mercury.

Greek yogurt is a delicious, low-cost food that is extremely versatile. It can be eaten plain, added to a smoothie, whipped into a tasty dip for veggies or added to baked goods.

Additionally, yogurt is an excellent source of protein.

In fact, an 8-ounce (224-gram) serving provides around 17 grams of protein — nearly double the amount found in regular plain yogurts (, ).

Look for brands with a “live and active cultures” label, which means that the yogurt contains beneficial probiotics that can improve gut health and even help you lose weight (, ).

Not to mention, choosing plain, unsweetened Greek yogurt is a great way to keep your intake of added sugar to a minimum.

Lastly, buying larger containers is a great way to save money, as 24 ounces (680 grams) of plain Greek yogurt costs about $5.

Although sunflower seeds are tiny, they contain an impressive amount of protein. Just one ounce contains about 6 grams of plant-based, vegan-friendly protein ().

These buttery-tasting nutritional powerhouses are packed with protein, as well as nutrients like vitamin E and magnesium.

Sunflower seeds are a versatile and cost-friendly food, too.

They can be purchased for around $2 per pound (454 grams) at most stores, and can be added to salads or yogurt parfaits, as well as used as a crunchy topping for many dishes.

Black beans are one of the most convenient and affordable forms of plant-based protein that you can buy. On average, a 15-ounce (455-gram) can costs around $1 in most stores.

One cup (172 grams) of black beans also contains over 15 grams of protein ().

On top of containing a good amount of protein, black beans are an excellent source of fiber. One cup (172 grams) contains about 15 grams.

Top health organizations recommend that women eat 25 grams of fiber per day and that men eat 38 grams per day ().

Due to the high amounts of protein and fiber that they contain, black beans make you feel full and are excellent for weight loss.

In fact, a recent review of 21 studies found eating 3/4 of a cup of beans each day led to weight loss of 2.2 pounds (0.34 kg) for people who made no other dietary changes ().

Moreover, diets rich in beans have been shown to reduce hunger and increase fullness ().

They can be added to dishes like chili, soups and salads to provide a powerful punch of plant-based protein.

Although sardines may not be the most popular food, they are full of protein and important nutrients.

One can (92 grams) of sardines contains about 23 grams of highly absorbable protein plus many other important nutrients like vitamin D and B12 ().

Since sardines are meant to be consumed whole, bones and all, they are a great source of natural calcium.

In fact, one can provides 35% of the recommended intake for this bone-building mineral.

Fresh seafood tends to be expensive, but sardines are a great protein choice for people on a budget. In fact, most 3.75-ounce (92-gram) cans of sardines cost only $2.

Cottage cheese is a low-calorie dairy product that is high in protein.

This mild-flavored cheese comes in a variety of fat percentages and can be used as a filling snack or as an ingredient in many recipes.

One cup (210 grams) of full-fat cottage cheese provides over 23 grams of protein and only 206 calories ().

The high protein content of cottage cheese makes it an excellent choice for athletes and people looking to build muscle mass.

Plus, studies have shown that protein-rich foods like cottage cheese help keep you feeling full, which may help you lose weight ().

Cottage cheese is very affordable and can be purchased at most stores for around $3 per 16-ounce (452-gram) tub.

Whey protein powder is made from the liquid portion of milk leftover from cheesemaking.

Adding whey protein powder to your diet is a convenient and affordable way to boost your protein intake. On average, a serving of whey protein costs just $0.40.

Whey protein has been thoroughly researched for its beneficial role in weight loss and its ability to increase muscle mass and strength (, , ).

On average, one scoop (28 grams) of whey protein powder provides an impressive 20 grams of protein ().

Whey protein powder can be added to smoothies, baked goods and other recipes for an extra dose of protein.

Not only are lentils a highly nutritious and affordable food, but they are also a great source of protein.

Found in the bulk section of most grocery stores for around $1.50 per pound (453 grams), these tiny legumes can be cooked and added to a variety of recipes like soups, stews and curries.

They are an amazing source of plant-based protein, with one cup (198 grams) providing 18 grams ().

Lentils are high in fiber, iron, potassium and B vitamins, as well.

Oats are a hearty, gluten-free grain that is very inexpensive. Most stores sell rolled oats in bulk for around $1.30 per pound (453 grams).

They also happen to be much higher in protein than other grains. A 1/2-cup (78-gram) serving provides 13 grams of protein ().

Oats are high in vitamins and minerals, plus contain a type of soluble fiber called beta-glucan.

Studies have shown that foods rich in beta-glucan may help reduce LDL and total cholesterol levels, making oatmeal a great choice for heart health ().

Choosing a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast is a great way to keep your heart healthy while increasing your protein intake.

While amaranth may not be a staple in your pantry, this protein-packed, gluten-free grain deserves a spot in your diet.

One cup (246 grams) of cooked amaranth provides over 9 grams of protein and is also a great source of folate, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus and iron ().

This nutty-tasting grain works well in various recipes and is easy to prepare. It’s also suitable for those with an allergy or intolerance to gluten and is an affordable and healthy food.

Even organic amaranth is inexpensive, with an average price of $0.65 per pound (453 grams).

Amaranth is cooked just like quinoa or rice and can be made into many delicious meals, including breakfast porridge, stuffed peppers or a simple grain salad.

Although some people are intolerant of milk and other dairy products, it is an affordable source of highly absorbable protein for those able to digest it.

Milk comes in many fat percentages and is widely available, making it a convenient protein choice. A half-gallon (115 grams) of conventional milk has an average price of around $2.50, while organic milk costs about $4.

One cup (244 grams) of whole milk contains over 8 grams of highly absorbable protein, along with loads of vitamins and minerals ().

It is especially high in the minerals calcium and phosphorus, which help keep bones strong and healthy.

Since milk is a liquid, it can be used as a high-protein base for smoothies and soups.

Whole milk also makes an excellent high-calorie, protein-rich ingredient for those who are trying to gain weight and muscle mass.

Pumpkin seeds deliver a massive amount of nutrients in a very small package. Adding these budget-friendly seeds to your diet is a smart and healthy way to increase your protein intake.

Just one ounce (28 grams) of pumpkin seeds contains 7 grams of protein, making them an excellent choice for a protein-packed snack ().

Along with an impressive amount of protein, pumpkin seeds also contain antioxidants like vitamin E and phenolic acids that help reduce inflammation in the body (, ).

Pumpkin seeds make an excellent snack on the go, though they can also be added to oatmeal, salads or homemade granola. They can be purchased in bulk from most stores for around $3 per pound (448 grams).

Salmon is one of the healthiest forms of protein that you can eat, though it tends to be expensive.

Luckily, salmon comes in a less expensive canned version, making it an affordable and healthy choice of protein that is appropriate for any budget.

A four-ounce (112-gram) serving of canned salmon has 26 grams of protein, along with tons of vitamins and minerals. These include B12, vitamin D, selenium and anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids ().

Canned salmon is both a cheap and convenient way to boost the protein and nutrient content of your diet. A 6-ounce (168-gram) can of salmon can be purchased at most stores for around $3.60.

It can be added to salads, made into burgers or eaten plain for a satisfying, low-carb snack.

Ground turkey is highly nutritious and is usually more affordable than whole turkey breasts. The average cost for one pound (448 grams) of ground turkey varies from $3 to $7.

Turkey is a lean, low-calorie meat but is very high in protein and nutrients. In fact, a three-ounce (28-gram) serving provides 23 grams of highly absorbable protein and only 195 calories ().

Turkey is also high in B vitamins and the mineral selenium, which acts as a powerful antioxidant in the body and helps reduce inflammation ().

Ground turkey is an adaptable, inexpensive and healthy protein choice that can be used in many recipes.

Adding protein-rich foods to your diet doesn't have to break the bank. There are many high-protein foods that are suitable for any diet, preference and budget.

Increasing the amount of protein in your diet has many health benefits and may help you feel fuller, lose weight and gain muscle mass.

From peanut butter to canned salmon, there are many sources to choose from. Selecting an affordable food from this list is an excellent way to boost your protein intake.

An evidence-based nutrition article from our experts at Authority Nutrition.

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