Cheap high protein food

Proteins are important building blocks of our muscles and tissues. Especially people who work out keep track of the amount of protein they eat daily. Even if you are not a fitness freak, protein intake helps significantly with weight loss and hunger regulation. The best sources of protein are lean red meat, fish and poultry. These are also the most expensive choices. The fact is that eating a high quality protein diet is more expensive than a traditional diet which includes carbs to fill up your plate.  But even if you’re on a tight budget you can still get high quality protein food sources.

I have made a list of 30 low cost, high protein food sources that will make it easy for you to get high protein food without busting your wallet. The prices for the items have been taken from online stores of the three biggest retailers in the USA- Wallmart, Target and Safeway as well as from online butcher and fish stores.

How much protein do you need?

The recommend daily dietary reference intake, by the Institute of medicine, is 0.8 gr of protein per kilogram of body weight or 0.36 gr per pound. This makes about 46 gr for the average sedentary woman and 56 gr for the average sedentary male. This should be taken as the minimum amount our body needs daily. But if you’re aiming for optimal health the individual protein intake varies with activity level, age, current health condition and muscle mass. People who are more active and have more muscle mass need more protein. Also older people should aim for higher protein intake to prevent muscle loss. If you are recovering from an injury, pregnant or breast feeding your protein intake should be higher. Even if you are trying to loose weight studies have shown that higher protein intake (30% of all consumed calories form proteins) helps reduce appetite and aids weight loss.

0.8 gr of protein per kilogram of body weight or 0.36 gr per pound is the minimum amount of protein you need daily.

That’s about:

  • 46 gr for the average woman
  • 56 gr for the average man

In the list below the amount of protein per serving size is shown.  As you can see it’s not that difficult to meet your daily protein needs with food items that are easy on the pocket.

List of 30 cheap high-protein food sources

Non animal protein food sources

Most protein food sources that are non animal are incomplete protein sources. That means they don’t contain all the amino acids to generate proteins within our body. They have to be combined with other incomplete protein food sources to make the formation of new protein possible. Beans and rice are a typical example. Incomplete sources o protein can also be combined with complete sources of protein which makes later protein formation in our body possible.
You should still consider consuming non animal sources of protein since they have lots of other nutrients like phytochemicals, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that are beneficial for our health.

Nuts and seeds

1. Almonds. natural, unsalted

Photo credit: Almonds
Almonds are great healthy snack. Only a handful of almonds has 6 gr of protein and is additionally packed with vitamins, minerals like manganese and antioxidants. Antioxidants from almonds have been shown to lower LDL and raise HDL cholesterol levels. Almonds control your blood sugar preventing high peeks and can help you lose weight. They really are a super food at a low price. It’s best to buy raw almonds and eat a handful of them every day. You can have them as a snack, add them to salads or smoothies, sprinkle them over soups or combine them with your cereals.

1oz, 23 kernels (28 gr) – 162 calories, 6gr protein


2. Peanut butter, creamy natural peanut butter

Photo credit: peanut butter
Peanut butter is one of the least expensive and best non animal protein food sources. Only two tablespoons have 8 gr of protein as well as vitamins and minerals like vitamin B-6 and magnesium. Since it is high in protein it is a food that can make you feel satiated helping weight loss and muscle building. One of the main reasons many health conscious people avoid peanut butter is the amount of fat it contains. It is true that half of the calories in peanut butter come from fat but most of those fats are heart healthy monounsaturated fats and only a small amount are saturated fats. Having a spoon or two of peanut butter is a healthy option, quality source of protein and it won’t bust your diet or wallet either.

2 tbsp (32 gr) – 188 calories, 8 gr protein


3. Sunflower seed kernels

Photo credit: yvonne bogdanski
Sunflower seeds are not only eaten by birds. The kernels of sunflower seeds have 6 gr of protein in only 1 oz! Not only are they full of proteins but also of vitamin E and photochemical like betaine, phenolic acid, choline, arginine. These components are real warriors against oxidation and cancer. Also sunflower seeds protect cell membranes, lower bad cholesterol and keep our blood vessels strong and elastic. Just take a handful of them as a snack or add them over your salad. The best thing is they are healthy, yummy and cheap.

1 oz (28 gr) – 164 calories, 6 gr protein



4. Lentils

protein in lentilsPhoto credit: lazysheep1
Lentils are another rich source of non animal protein. They are also high in dietary fiber which makes them beneficial for your digestive system and blood cholesterol levels. They are also among the cheapest protein food sources out there. Like many non animal protein sources lentils are an incomplete source of protein which means that they don’t contain all essential amino acids needed to generate proteins within our body. That simply means you have to combine lentils with another source of protein to get all essential amino acids.

1 oz (28 gr) – 99 calories, protein 7 gr


5. Kidney beans, raw

protein in kidney beansPhoto credit: Bryan Scott
Kidney beans are a super food! They are packed with 47 gr of protein per cup but also contain lots of fiber and phytochemicals. The typical western diet with processed food is very low in dietary fiber. When we eat beans that have lot’s of fiber our food is processed more slowly making as feel full for longer periods of time. Also processed food is high in sugar which beans almost don’t have. That means that there are no blood sugar spikes and hunger feelings after eating beans. Traditionally beans are combined with rice or nuts in the Mexican cuisine to make them a source of complete protein. From $0.13/oz they are certainly on the cheaper side.

1 oz, 28 gr – 92 calories , 7 gr protein

1 cup (184 gr) – 605 calories, 47 gr protein



6. Wheat bran
protein in wheat branPhoto credit: Phu Thinh Co
Wheat bran is an excellent source of protein. Just add it over your cereals or sprinkle it over soups. Not only will you get more protein but also dietary fiber that will aid your digestion and reduce your hunger feeling.

1oz( 28 gr) – 101 calories, 6 gr protein

Targetin stores only price n/a


7. Whey protein powder
protein in wheyPhoto credit: las

Whey protein powder is a great source of protein and is used as a protein supplement. It is specially popular with people who work out and need more protein because they want to build muscle. Just use it as a drink by itself or add it to your shakes.

1 scoop, 1oz( 28 gr) – 99 calories,  20 gr protein


Animal protein food sources

Almost all animal proteins are complete proteins that allow our body to form new proteins for our muscles and tissues. That’s why it is important to consume animal sources of protein. It’s the easiest way to get all the amino acids we need.


8. Cod fillet
protein in cod fillet

Photo credit: stroinski
Fish doesn’t have to be expensive. There are certain kind of fish that can be purchased all year long and that have good prices. Fish is a very good source of protein without the saturated fats that usually come with meat. That’s why it’s a good idea to eat fish at least once or twice per week. Cod is one of the tastier yet least expensive fish. They are sometimes found under the name pollock or haddock which are different varieties of cod. Except being an excellent source of protein cod is also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B6 and 12 being very beneficial for our heart and blood vessel health. You can buy it both frozen or fresh since frozen cod doesn’t loose it’s quality.

1 oz (28 gr) – 23 calories, 5 gr protein
1 Fillet (231 gr) – 41 gr protein

Walmartin store price n/a
Targetin store price n/a
Safeway$5.60/lb (frozen)
Fish store$9.99/lb (fresh)

9. Sole fillet
protein in sole fish fillet

Sole fish belongs to the family of flatfish as well as flounder. They both taste very similar. Sole fish is a good source of protein with one serving taking care of half of your daily protein needs. On the other hand it is very low in fat. So it’s a perfect choice for those who want to loose weight. If the big stores don’t have sole fish you can find it in your local fish store. Most bigger stores sell frozen flounder for a similar price.

1 oz (28 gr) – 26 calories, 5 gr protein ,
1 Fillet (163 gr) – 31 gr protein

Fish store$7.99/lb (fresh)

10. Snapper fillet
protein in snapper fillet

Snapper is a good source of complete protein, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D. Only one fillet has 45 gr of protein. While being an excellent source of protein snapper is considered to have elevated levels of mercury and should be consumed only once per week.

1 oz (28 gr) – 28  calories, 6 gr protein 
1 Fillet (218 gr) – 45 gr protein

Fish store$9.99/lb (fresh)

11. Tilapia fillet
protein in tilapia fillet

Tilapia is one of the cheapest fish you can buy. It is an excellent source of protein and also considered very low in mercury. Compared to other fish tilapia has a higher amount of cholesterol but sill lower than levels that are found in meat and eggs.

1 oz (28 gr) – 27 calories, 6 gr protein
100 gr – 20 gr protein

Walmartin store only price n/a
Targetin store only price n/a
Safeway$8.79/lb (fresh)
Fish store$6.99/lb (fresh)

12. Mackerel

protein in mackarel

Mackerel is a very good source of protein with 21 gr in one 112 gr fillet. Mackerel is also a fatty fish containing more of heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids than most other sea fish. It is also a good source of  vitamin D.

1 oz (28 gr)- 57 calories, 5 gr protein ,
1 fillet 112 gr – 21 gr protein

Fish store$8.00/lb (fresh)

13. Canned sardines in oil
protein in canned sardines

Photo credit: dinostock
The cheapest fish are canned fish. Sardines canned in oil are among very good and cheap protein food sources.

1 can (3.75 oz) – 191 calories, 23 gr protein

Walmart in stores only n/a price
Target$2.54 (3.75oz can)
Safeway$ 1.20 (3.75 oz can)

14. Canned tuna in water
protein in tuna

Canned tuna is affordable and a champion when it comes to protein levels- only one cup has 39 gr of protein. Protein levels in fresh and canned are very similar. Canned tuna makes a quick meal and can be used for sandwiches, salads, spreads, pastas,…

1 drained cup 5.4 oz (154 gr) – 179 calories, 39 gr protein

Target$ 0.16/oz

15. Cannend anchovies in oil

protein in anchovyPhoto credit: tamorlan
Anchovies are also a good source of protein with a distinct nutty flavor. They are very versatile and can be used in salads, sandwiches, pastas,… The canned type is usually full of salt so it isn’t a bad idea to wash the little fillets before you use them to get some of that excess salt form the fish.

1 can (2 oz) – 94 calories, 13 gr protein



16. Beef, round top ( Round Steak)
protein in beefPhoto credit: Carnivore Locavore
Red meat is among the best sources of complete protein for our body but unlike fish it usually comes with high amounts of saturated fats. The kind of meat that have less fat are usually more expensive. Round steak is one of the cuts that is less expensive and a good source of protein. Half of the calories come from fat, most of them saturated, but since one round steak is quite big  you can easily eat half of it for one serving. That will still give you 50 gr of protein but lower your intake of fat.

1 lb (454 gr) – 753 calories, 100 gr protein

Walmart in stores only price n/a
Targetin stores only price n/a

17. Beef shank, crosscuts
protein in beef shankPhoto credit: Carnivore Locavore
Beef shanks are excellent for soups and a very good source of cheap protein as well. Although they look marbled and fatty they have less fat than round steaks. Like most red meat beef shanks are also an excellent source of iron.

1 lb – 576 calories, 98.7 gr protein

Online butcher shop$ 6.55/lb

18. Beef brisket, flat half

protein in brisketPhoto credit: djjewelz
Beef brisket is a cheap cut that allows you to feed a lot of people for less money. The fat content isn’t that bad as well with about 28% of all calories coming from fat. This cut of meat is very versatile and the left overs can be used in sandwiches for lunch the next day.

1 lb (453 gr) – 585 calories, 98 gr protein

Online butcher shop$10.73/lb

19. Beef, ribs, whole

protein in beef ribsPhoto credit: Carnivore Locavore
Beef ribs are among the fattier but also the cheapest cuts of complete proteins. Eat in moderation from time to time since the fat content is high.
You can also use then for soups. I always reduce the amount of fat in soups by chilling them down after cooking in the fridge and taking away the layer of fat that forms on top of the soup. This way you can enjoy the meat with much less calories.

1 lb – 1388 calories,  75 gr protein

Safeway n/a
Online butcher shop$8.53/lb

20. Ground beef

protein in ground beefPhoto credit: Carnivore Locavore
Ground beef is cheap and very versatile in the kitchen. It is also an excellent source of protein with 17 gr protein  in 100 gr of meat. Try to buy lean ground beef since it has less fat and the same amount of protein.

100 gr – 254 calories, 17 gr protein

Walmart in stores only price n/a
Target in stores only price n/a
Safeway $4.39/lb
Online butcher shopn/a

21. Pork, shoulder
protein in porkPhoto credit: Artizone
Pork is also a good source of protein but usually with more fat than beef. Pork shoulder is a tasty cut that is best consumed moderately because of the high content of saturated fat. Trim away the fatty parts before you cook it.

1 lb – 1070 calories, 78 gr protein

Safeway n/a
Online butcher shop$6.05/lb

22. Cube steak, beef

protein in cube steakPhoto credit: Artizone
Cube steak is one of the less fatty but high in complete protein meat. It is also rich in iron, which helps prevent anemia.

1 steak (185 gr) – 412 calories, 62 gr protein

Online butcher shop$8.75/lb

23. Chicken drumsticks
protein in chicken drums

Photo credit: Yortow
Chicken is a complete source of protein and usually has much less fat than red meat. Drumsticks are among the cheaper cuts of the chicken. The amount of fat and cholesterol is much less if you don’t eat the skin.

1 drumstick with skin, without bone – 118 calories,  14 gr protein

Walmartonly in stores price n/a
Targetonly in stores price n/a
Online butcher shop$3.56/lb

24. Chicken legs
protein in chicken legsPhoto credit:Joy

1 leg without bone, with skin – 189 calories , 18 gr protein

Walmartonly in stores price n/a
Targetonly in stores price n/a
Online butcher shop$3.58/lb

25. Chicken liver
protein in chicken liver

Chicken liver is high in proteins and an excellent source of vitamin A, iron as well as cholesterol. Although high in iron content chicken liver should be avoided during pregnancy because of high Vitamin A content witch it is linked to certain birth defects. The high amount of cholesterol makes it advisable to consume chicken liver periodically.

100 gr – 116 calories, 17 gr protein

Walmartonly in stores price n/a
Targetonly in stores price n/a
Online butcher shopn/a

Dairy and eggs

Both dairy and eggs are excellent sources of protein. Here are listed some of the least expensive products from this category which are still very high in protein.

26. Swiss cheese
protein in swiss cheesePhoto credit: Janeen

1 oz –  106 calories, 8 gr protein

Walmartonly in stores price n/a
Targetonly in stores price n/a

27. Low-fat Cottage cheese
protein in cottage cheesePhoto credit: Dee West

1 oz – 20 calories, 3 gr protein

Walmartonly in stores price n/a
Targetonly in stores price n/a
Safeway$ 0.14/oz

28. Plain Greek yogurt
protein in greek yogurtPhoto credit: Leslie
When buying greek yogurt always buy the plain kind with no additions. Usually all the added flavors have added sugar as well which makes them packed with more calories but the same amount of protein. Plain greek yogurt can substitute mayonnaise in many recipes making the meal protein rich instead of fatty.

2/3 of a cup (150gr) – 130 calories, 11 gr protein

Walmartonly in stores price n/a
Targetonly in stores price n/a
Safeway$ 0.12/oz

29. Whole Eggs
protein in eggsPhoto credit: NYCandre
Eggs are excellent sources of complete protein. They have been avoided because of their high content of cholesterol. If you are concerned about the cholesterol just leave the egg yolk which contains the cholesterol and eat only the egg whites and get an excellent healthy source of protein.

1 large egg – 71 calories, 6 gr protein

Walmartonly in stores price n/a
Targetonly in stores price n/a

30. Milk 2% fat
protein in milkPhoto credit: petrOlly

1 cup (244 gr) – 122 calories, 8 gr protein

Walmartonly in stores price n/a
Targetonly in stores price n/a
Safeway$0.04/fl. oz







Photo credit: mustard lime chicken