Eating a healthy and balanced diet can sometimes seem like a costly expense – particularly if you have to grab food on-the-go. 

A study from Cambridge University stated that healthy food costs three times as much as unhealthy foods. The study found that 1,000 calories made up from healthy items, such as salmon, yoghurts and tomatoes, cost an average of £7.49; whereas the same calorie intake from less healthy items, such as pizza, beef burgers, and doughnuts, could be purchased for an average of £2.50. 

However, this is by no means an excuse not to eat healthily – all it takes is some research and shopping around and you’ll find a whole host of incredibly nutritious and low-cost protein sources! By having a list of go-to healthy protein sources you can use to base your main meals around, you can ensure that you are never lacking the nutrients your body needs – particularly if you are training regularly and require a diet high in protein to achieve your goals. 

There are many high-quality, high-protein foods that will help you hit your daily protein goals without breaking the bank!  It can take a lot of time and effort to shop around and seek out low-cost quality protein sources; so we’ve done all the leg work for you! 

We’ve price checked these foods across the ‘big 4’ UK supermarkets, stating the protein content and cost by weight – so you can see exactly how much protein you’re getting for your pennies! 

Here’s our ultimate top 15 low-cost, high-quality protein sources that suit every dietary need, so get your shopping list at the ready!

  1. Tinned tuna

Fish is a fantastic source of protein and omega 3 fatty acids, however fresh fish can sometimes be on the pricey side. This is where tinned tuna (or other tinned fish such as salmon/mackerel) is hard to beat in terms of cost and protein content! Low in fat and calories, this store cupboard staple can be a great fail-safe food when eating on a budget. A good one to buy in bulk when it’s on offer too due to its long shelf life. Use to make fillings for jacket potatoes or sandwiches/wraps/pittas. Tuna also works great mixed with an egg and breadcrumbs to make tasty tuna meatballs or burger patties! Experiment with this store cupboard staple and see what creations you can make – every kitchen cupboard should have at least one tin of tuna in stock! 

Cost & Protein Content:

Most supermarkets offer packs of 4 tins of tuna, these work out at:

= less than 50 pence per 100g tuna.

Approx. 24g protein per 100g of tuna

Tip – Tinned salmon, mackerel and sardines are also very cost effective and good quality sources of protein and omega 3 fatty acids.

2.  Eggs

Eggs have suffered a few knocks to their reputation over the years, however, eggs are in fact one of the most nutrient-dense, affordable foods in the world! While the whites of eggs are packed with protein, those golden yolks are bursting with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fatty acids (only free range) so you get even more nutrients for your money! Even on a tight budget, there is no need to opt for caged hens eggs nowadays as all supermarkets offer own-brand affordable free-range eggs. It really is worth the extra few pence you pay for free range as caged hens eggs don’t have the same nutrients as free range!

Cost & Protein Content:

Cost per half dozen free range eggs = as little as 80p in ‘big-4’ supermarket

= Works out at less than 14 pence per egg

Approx. 6g protein in one egg.

  1. Natural Peanut Butter 

Natural peanut butter is an incredible source of healthy fats and protein. Not just for spreading on toast; peanut butter can be a wonderfully versatile cooking ingredient used in baking, marinades (for meat/fish/tofu), dressings and sauces, eaten with fruit such as apples and bananas or   spooned into your oats, smoothies or protein shakes for an added hit of nutrients! Opt for a good quality natural peanut butter like our 100% Natural Peanut Butter, rather than a generic supermarket own-brand or value peanut butter as these will likely be filled with added salt, sugar, fat and possibly palm oil/additives etc. While it may cost a little more, the product is far superior and 100% peanuts, so you end up getting more peanut for your money, rather than additives and unnecessary sugar. 

Cost & Protein Content:

TPW Natural Peanut Butter £6.99 per kilogram

= Less than 25p per 30g serving.

Approx. 8g protein per 30g serving.

4.   Frozen soya beans

These luminous little green beans are not only delicious, but a great source of plant-based protein! Many supermarkets now offer frozen shelled soybeans, which work out very cost-effective and provide a boost of green-goodness to any meal! Unlike many other plant proteins, soya beans are a complete protein as they contain all of the essential amino acids for human nutrition. 

Cost & Protein Content:

= works out at 45p per 100g serving (frozen weight)

Approx. 14g protein per 100g serving (frozen weight)

5.  Greek yogurt

Greek yogurt has twice as much protein as regular yogurt and is a good source of casein protein. However, protein and fat content can vary quite significantly from brand to brand, so check the label to see how it stacks up. Where possible, always opt for plain unsweetened greek yogurt rather than flavoured varieties as these are generally full of added sugar. Use in smoothies and shakes, mix into oats or use to make tasty marinades for meat/fish, dips and dressings! Blend with your favourite fruit or flavoured protein powder and freeze to make delicious, high protein fro-yo – yum! 

Supermarket own-brand Greek yogurt 500ml tubs:

= 18p per 100g serving

Approx. 8g protein per 100g

6. Chicken fillets/thighs

Undoubtedly one of the most popular foods on the list (particularly amongst fitness fanatics), chicken is a great source of complete protein but depending on the cut of meat, can be expensive. Breast meat is the lowest source of ft of any part of a chicken, but is also the priciest! Cheaper cuts include the fillets (often referred to as ‘mini fillets’) which are the little fillets located under the breast meat. These are similarly low in fat as breast meat but considerably less expensive! Many supermarkets also offer this cut of meat frozen which works out even cheaper still. Other cheap cuts of chicken include thighs, while these may be significantly higher in fat, this is namely due to the skin. So, providing you remove the skin you will have cut a huge proportion of the fat content and calories.

Whole chickens can also work out to be very cost effective and can be used for more than one meal. A whole chicken is approximately 58% meat, which means that a large chicken weighing 1.6kg would give you just under a kg of meat, containing more than 250g protein! Whole chickens are frequently on offer in supermarkets so keep your eyes peeled!

Supermarket own-brand chicken ‘mini’ fillets:

= 55p per 100g serving

Approx. 28g protein per 100g serving

7. Chickpeas

Most supermarkets sell large bags of own-brand or branded dried chickpeas, which work out even cheaper than the tinned variety! If you don’t have the time or inclination to soak/cook dried chickpeas – tinned chickpeas are still a super-cheap quality source of protein! Chickpeas are well worth having stocked up as you can easily whip up a batch of hummus in minutes or use to make our unreal high-protein falafel burgers! Toss them in a little olive oil and spices, roast in the oven and you have a delicious savoury snack that’s packed full of protein and fibre! Perfect in soups and stews with a universally pleasant and mild flavour, chickpeas are a low-budget no-brainer! 

 

Dried Chickpeas:

= less than 15p per 100g dried weight

Approx. 18g protein per 100g dried chickpeas

Tinned Chickpeas:

= less than 50p per 400g tin (120g drained weight)

Approx. 18g protein per 120g drained chickpeas

8.   Tofu

Tofu is a complete protein source, so is a great option for vegetarians/vegans, it is also a good source of calcium and iron. A bit of a ‘love it or hate it’ type food, don’t let previous bad tofu experiences put you off! Drain as much water as possible out of the tofu and press before cooking to avoid an unpleasant texture. Tofu is very bland on its own but is great at carrying strong flavours, so marinade in something punchy and flavourful for at least 2-3 hours (overnight if possible) before cooking to get maximum flavour from this plant-based protein source. 

396g pack branded tofu from supermarket:

= less than 40p per 100g serving

Approx. 12g protein per 100g serving

 

9.   Turkey mince

Turkey mince is an inexpensive source of complete protein and works a treat in many different recipes. Although, it can sometimes be fattier than you may expect with poultry, so check the fat content – a lot of supermarkets offer both a lower fat (around 2-3%) and higher fat (around 7-8%) variety.  it’s a great substitute for minced beef in cooking and makes fantastic meatballs! 

Supermarket own-brand fresh turkey mince 500g:

= less than 46p per 100g

Approx. 19g protein per 100g serving

10. Black beans

These little black beauties are fantastic sources of plant-based protein. Available tinned in most supermarkets (some may also offer the dried variety which can work out even more cost-effective). Black beans are also a great source of fibre which helps to reduce hunger and increase fullness! Black beans make a great protein addition to soups, stews, curries, chillies – they can even be used to make deliciously healthy brownies! One of the best sources of vegan protein, having a few tins of black beans in stock can provide you with a base for many tasty high-protein meals!

Supermarket own-brand tinned black beans:

= less than 15p per 100g

Approx. 7.5g protein per 100g

11. Cottage cheese

Cheese is the highest concentrated source of dairy protein, however this usually comes along with a heavy fat content…Step forward cottage cheese! Giving you the best of both worlds in terms of its high-protein and calcium content, whislt being low-fat/calorie (providing you go for a low-fat/fat-free variety). It can sometimes be high in salt, so check the label! Cottage cheese is another surprisingly versatile protein source in sweet and savoury recipes; use it as you would with yogurt to boost protein in your overnight oats or bulk out your protein pancake mix. If you don’t like the texture of cottage cheese – try blending it and you won’t even notice it’s there in many different recipes! Blended cottage cheese works particularly well as an alternative to cream cheese to make a healthy cheesecake! It also makes super-tasty, protein-packed savoury egg muffins that you can make in a variety of flavours! Simply throw any leftover veg or meat into whisked egg and cottage cheese, pour into a muffin tray, bake in the oven and you’ll have a supply of delicious snacks/breakfasts at the ready!

Supermarket own-brand cottage cheese

= less than 30p per 100g

Approx. 11g protein per 100g

12. Whey protein powder 

Widely regarded as the gold standard of all protein powders, whey is the go-to protein powder of choice for countless people. Whey protein is a byproduct of cheese manufacturing and is one of the most concentrated sources of complete protein available. Aside from being an exceptional source of protein, it is also low calorie, low fat and and fast digesting. 

Our TPW Whey protein 80 concentrate is pure, whey protein concentrate that not only boasts an incredible nutrient profile and delicious flavour, but is also very cost-effective at less than 62 pence per 30g serving! Take as a shake in between meals or before/after training to fuel your muscles or add into recipes! Check out our locker room recipes for an abundance of protein-enriched delights!

= Less than 62p per 30g serving

Approx. 21g protein per 30g serving

13. Lentils

These little legumes are another rich source of plant-based protein. Lentils are regularly used to substitute meat in many vegetarian/vegan dishes such as shepherds pie or curries. However as it is plant-based,  it isn’t a complete source of protein on it’s own so should be combined with other protein sources such as wild rice, whole wheat bread or quinoa to get all the essential amino acids your body needs. 

= less than 20p per 100g dried red lentils 

18g protein per 100g dried red lentils 

Tip – The information above is based on red lentils as they are the most readily available dried lentils, however feel free to experiment with different types of lentils such as brown and puy. They may be a little more pricey but most dried legumes work out to be very cost effective. Tinned green lentils are also generally cheap and as they are pre-cooked, can be thrown straight into a salad or soup for an extra boost of protein!

14. Oats

Surprisingly high in protein, oats are a super-cheap and nutritious food to get stocked up when eating on a budget! Oats are incredibly nutritious and packed full of important vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Shown to keep you fuller-for-longer, oats not only make a hearty meal on their own in recipes such as overnight oats, throw a handful into a smoothie or protein shake to give an added boost of nutrients and keep hunger at bay! Pulse in a food processor to make oat flour and you have the base to make a high-protein bread or pizza dough!

= less than 15p per 100g

Approx. 11g protein per 100g

15. Milk

A daily staple in many western diets, cow’s milk is an excellent and affordable source of complete protein. Milk is comparable with eggs in terms of affordability and protein content. If you are watching your calorie or fat intake, opt for skimmed milk which is 1% fat but still retains the same protein content. Some studies have shown that organic milk has higher levels of nutrients so if its within your budget, opt for organic to get maximum benefits. 

= Less than 50p per litre

Approx. 36g protein per litre

The Take Home:

Eating a diet high in protein doesn’t have to cost the earth. There are many high-quality protein sources which are suitable for any diet, taste and budget. A diet rich in protein has been shown to have many health benefits and can help to keep you fuller for longer, increase muscle mass and fat loss. 

From whey protein powder to tinned tuna, there are so many great high-protein sources to choose from – many of the ones we have discussed work well together in a number of recipes such as protein oats made with peanut butter, milk, greek yogurt, oats and whey protein powder – a fantastic high-protein breakfast option! Or how about a black bean, chickpea and lentil curry for a thrifty, vegan, high-protein dinner you can make in bulk and freeze into portions! So, have an experiment and get creative with both sweet and savoury recipes – check out our TPW Locker Room recipes for some inspiration! 

Reference list:

  1. Jones, Nicholas & Conklin, Annalijn & Suhrcke, Marc & Monsivais, Pablo. (2014). The Growing Price Gap between More and Less Healthy Foods: Analysis of a Novel Longitudinal UK Dataset. PloS one. 9. e109343. 10.1371/journal.pone.0109343. 
  2. MacCance, R. and Widdowson, E. (2015). McCance and Widdowson’s the composition of foods. Cambridge: Royal Soc. of Chemistry.
  3. Michelfelder, Aaron. (2009). Soy: A Complete Source of Protein. American family physician. 79. 43-7. 
Stephanie Yates

Stephanie Yates

Stephanie has a BSc in Food and Nutrition, paired with an extensive culinary background gained working as a chef and recipe developer for healthy eateries. With a passion for fitness and sports nutrition, Stephanie utilises her knowledge to deliver science-backed nutritional guidance and up-to-date, well-researched articles in this field. As a former chef, Stephanie has a wealth of experience in developing creative, healthy and delicious recipes to help people meet their nutritional needs and fitness/body goals.

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