A few years ago I tipped the scales at close to 220 pounds. 218 was my peak. I’m 6’1” so 218 is definitely overweight. But it was only after seeing a picture of myself at the beach that summer that I realized I was, well, fat. I couldn’t believe it! I was an athlete, after all. I played hoops once a week with the other dads, well, until I tore my plantar fascia. And I ran, well, that was before the injury too. But I went to the gym a couple times a week and lifted. At least I did before I had kids.
Who was I fooling? I needed to lose weight. I tried a couple supplements and a couple fad diets, but they didn’t work. But the beach picture was the wake up call. I decided to go on a low carb, high protein diet, cut back on the beer (and scotch), be mindful of portion size, no more nightly ice cream, and get back in the gym.
All those things in combination helped, but it was my focus on what I ate that I feel made the biggest difference. Lean chicken, and salmon were my protein “go tos.” That and a fairly expensive protein shake powder. Then one day I was in our grocery store and picked up a container of nonfat greek yogurt. A friend suggested I try it. I looked at the label and was blown away by the amount of protein for a container of relatively few calories. When I got home and checked, it had more protein per calorie than my protein shake mix! Why was I spending all that money on fake protein powder food (though it was tasty) when yogurt would get the job done for less money?
And then I saw a Meatless Monday post and it got me thinking. I wonder if people really realize how much they can improve their nutrition AND save money by shifting their protein source. In the gym and in the fitness circles guys are constantly sharing nutrition tips. Lean beef and pork come up plenty, but so do eggs and low-fat yogurt and cottage cheese. But what I wanted to know is how much does a gram of protein cost if it comes from a cow or a chicken or a fish or a bean. I couldn’t find it.
It was hard to find, so I did the research myself. I quickly found that there are hundreds of different ways to look at the data, but there is a great website the USDA has that really helps. I also decided to narrow my research down to 16 typically thought of high protein foods to simplify my research. After all, chicken wings may be a protein source, but I’ll let you figure that one out yourself. Anyway, my top 16 are:
- Beef (sirloin)
- Black Beans
- Canned Tuna
- Chick Peas
- Chicken Breast
- Cottage Cheese
- Greek Yogurt
- Peanut Butter
- Pork Loin
- Yogurt (regular)
That’s the list. And this is what I found:
In terms of calories per protein, it turns out tuna is the best followed by chicken breast. But my Greek yogurt and cottage cheese are close behind. So close, in fact, that for a Meatless Monday I can easily go without chicken and make a yogurt based smoothie, or a veggie curry with a greek yogurt curry sauce.
But what about cost? Greek yogurt seems expensive. Do I get enough extra protein to make it worth it? Turns out, it’s more expensive than regular yogurt, but barely so. For me, the extra penny and a half for that gram is worth it. But here is something I didn’t expect. Yes, overall, chicken came out on top for cost per protein, but tofu, peanut butter and black beans are right behind the chicken. So, if I’m trying to manage cost, I can get my protein from a tofu stir-fry with spicy peanut sauce (just watch the calories). That’s good for me too since I love, LOVE, peanut butter. Or for a simpler fare, I could always go with black beans and rice.
I don’t consider myself a vegetarian but I rarely eat meat anymore. It’s mostly for health reasons, mine and the planet’s. I do still love seafood, but I’ve cut way back on fish, like salmon, and stick mostly to local shellfish, when available. I’m lucky. I live in Maryland, but even here, local seafood is no longer a given. With crab and oyster populations at historic lows and when our local seafood restaurant has to fly in Rockfish (our state fish) from Massachusetts, I know something is up. And for all you steak men out there, there are better choices for calories per protein, cost per protein, and, frankly, cattle are a big source of methane and require lots of land and food.
And now, having done the research, I know I can still eat the high protein diet I’ve come to enjoy that helps me stay fit and feel good while also being gentle on the planet and my wallet.
For my results, click on the chart below to expand.
To visit John's blog, click on his name right above.