Protein is one of the three important macronutrients that provide us with calories (the other two being carbohydrates and fat). It is used in many bodily functions, including cell maintenance and repair, blood clotting, and antibody production. It is the main component of many body tissues such as skin, hair and muscle. Protein is also digested more slowly than carbs, which helps increase feelings of fullness, or satisfy your hunger.
Protein can be found in a variety of foods, including fish, poultry, meat, legumes, soy, nuts, seeds, and dairy products. Lesser amounts of protein can also be found in whole grains and vegetables. If you’re on a low-carb diet, but are looking to increase your protein intake to build muscle, recover from injury, or help with weight loss, there are plenty of options to choose from. Below is a list of some of my favorite high protein, low carb choices.
This lean protein is a go-to protein source for good reason. A 4-ounce serving of chicken will give you 26 grams of protein for a minimum of 120 calories (and no carbs!). Chicken is also versatile and goes well with almost any type of cuisine.
At a time when the cultured dairy craze is quite high, cottage cheese is making a comeback. A 1/2 cup serving of cottage cheese has about 100 calories, 12 grams of protein, and 5 grams of carbs. It’s also a versatile ingredient that can be used as the base for a sweet or savory meal, and makes a great dipping sauce for vegetables.
Who doesn’t love eggs? It’s an easy, nutrient-dense, and wallet-friendly way to pack protein, plus a filling dose of fat, with trace amounts of carbs. With 6 grams of protein per egg, you can easily get a healthy dose with a simple and super healthy two-egg breakfast with sautéed greens.
A 4-ounce serving of grass-fed beef has 22 grams of protein and no carbs. Grass-fed and free-range means the meat comes from cows that graze freely on grass for their entire lives. This type of beef is the better choice, thanks to a healthier fat profile and more antioxidants. Meat from grass-only cattle contains two to three times the amount of conjugated linoleic acids (CLA) compared to grain-finished beef. CLAs are healthy fats associated with a reduced risk of cancer, a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, and better cholesterol levels.
Three tablespoons of hemp seeds contain about 160 calories, 10 grams of protein, and just 2 grams of carbs. You’ll also get 240 milligrams of potassium and 15-20% of your daily iron needs (depending on the brand). It’s hard to find so much nutrient density in a single food. Hemp has a nice ratio of common omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids, but it’s also loaded with less common stearidonic acid (SDA) and gamma linoleic acid (GLA). You need these fatty acids to fight inflammation and protect your heart and immune system. They are a simple and nutritious addition to your morning smoothie or oatmeal.
I have never come across a nut butter that I didn’t like. Whether you are a peanut butter lover, an almond butter addict or a connoisseur of cashew nuts, opt for natural nut butters made from a single ingredient: the nut! A serving of 2 tablespoons puts about 8 grams of protein on your plate with 6 grams of carbs.
Pumpkin seeds are a nutrient-dense ingredient to use all year round, not just after carving a pumpkin! These small but mighty seeds pack 9 grams of protein in a 1 ounce serving and also contain important minerals such as zinc, magnesium, and iron. They’re also a good source of healthy fats and add a nice crunch to almost any dish for just 4 grams of carbs per shelled serving.
This fish is a delicious source of omega-3s (important for metabolism!) and protein, with about 17 grams per 3-ounce serving and zero carbs. When buying salmon, be sure to opt for the wild variety. It is sustainable and may actually provide more nutritional benefits than farmed options. Salmon is also a source of protein that can be quick and easy to get to the table on a hectic weeknight with a recipe like this. parchment salmon.
This green algae is popular with wellness advocates — and for good reason. Gram for gram, spirulina is perhaps the most nutritious food on the planet. The protein quality of spirulina is considered excellent; comparable to eggs. It contains all the essential amino acids you need: You will find 4 grams in a tablespoon of dried spirulina (and less than 2 grams of carbohydrates). It has a strong flavor, so mask it in a smoothie – it adds a fun blue tint too!
Not only is tempeh a source of gut-friendly probiotics, it’s also packed with plant-based protein. Try experimenting with new meal options, like tempeh breakfast hash, tempeh bacon, or tempeh stir-fry. Don’t know the ingredient? look at this guide to tempeh. You’ll get about 15 grams of protein and 13 grams of carbs in a 4-ounce serving.
Looking to change up your usual egg scramble? Try the tofu. I love sautéing crumbled tofu with colorful veggies like peppers, onions, and spinach for a high-protein, egg-free breakfast. Don’t forget to flavor your tofu with spices like turmeric, black pepper, cumin and garlic. Tofu contains about 20 grams of protein and less than 4 grams of carbs in a 1/2 cup serving.
All yogurts contain protein, but strained options like Greek yogurt or Icelandic skyr are the highest in protein. Opt for an unsweetened version to avoid added sugars, then incorporate your own natural sweeteners, like fresh fruit and cinnamon. You’ll get over 15 grams of protein and 5 grams of carbs per ¾ cup serving, depending on the brand.
RELATED: The Best Plant-Based Proteins to Refuel Now
Beans are higher in carbs, but they’re a great way to get plant-based protein and fiber. A ½ cup serving contains 7.5 grams of protein and 7.5 grams of fiber and 20 grams of carbohydrates. They are also packed with phytonutrients, including anthocyanins and quercetin, both of which act as antioxidants. Black beans have more carbs than other forms of protein, but it comes with all that fiber and extra nutrients. Definitely worth adding to your plate!
Similar to black beans, this legume is higher in carbs than other protein options, but it’s also high in protein, fiber and antioxidants.. These little legumes are a great addition to soups and salads, especially if you’re trying to reduce your animal protein intake. They contain about 7-9 grams of protein per ½ cup serving and 20 grams of carbs.
Lentils are a no-brainer for anyone looking to up their plant-based protein intake (which really should be all of us). Unlike animal proteins which provide saturated fat – the type of fat that can raise our bad LDL cholesterol – plant proteins like lentils are free of saturated fat. Again, this option is higher in carbs but also alimentary fiber, which is essential for stabilizing blood sugar levels and (you guessed it!) helping to lower bad LDL cholesterol levels. A 1 cup serving of cooked lentils will provide 18 grams of protein with 40 grams of carbohydrates.