Cheapest Sources Of Protein, Calories, And Macros – Comparison Tables
Topics: Health

Recently I looked at the back of a hot dog package and I regret it.  Not because of the ingredients list.  The nutrition facts.

Think about this.  One pound of pork has 95g of protein.  One pound of chicken breast contains 136g of protein.  One pound of cheap hot dogs (which are composed of pork and chicken) contains just 32g of protein.  And yet, they aren’t much cheaper than chicken breast!

Hot Dogs Are Priced Like A Luxury Food

So if a hot dog has 1/4 the protein of chicken, shouldn’t hot dogs cost 1/4 the price?  That’s what I thought.  Hot dogs are supposed to be a cheap source of meat.  But I can buy a pound of chicken at $2.50/lb and a pound of hot dogs at $1.50/lb at Walmart.

Let’s try a new metric – dollars per 100g of protein.  For chicken, 100g of protein costs $1.84.  Hot dogs?  $4.18.  And that’s for off-brand hot dogs.  Oscar Mayer Classics are $5.37 for 100g of protein.

Based on this metric, hot dogs are expensive.  A nice pack of hot dogs has a $/gram protein price comparable to beef chuck or blade steak.  You’re paying a premium to eat a mixture of meat scraps, corn syrup, and water compressed into a little weiner shape.

ItemPackage Weight (g)Package Weight (oz/lbs)Package CostProtein (g) per 100g of FoodProtein (cal) per 100g of FoodCost of 100g Protein
White Rice, Dry22705 lbs$2.32832.0$1.28
1 Dozen Large Eggs - Walmart7141.6 lbs$1.001040.0$1.40
Chicken Breast (Uncooked)4541 lb$2.5030120.0$1.84
Brown Rice Protein 5lbs - Bulkfoods22405 lbs$33.2977308.0$1.93
Jiff Natural Peanut Butter 40 oz112040 oz$5.482184.0$2.33
Milk 2% - Great Value Walmart37808.3 lbs$2.80312.0$2.47
Kidney Beans - Great Value Walmart4541 lb$0.60520.0$2.64
Peanut Butter Powder - PBFit Sam's Club8401.8 lbs$9.8842168.0$2.80
Whey Protein Powder - MuscleTech Vanilla Sam's Club27206 lbs$40.0050200.0$2.94
Pork, fresh, loin, sirloin (chops or roasts), boneless, separable lean only, raw4541 lb$3.002184.0$3.15
Canned Sardines in Oil 3.75oz, Drained1053.75 oz$0.802288.0$3.46
Soy Protein Isolate EAS5901.3 lb$9.8848192.0$3.49
Mozzerella Cheese 16oz - Great Value Walmart4541 lb$4.4825100.0$3.95
Cheddar Cheese 16oz - Great Value Walmart4541 lb$4.4825100.0$3.95
Ground Beef (Uncooked) 85/154541 lb$3.501976.0$4.06
Cheap Hot Dogs - Bar-S 3lb 24 Pack13613 lbs$3.98728.0$4.18
Canned Tuna in Water, drained 5 oz - Starkist1125 oz$1.001872.0$4.96
Beef Chuck (Shoulder Clod, Top Blade Steak, Lean Only, Trimmed to 0" Fat, Choice Grade)4541 lb$4.501976.0$5.22
Regular Hot Dogs - Oscar Mayer Classic 1lb 10 Pack4541 lb$2.681144.0$5.37
Beef T-Bone Steak (Uncooked, Trimmed to 1/8" Fat, Choice Grade)4541 lb$7.002184.0$7.34
Canned Tuna in Water, undrained 5 oz - Wild Planet1405 oz$3.5025100.0$10.00

Cost of Protein and Miles Per Gallon

The value of meat comes from many factors, like protein content, taste, and convenience.  So comparing foods just based on one metric – cost per ounce, cost per gram of protein, cost per calorie, taste, convenience, perishability – isn’t enough.  It’s like judging a car solely on its gas mileage.  Or a person based on their attractiveness from 1 to 10.

There isn’t one number that compares food.  White rice, for example, is the cheapest source at $1.28/100g of protein.  However every gram of protein from white rice comes with 11g of carbs.  Whereas canned tuna maxes the chart at $10.00/100g protein, yet every gram of protein comes with 0g of carbs.

So these data and conclusions are only a small insight in a multifaceted problem.

You may need to scroll horizontally for more data

ItemPackage Weight (g)Package Weight (oz/lbs)Package CostProtein (g) per 100g of FoodTotal Calories per 100g of FoodCost of 100g ProteinCost of 100g of FoodCost per 1000 CalorieProtein (cal) per 100g of FoodCarb / Fat / Protein Calorie Ratio
White Rice, Dry22705 lbs$2.328400$1.28$0.10$0.2632.089 / 2 / 8
1 Dozen Large Eggs - Walmart7141.6 lbs$1.0010118$1.40$0.14$1.1940.00 / 64 / 36
Chicken Breast (Uncooked)4541 lb$2.5030195$1.84$0.55$2.82120.00 / 38 / 63
Brown Rice Protein 5lbs - Bulkfoods22405 lbs$33.2977355$1.93$1.49$4.19308.011 / 0 / 89
Jiff Natural Peanut Butter 40 oz112040 oz$5.4821576$2.33$0.49$0.8584.016 / 71 / 14
Milk 2% - Great Value Walmart37808.3 lbs$2.80363$2.47$0.07$1.1812.034 / 46 / 20
Kidney Beans - Great Value Walmart4541 lb$0.60577$2.64$0.13$1.7220.073 / 4 / 23
Peanut Butter Powder - PBFit Sam's Club8401.8 lbs$9.8842417$2.80$1.18$2.82168.029 / 34 / 37
Whey Protein Powder - MuscleTech Vanilla Sam's Club27206 lbs$40.0050350$2.94$1.47$4.20200.028 / 11 / 61
Pork, fresh, loin, sirloin (chops or roasts), boneless, separable lean only, raw4541 lb$3.0021128$3.15$0.66$5.1684.00 / 30 / 70
Canned Sardines in Oil 3.75oz, Drained1053.75 oz$0.8022182$3.46$0.76$4.1988.00 / 51 / 49
Soy Protein Isolate EAS5901.3 lb$9.8848405$3.49$1.67$4.13192.046 / 5 / 49
Mozzerella Cheese 16oz - Great Value Walmart4541 lb$4.4825286$3.95$0.99$3.45100.00 / 65 / 35
Cheddar Cheese 16oz - Great Value Walmart4541 lb$4.4825393$3.95$0.99$2.51100.00 / 74 / 26
Ground Beef (Uncooked) 85/154541 lb$3.5019215$4.06$0.77$3.5976.00 / 64 / 36
Cheap Hot Dogs - Bar-S 3lb 24 Pack13613 lbs$3.987250$4.18$0.29$1.1728.011 / 77 / 11
Canned Tuna in Water, drained 5 oz - Starkist1125 oz$1.001880$4.96$0.89$11.1672.00 / 0 / 100
Beef Chuck (Shoulder Clod, Top Blade Steak, Lean Only, Trimmed to 0" Fat, Choice Grade)4541 lb$4.5019182$5.22$0.99$5.4576.00 / 57 / 43
Regular Hot Dogs - Oscar Mayer Classic 1lb 10 Pack4541 lb$2.6811200$5.37$0.59$2.9544.08 / 71 / 22
Beef T-Bone Steak (Uncooked, Trimmed to 1/8" Fat, Choice Grade)4541 lb$7.0021263$7.34$1.54$5.8684.00 / 67 / 33
Canned Tuna in Water, undrained 5 oz - Wild Planet1405 oz$3.5025143$10.00$2.50$17.48100.00 / 26 / 74

In table above, I’ve added data about cost per calorie and Fat/Carb/Protein ratio.  This changes how we interpret the data.  Peanut butter, which is cheap source of protein, has a Fat/Carb/Protein ratio of 16/71/14 (ignoring the rounding errors).  Every gram of protein comes with 5 grams of fat.  Or you could say every calorie of protein has 11 calories of fat.

In the table below, I’ve added more data about fat, carbs, and calories.  Although the sample size is small, it’s one of the most complete cost analysis of macronutrients and calories available on the internet.  If you know of similar work, let me know in the comments below.

ItemPackage Weight (g)Package Weight (oz/lbs)Package CostCarbs (g) per 100g of FoodFat (g) per 100g of FoodProtein (g) per 100g of FoodTotal Calories per 100g of FoodCost of 100g CarbCost of 100g FatCost of 100g ProteinCost of 100g of FoodCost per 1000 CalorieCarbs (cal) per 100g of FoodFat (cal) per 100g of FoodProtein (cal) per 100g of Food% of Calories from Carbs% of Calories from Fat% of Calories from ProteinCarb / Fat / Protein Calorie Ratio
White Rice, Dry22705 lbs$2.328718400$0.12$10.22$1.28$0.10$0.26348.09.032.089.52.38.289 / 2 / 8
1 Dozen Large Eggs - Walmart7141.6 lbs$1.000810118NA$1.75$1.40$0.14$1.190.072.040.00.064.335.70 / 64 / 36
Chicken Breast (Uncooked)4541 lb$2.500830195NA$6.88$1.84$0.55$2.820.072.0120.00.037.562.50 / 38 / 63
Brown Rice Protein 5lbs - Bulkfoods22405 lbs$33.2910077355$14.86NA$1.93$1.49$4.1940.00.0308.011.50.088.511 / 0 / 89
Jiff Natural Peanut Butter 40 oz112040 oz$5.48244821576$2.04$1.02$2.33$0.49$0.8596.0432.084.015.770.613.716 / 71 / 14
Milk 2% - Great Value Walmart37808.3 lbs$2.8053363$1.48$2.47$2.47$0.07$1.1820.027.012.033.945.820.334 / 46 / 20
Kidney Beans - Great Value Walmart4541 lb$0.60160.4577$0.83$33.04$2.64$0.13$1.7264.03.620.073.14.122.873 / 4 / 23
Peanut Butter Powder - PBFit Sam's Club8401.8 lbs$9.88331742417$3.56$6.92$2.80$1.18$2.82132.0153.0168.029.133.837.129 / 34 / 37
Whey Protein Powder - MuscleTech Vanilla Sam's Club27206 lbs$40.0023450350$6.39$36.76$2.94$1.47$4.2092.036.0200.028.011.061.028 / 11 / 61
Pork, fresh, loin, sirloin (chops or roasts), boneless, separable lean only, raw4541 lb$3.000421128NA$16.52$3.15$0.66$5.160.036.084.00.030.070.00 / 30 / 70
Canned Sardines in Oil 3.75oz, Drained1053.75 oz$0.8001022182NA$7.62$3.46$0.76$4.190.090.088.00.050.649.40 / 51 / 49
Soy Protein Isolate EAS5901.3 lb$9.8845248405$3.72$83.73$3.49$1.67$4.13180.018.0192.046.24.649.246 / 5 / 49
Mozzerella Cheese 16oz - Great Value Walmart4541 lb$4.4802125286NA$4.70$3.95$0.99$3.450.0189.0100.00.065.434.60 / 65 / 35
Cheddar Cheese 16oz - Great Value Walmart4541 lb$4.4803225393NA$3.08$3.95$0.99$2.510.0288.0100.00.074.225.80 / 74 / 26
Ground Beef (Uncooked) 85/154541 lb$3.5001519215NA$5.14$4.06$0.77$3.590.0135.076.00.064.036.00 / 64 / 36
Cheap Hot Dogs - Bar-S 3lb 24 Pack13613 lbs$3.987217250$4.18$1.39$4.18$0.29$1.1728.0189.028.011.477.111.411 / 77 / 11
Canned Tuna in Water, drained 5 oz - Starkist1125 oz$1.00001880NANA$4.96$0.89$11.160.00.072.00.00.0100.00 / 0 / 100
Beef Chuck (Shoulder Clod, Top Blade Steak, Lean Only, Trimmed to 0" Fat, Choice Grade)4541 lb$4.5001119182NA$9.01$5.22$0.99$5.450.099.076.00.056.643.40 / 57 / 43
Regular Hot Dogs - Oscar Mayer Classic 1lb 10 Pack4541 lb$2.6841611200$14.76$3.69$5.37$0.59$2.9516.0144.044.07.870.621.68 / 71 / 22
Beef T-Bone Steak (Uncooked, Trimmed to 1/8" Fat, Choice Grade)4541 lb$7.0001921263NA$8.12$7.34$1.54$5.860.0171.084.00.067.132.90 / 67 / 33
Canned Tuna in Water, undrained 5 oz - Wild Planet1405 oz$3.500425143NANA$10.00$2.50$17.480.036.0100.00.026.573.50 / 26 / 74

Quit Telling Us Canned Tuna Is Cheap Protein

Canned tuna, which contains 0 carbs and almost 0 fat, is utilitarian.  It’s protein in a can.  Perhaps it’s value lies in the absence of fat and carbs.  At $4.96/100g protein, cheap tuna is the 4th most expensive source of protein out of 21 foods I analyzed.  And a nice can of tuna, like Wild Planet, tops the chart out at a whopping $10/100g of protein!!

You’ll find most websites who write about cheap sources of protein recommend canned tuna.  In fact, the first three Google results for “cheap sources of protein” all recommended canned tuna – here, here, and here.

These lists are wrong, very wrong.  Most claim a 5oz can has 40g of protein.  Where are they finding 5oz cans of tuna with 40g of protein?  Cheap brands like Starkist and Chicken of the Sea have about 20g of protein in a 5oz can.  Nice brands like Wild Planet and Safe Catch get a maximum of 35g of protein into a 5oz can.

I have a feeling these articles are written by looking at similar articles and blindly copying their items.

Tuna is a great food and a great source of protein, but it’s expensive.  Our weightlifting and frugal friends reading these lists are being misinformed.

Side note – there are a select few people out there who did their own research.  Particularly Stacey Krawczyk, who shows that salmon is cheaper than hot dogs.

These Numbers Don’t Mean Much

Most of these food prices come from my local Walmart.  I live in a small Midwest town, so the cost of food is quite cheap.  You can probably scale these numbers up if you live in a bigger city.

Additionally, many of these prices fluctuate significantly – fresh meat and eggs are often in turmoil or on sale.  Maybe your grocery store sells milk and eggs for a premium.

However, these data are accurate enough to refute hot dogs and tuna as cheap protein.

You can download my CSV or XLSX.

If there is food you’d like to see on these tables, errors in my calculations, or other feedback, leave a comment below!

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