Protein is an important part of your health. They are amino acids, which means your body uses them to repair muscle and bone, make hormones, and generate energy. Not getting enough protein can cause nausea, mood changes, fatigue, low blood pressure, and general weakness. While it may be unlikely you will suffer from a protein deficiency, eating high protein foods can help boost physical performance, help you feel fuller longer, and contribute to weight loss.
A high protein diet can benefit those that exercise more than 3 times a week, and those that have a protein deficiency. If you’re looking to add more high protein, low calorie foods and other healthy protein additions to your diet, this list and our Protein+ meal delivery plan can help!
If you’re on a vegetarian diet, or are just trying to eat more greens, many vegetables, nuts, and other plant products are a strong source for naturally high protein foods. Here are the top high protein plant-based sources.
Every ½ cup (about 100g) of cooked lentils has about 140 calories, 9g of protein, 23 grams of carbs, 0.5 grams of fat, and 9 grams of fiber.
Lentils are a type of legume and are one of the best in high protein low fat foods. They have higher protein content than most beans and contain a substantial amount of fiber, folate, magnesium, potassium, iron, copper, and manganese. Studies show that people who consume lentils have a lower risk of developing health conditions like heart disease.
- Red/Green Lentils
- Mung Beans
- Yellow Gram
- Black Beluga Lentils
- Sugar Snap Peas
- Soy Nuts
- Garbanzo Beans
- Fava Beans
Learn more about lentils and how to cook them here or check out our 5 Step Chef page for recipes with lentils here.
1 cup of cooked quinoa has about 120 calories, 8g of protein, 21 grams of carbs, 1.9 grams of fat, and 2.8 grams of fiber.
Quinoa comes from the flowering quinoa plant and is actually a seed. Though it is not technically a grain, it is considered a great substitute for rice and other recipes involving whole grains. You can substitute quinoa for rice in sushi, grain bowls, and other dishes like the ones we have here.
Quinoa contains fiber, copper, zinc, folate, and iron and is referred to as complete protein because it contains all nine of the essential amino acids that our body can’t make on its own. The fiber in quinoa is great for regulating triglycerides, overall cholesterol, blood sugar levels, helping you lose weight, and lowering blood pressure and risk for heart disease.
One ounce (about 23 almonds) provides 6g of protein, 165 calories, 14 grams of fat, 6 grams of carbs, and 3 grams of fiber.
Nuts in general are nutritionally rich food. They offer a range of health benefits including lowering risk for heart disease and inflammation. Almonds specifically are rich in fiber, vitamin E, manganese, and magnesium; this can lower your chances of developing heart disease.
Adding whole almonds and almond byproducts to your diet is really easy! You can have a handful every day, or add them to meals like grain bowls, salads, parfaits, or baked goods to boost your daily protein and fiber intake.
Make desserts using almond flour, use almond butter on your toast and in your smoothies, or crumble crushed almonds on baked salmon – there are lots of different ways to eat your almonds.
¼ Cup (29 g) provides about 180 calories, 8 grams of protein, 3 grams of carbs, 16 grams of fat, and 2 grams of fiber.
Iron, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, and many other essential minerals can be found in pumpkin seeds alongside protein and fiber. Pumpkin seeds (and many other seeds) are a great source for antioxidants and Vitamin E that can enhance heart health and fortify and maintain healthy bones by reducing inflammation.
There are also studies which suggest that eating pumpkin seeds can help treat and reduce the risk for some cancers like breast cancer, lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, lower blood sugar, help you get more quality sleep, and possibly even improve testosterone levels and quality of sperm.
One 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving contains 144 calories, 17g of protein, 3 grams of carbs, 9 grams of fat, and 2 grams of fiber.
Why firm specifically? Firmer tofu has less water and therefore a higher amount of nutrients. To max out on protein content, choose the firmest tofu you can find! Tofu in general is made from soy, which has many potential health benefits including relieving menopause symptoms, preventing some cancers like prostate and breast cancers, preventing osteoporosis, and reducing your risk for heart disease.
Tofu (and soy in general) is a good high protein food for those who don’t consume animal proteins. It can be fried, grilled, and used as a meat substitute in many recipes. Softer tofu can be blended, crumbled, and scrambled into dishes like smoothies, dressings, dips, soups, pudding, and breakfast scrambles.
Animal meat and animal byproducts are an easy way to sustain a high protein diet. Animal proteins are considered complete proteins because they offer the highest quality protein sources that give our body the amino acids they need to stay healthy.
1 large, whole egg (50g), on average contains 78 calories, 6g of protein, 0.6 carbs, and 5 grams of fat.
Whole eggs (egg whites + the yolk) are packed with omega-3 fatty acids, selenium, vitamins b12 and A and are low in carbs, which makes them a great high protein low calorie food staple for many diets including keto.
The health benefits of eating eggs regularly include improving your brain, nerve, and eye health because they are nutrient dense, keep you feeling fuller longer, and are complete proteins. Those that are not already at risk for cholesterol problems may also find eggs to be heart healthy as well.
One 7-ounce container (200g) provides an average of 140 calories, 19.9 grams of protein, 6 grams of carbs, and 4 grams of fat.
Low fat, unflavored Greek yogurt has nutrients like calcium, b12, vitamin A, selenium and zinc. These are all important for bone health, building muscle mass, boosting metabolism, and improving gut health. Yogurt is a great source for probiotics that generate healthy bacteria in your digestive system.
When shopping for Greek yogurt, look for plain, low-fat brands. Flavored yogurts can add unnecessary sugar, which makes them unhealthier! Instead, flavor your yogurt yourself with things like honey, nuts, berries, and other fruits.
3.5 ounces (100g) contains about 165 calories, 31g of protein, 0 carbs, and 6.2 grams of fat.
Chicken is another diet staple for those searching for high protein low calorie foods. White meat chicken provides a variety of B vitamins and minerals like zinc and selenium and is lower in fat than thigh or other dark chicken meats.
Because it is so high in protein and low in calories, it is especially beneficial for those looking to lose weight. Chicken breast can help you feel fuller longer and contribute to lean body mass. However, how you prepare your chicken matters. Breaded, fried, and processed chicken (like lunch meats) can put you at risk for heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Stick to baking, grilling, or air frying your chicken instead, and consider skipping the dipping sauces for maximum health benefits.
3.5 ounces (100g) provides about 217 calories, 26g of protein, and 12 grams of fat.
Red meat is another high protein food that can be a part of a healthy diet, but it is best to consume in moderation as it is linked to a higher risk of health conditions. Lean red meat typically has less saturated fat and cholesterol as outlined by the USDA:
“Lean” – 100 grams of beef with less than 10 grams of fat, 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat, and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol.
“Extra Lean” – 100 grams of beef with less than 5 grams of fat, less than 2 grams of saturated fat, and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol.USDA’s “Beef From Farm To Table”
Lean beef meats are a rich source of protein that have iron, zinc, selenium, vitamin B12 and B6. This can reduce your risk for anemia, maintaining good muscle mass, and improving physical performance. Like most foods, the source matters, so go for grass-fed, hormone-free beef for the best health benefits.
3.5 ounces (100g) contains about 280 calories, 22-25g of protein, and 12 grams of fat (depending on type of fish and whether wild caught or farm raised)
People who include a lot of fish in their diet tend to have lower risk for major health concerns like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Fatty fish like salmon are higher in Omega-3s, which is all around, a great superfood. Though “fatty fish” might sound like a negative thing, some fats are actually good for you!
Fish can help lower risk for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke, aid fetal growth and development during pregnancy, improve brain function, and help treat symptoms of depression. As one of the focuses of the Mediterranean diet, fish are important for those looking to improve their overall health.
Some healthy fish to consider adding to your high protein foods list are:
If you still need more to supplement a high protein diet, protein powders are a good alternative for those that don’t have time to make meals and would like to get more protein intake in for the day.
The amount of protein will vary from product to product, but the best protein supplements will be derived from whey, which has a range of essential amino acids. Studies have shown that whey protein can help you gain muscle mass and lose body fat quickly. If you are lacking even after eating high protein foods, this could be a helpful supplement for you.