What are some of the best high protein – low calorie foods? Whether you want to lose weight, build muscle or just maintain a healthy body… healthy protein sources should be a key part of your diet.
The problem with many high protein foods is that they also tend to be high in calories. This is especially true for many processed ‘high protein’ foods, like protein shakes and protein bars. Not ideal if your goal is to lose weight or maintain a healthy muscle/fat ratio.
In other words, the source of the protein is at least as important as the amount of protein that source contains. Read on for some of the best, healthy protein rich foods that are also low in overal calories. You’ll also discover some amazing high protein / low calorie foods you’ve probably never considered… or even heard of.
You need protein
Protein is an essential ‘macronutrient’. Your body needs a lot of it every day just to function properly. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.36 grams per pound of bodyweight, or 0.8 grams per kilo. This is the minimum amount you need to meet your nutritional requirements.
Every cell in your body is composed of protein. Your body needs it to build new tissues and repair old ones. Protein is also important for making many kinds of hormones, enzymes and other essential body chemicals.
Another benefit is that high protein foods tend to be satiating. This means they help you feel full longer after eating them. This is because your body takes longer to digest protein. This means you also burn more calories breaking down protein, making it extra beneficial for weight loss.
Considering the important role protein plays in muscle building and maintaining a healthy weight, many people look for new ways to add more of it to their diets. However, as mentioned, it’s important to look for ways to do this without adding any additional calories… especially if you’re looking to lose weight.
Healthy High Protein Low Calorie Foods
Here are some of the best food choices that provide you with enough protein… without affecting your calorie intake:
With 31 grams of protein and 165 calories per 100 grams chicken breast is one of the most popular high protein foods among fitness enthusiasts, bodybuilders and people who want to lose weight.
Tuna contains 26 grams of protein and just 116 calories per 100 grams. This makes it another healthy option that provides you with loads of lean protein. It also offers several health benefits because it contains omega-3’s as well.
Salmon is a fatty fish that is full of healthy omega-3 fatty acids. It’s also an excellent low calorie source of protein, with 20 grams of protein and just 120 calories per 100 grams.
Salmon is also high in potassium and an excellent source of B vitamins, making it a healthy choice in just about any diet.
With 26 grams of protein and 129 calories for 100 grams Tilapia is among the most popular whitefish varieties and contains a good amount of protein.
Whitefish in general is an excellent source of lean protein, most of them providing between 20-25 grams of protein per 100 grams. Some other great examples are include cod, pollock, haddock, flounder and halibut.
Turkey contains 26 grams of protein and 189 calories per 100 grams. A little less protein and a little more calories than chicken breast… but still a great choice when it comes to healthy, low calorie protein foods.
With 24 grams of protein and just 99 calories per 100 grams, shrimp is another great low calorie source of lean protein. It is also high in several vitamins, antioxidants and minerals… as well as omega-3’s.
Tempeh is a fermented soy product that’s often used as a vegetarian meat replacement. It’s incredibly healthy and nutritions. With 19 grams of protein and 193 calories per 100 grams it provides you with a good amount of protein without adding substantially to your calorie intake.
Tempeh is also rich in prebiotics. These are types of fiber that promote the growth of healthy gut bacteria in your digestive system.
No list of healthy, high protein foods would be complete without eggs. Not only are they a great source of protein (about 13 grams of protein per 100 grams) but they are are also loaded with nutrients.
While egg whites are almost pure protein, it’s the yolk that contains most of the nutrients.
Nonfat cottage cheese
With 10 grams of protein and just calories 72 for 100 grams, adding nonfat cottage cheese to your diet is a surefire way of cutting out some calories while loading your body up with a good amount of protein.
Tofu contains 8 grams of protein and just calories 72 per 100 grams. It also has all nine essential amino acids, as well as iron, calcium, magnesium, copper, zinc and vitamin B1. This makes it an excellent high protein food, both from a nutritional and from a health perspective.
Low-fat Greek yogurt
Greek yoghurt contains about 10 grams of protein and 87 calories per 100 grams. It offers a good amount of protein and is relatively low in calories, which makes it a great food to include in your weight loss meal plans.
Greek yoghurt also contains probiotics. These are healthy gut bacteria which have numerous health benefits, including improvement of your intestinal health and strengthening your immune system.
Research published in The British Journal of Nutrition also showed that women who took probiotics lost more weight than those who didn’t (1).
Some less obvious choices
The foods mentioned above are some of the most obvious choices when it comes to healthy sources of lean protein. They are the ones you probably find on most ‘healthy high protein foods lists’ out there.
Black bean pasta
With only 17 grams of carbs and a whopping 25 grams of protein per 100 grams, black bean pasta is a great food to include in your diet if you want to up your protein intake. It’s also gluten free and vegan friendly, meaning absolutely anyone can safely include it in their diet.
Seitan, also known as “wheat meat”, is another great yet little known vegetarian source of protein that’s well worth looking into. It contains a whopping 29 grams of protein and just 5 grams of carbs per 100 grams. It’s used as a meat substitute in many commercial vegetarian products.
Just like tofu and tempeh seitan can be sauteed, fried, roasted grilled and braised. This makes it easy to include in your recipes. However, seitan has a much better protein/carb ratio then tofu or tempeh.
Because seitan is made from wheat it does contain gluten. So if you’re gluten intolerant you will have to pass this one by.
Powdered peanut butter
Powdered peanut butter is a low-calorie alternative to regular peanut butter. It’s made by removing most of the natural oils from roasted peanuts and then grinding them into a fine powder. This can then be used in protein shakes or turned into a paste by adding some water. It’s also a great ingredient to add to your home-made protein balls and energy bites.
Powdered peanut butter retains the high protein content of peanut butter but reduces the amount of calories by up to 85%! A tablespoon of powdered peanut butter has about 25 calories, 3 to 4 grams of protein, 1 gram of fat, and 1 gram of fiber.
If you’re looking for a high protein snack then beef jerky is a good choice. A serving contains about 12 grams of protein and about 3 grams of carbs. Be sure to choose the original beef jerky without added sugar though.
With 28 grams of protein and 143 calories per 100 gram, bison is another great lean protein source many people never consider.
Bison is nutrient dense and is high in Vitamin B-12 and iron. It also has significantly less fat (just 2,4 grams per 100 grams) than beef, pork, chicken and salmon. This makes it a great food to integrate into your weekly meal plan.
Watercress is a cruciferous vegetable which grows in water. It has a surprisingly high protein content of 2.3 grams and just 11 calories per 100 grams. It also contains a full day’s worth of vitamin K, making it a great addition to salads.
When it comes to foods that are high in protein an low in calories, there are plenty of great, healthy choices.
You’ll have noticed that almost all the foods listed in this are whole, natural, unprocessed foods. This is no coincidence! Processed foods often contain added sugars, which can drastically increase their overall calorie count.
The best way to make your diet healthier is by incorporating more natural, single ingredient, whole foods. Adding some (or all) of the protein sources mentioned in this article to your diet will ensure you’re getting the protein your body needs without increasing the amount of calories you consume.