With a need for fresh produce, high-quality protein and healthy sources of fat, a well-balanced diet can seem difficult to afford, especially when you find yourself in the meat aisle. But when it comes to proteins, you don’t have to stretch your budget to eat healthy and lose weight. In fact, some of the most nutritious sources of protein are highly affordable and available in bulk. Here, 11 wallet-friendly picks to stock up on to fuel weight loss:
“A 1-ounce handful of almonds offers up to 6 grams of protein, 9 grams of healthy monounsaturated fats and 3.5 grams of fiber, all of which can help make you feel full and satisfied when you’re trying to lose weight,” says Becky Kerkenbush, RD, a representative for the Wisconsin Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Almonds are also rich in vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant that fights damage from harmful free radicals.
To reap the benefits of almonds, opt for unsalted versions to keep your sodium intake down. Have a handful for a quick and easy snack, sprinkle slivered almonds on salads, yogurt, oatmeal and baked chicken or fish and add ground almonds to breads and muffins, suggests Kerkenbush.
“Eggs are inexpensive, easy to prepare and portable,” says Kerkenbush. Because they’re high in protein and low in calories (about 6 grams of protein and just 70 calories each), they fill you up without adding much to your daily intake.
What’s more, people who ate a high-protein breakfast combo of eggs and sausage felt fuller longer when compared to those who went for a low-protein option or skipped the meal altogether, shows a study in Nutrition Journal. Egg eaters had more stable blood sugar levels and were less likely to overeat at lunch. When prepped with little or no cooking oil or butter, eggs make a great addition to your eating plan for weight loss, says Kerkenbush.
A can of black beans is super inexpensive compared to a nice cut of steak. Yet, just half a cup is packed with 7.5 grams of protein, 7.5 grams of fiber, and only 112 calories. Black beans can help you feel fuller and zap hunger — people on a high-fiber, bean-based diet ate roughly 300 calories less per day shows one clinical trial. Additionally, resistant starch in black beans helps improve your digestion by feeding the good bacteria in your gut, says Kerkenbush.
Like black beans, chickpeas, also called garbanzo beans, fill you up with ample protein and fiber as well as slow-to-digest resistant starch (a half-cup serving provides 120 calories with 6 grams of protein and 6 grams of fiber). What’s more, chickpeas are packed with nutrients like manganese (key for bone health) and folate (crucial for red blood cell formation and energy production).
While dried chickpeas tend to be your cheapest option, if you’re purchasing canned chickpeas, you can use aquafaba (the liquid surrounding the chickpeas) for egg-free mayo, granola, healthful desserts or as a thickener in sauces, says Anja Grommons, RD.
Of all the pulses (aka legumes like dried beans and chickpeas), lentils contain the most starch and insoluble fiber as well as a high amount of prebiotics, making them super filling and great for digestion. A source of multiple polyphenols (naturally occurring plant compounds), they’re linked to a lower risk of diabetes, obesity, cancers and cardiovascular diseases.
Pro tip: Don’t worry about soaking dried lentils — just use 3 cups of water per 1 cup of lentils and simmer them for 15–20 minutes, says Jackie Newgent, RD, culinary nutritionist and author of “The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook.”
One can of tuna contains 70 calories yet packs 16 grams of protein and is among the healthiest fish to eat for weight loss. It’s low in fat and high in omega-3 fatty acids, which can prevent and manage heart disease and may lower your blood pressure, says Newgent. To cut down on the sodium content, rinse and drain the tuna first and opt for low-sodium varieties, she advises.
“Plain Greek yogurt is a fabulous source of protein with 18 grams per 6 ounces, which is what you find in a single-serve container,” says Lauren Harris-Pincus, RD.” It also provides 15% of your daily calcium needs and gut-friendly probiotics, which support weight loss.
When trying to slim down, “the key is to make sure you’re getting enough protein at breakfast (to avoid overeating at lunch) and throughout the day to stay satiated,” says Harris-Pincus. That’s where the ever-versatile and affordable Greek yogurt comes in handy.
It might not be on the top of your grocery list, but this overlooked gem makes for a cost-effective staple. Depending on the brand, 1/2 cup (75g) of low-fat cottage cheese contains up to 16 grams of protein, which can help keep you full in between meals. “Look for 1 or 2% fat if possible, as the non-fat version lacks flavor (and isn’t as satiating), while full-fat (4%) adds extra calories and saturated fat,” says Harris-Pincus.
With its subtle flavor, cottage cheese is easy to layer with fruit and whole-grain cereal, says Harris-Pincus. You can also add it to scrambled eggs, a soufflé or even pancake batter for a creamy protein boost.
Possibly one of the most underrated snacks, just a handful of peanuts (about 28) has 7 grams of protein. “Peanuts are an excellent source of several nutrients, including copper (essential for red blood cell formation, bone strength and immunity) and manganese (key for brain and nervous system function). They also contain a phytonutrient called resveratrol, which acts as a powerful antioxidant and may play a role in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease,” says Newgent.
Keep them simple. “Ideally, steer clear of peanuts with a significant amount of added sugars, such as honey-roasted, French burnt or any candy-coated varieties,” advises Newgent.
A 1-ounce handful of shelled pumpkin seeds (aka pepitas) provides 8.5 grams of protein. Pumpkin seeds are also rich in magnesium, “which is important for keeping your energy up and regulating blood sugar and insulin levels,” says Newgent.
For extra crunch and protein, try sprinkling them in soups and salads in lieu of croutons, suggests Newgent. You can also use them as a topper for sweet or savory oatmeal, dark chocolate bark or grain bowls.
Swapping quinoa for your go-to rice from time to time could help you slim down (and even better, it cooks fast). This seed, which is often used like a grain, contains nearly twice as much protein as white rice with 4 grams per half-cup plus 3 grams of satiating fiber, says Newgent.
Protein helps keep you satisfied which promotes weight loss. Search our High Protein collection with egg, meat, seafood, and vegetarian recipes in “Recipe Discovery” in the MyFitnessPal app.