Listen to Kevin on Wisconsin Public Radio

On Your Money® Members | Sign Up (FREE)Login


The Price of Protein

by Kevin McKinley - October 19th, 2014

Posted Under: around the house

According to a recent survey conducted by the good people at “The NPD Group”, more than half of American shoppers say that they are looking to add more protein to their diets.

And if you’ve toured the supermarket aisles recently, it’s obvious that food manufacturers and marketers are going to great lengths to meet that demand, mostly by selling you their specially-formulated and usually-higher-priced protein-fortified products.

But you may not need as much protein as you think, and there are several ways to get what you do need without spending a fortune.

How much protein is enough?

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says that children need 13 to 34 grams of protein each day, depending on their age and size. Adult women should get 46 grams, and adult men should shoot for 52 grams daily (and many Wisconsinites are going to literally shoot at protein sources during the upcoming deer season).

Another generally-accepted rule of thumb is that you should multiply your weight in pounds by .3 to calculate how much protein you need. For instance, a 180 pound man would need around 54 grams of protein per day (180 x .3 = 54).

Athletes-in-training may want and need more than the CDC’s recommended daily allowance. And no, despite your contentions, taking the dog for a walk around the block after dinner does not qualify you as an athlete in training.

Health effects

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says that protein is needed to help develop and strengthen bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood, and can help with the production and processing of enzymes, hormones, and vitamins.

Some studies have found that diets high in protein can help with weight loss, as the protein helps one feel more full (and then therefore one will eat less calories).

A few others have found that consuming too much protein over an extended time period can cause health issues (especially if you get your recommended daily allowance of protein entirely from eating a family-size bag of potato chips).

High-priced protein sources

Some methods of getting protein cost more than others. For instance, those protein and energy bars generally cost ten cents or more for each gram of protein provided, as do many of the shakes and drinks containing added protein.

You might have seen recent individual snack trays for sale that highlight their respective protein content, and contain a mix of cheese, meat, nuts, or crackers.

Although these packages might be convenient for school lunches or travel, they still work out to a cost of over ten cents per gram of protein (and even then, you can probably buy the components in larger quantities and save a lot of money by divvying them up yourself).

Spend less, get more protein

You don’t need to buy any specially-fortified or packaged products to meet your protein needs. The items already on your shopping list are some of the most affordable sources.

For instance, depending on where you shop and what kind you purchase, eggs provide protein at a cost of just two cents per gram. Milk and peanut butter are the next best option, at three cents per gram.

Whole wheat bread and canned black beans comes in at four cents per gram, and then canned tuna is next at about five cents per. Surprisingly, even buying a piece of beef at $6 per pound will provide protein at just five cents per gram, as well.

Although a boneless chicken breast is the most expensive entry in the more-affordable food types we considered, it still costs only six cents per gram of protein.

And out of consideration to our deer-hunting brethren and sistern(?), we won’t release our calculations on much money they spend per gram of protein contained in the venison they aim to put on the table or in the freezer.