Food Rankings: Most Protein Per Dollar, Caffeine Per Dollar

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icedteamixA while back I did a post on What Does 200 Calories Cost? The Economics of Obesity, where I found that you can find the cheapest calories in things like flour, pasta, oil, bread, and doughnuts. Meanwhile, the most expensive calories included all the fresh fruits and vegetables.

Michael Kirk of Efficiency Is Everything has put together his own nutritional spreadsheets and come up with other rankings. Below is an excerpt of his list of foods with the most protein per dollar. While lentils and pinto beans aren’t a surprise, I did find it interesting that white bread had more protein per dollar than whole wheat bread. White pasta also ranked higher than whole wheat pasta. Obviously, there will be some variability in the actual prices at your local grocery store.


Below is an excerpt of his list of foods with the most caffeine per dollar. It’s good to know that powdered iced tea can give good caffeine pop for the buck (I’m saving this discovery for summertime), but I’d still rather drink a good cup of coffee than take a pill.


I do like efficiency, although I don’t know if it is “everything”. I probably won’t plan my weekends around the alcohol per dollar list. 🙂

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  1. I’ve found it’s more important to calculate protein per calories, especially if you’re trying to do any kind of weight lifting or exercise where you need a gram of protein per pound of lean body weight per day. For me that works out to about 150 grams of protein per day. I’ve found the most person protein per calorie in Greek yogurt from Wegman’s or Costco, and the following from Costco: chicken legs and thighs, organic beef, frozen mahi individual packets, frozen salmon, chicken, kale, quinoa microwave meals, and frozen Mexican bowls.

    If you just look at protein per dollar you will end up with a lot of excess calories. Not very efficient.

  2. For the caffeine its not just the cost / mg caffeine its also how much of the stuff you have to consume.
    You’d have to drink 4 cups of iced tea to get the same caffeine in 2 cups of coffee or just one pill. A lot of people won’t necessarily want to drink 4 cups of tea a day.

    Similarly for the protein I don’t think you can really use flour as a reasonable source of protein. You need probably a minimum of 40-50 g of protein a day for an adult. We can’t consume ~5000 calories of flour a day. But consuming ~400-500 calories of lentils would work.

  3. It’s all about the whole grain rice and beans. Cheap per calorie and gets you a lot of protein and whole grains.

  4. Protein occurs as amino acids, and there are several different kinds of amino acids that are essential for human health. While it is possible to get all of the essential amino acids from plants, it is impossible to get all of them from a single plant. It’s simpler – although not necessary nor cheapest – to get the complete array of amino acids from an animal. Anyway, if one is increasing protein consumption as part of a diet to increase lean muscle mass, then this information may be useful. For people just trying to eat a complete diet that includes sufficient protein, it’s not really all that helpful as not all protein is the same. Although interesting, still, Jonathan.

  5. Eat like a bear says

    The anxiety over combining amino acids is passe. I have eaten a >95% vegetarian diet for years without having to worry about that. A diet with a variety of vegetables, legumes, beans, and grains will include all the essential amino acids, plus it will be much richer in antioxidants and phytonutrients than animal protein.

    Eating excess animal protein is strongly linked to heart disease and probably arthritis.

    There are many competitive vegan body builders. But if you want to efficiently build muscle, while eating plant proteins, you may need ~ an extra 1.5 to 2 grams of the amino acid leucine, which you can buy as a supplement and take together with your other proteins.

    JP, the reason white bread is a cheaper source of protein than whole wheat is because they have removed the valuable fiber, etc. And maybe resold it for high-fiber bread or Metamucil? 🙂

  6. The other thing is protein density in terms of amount of food, For example lentils may not have a lot of calories per protein, but the amount of lentils you need to eat to get 20g protein is twice the mass of chicken you’d need to eat, which can impact satiety and convenience which can in turn impact protein intake.

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