When you first embark on a low-carbohydrate diet, it feels like freaking EVERYTHING has carbs—leading to a lot of Regina George-level questions. (Don't worry: Butter is not a carb.)
Yes, it can be super confusing. But, in general, when building a high-protein, low-carbohydrate meal, fill half of your plate with non-starchy veggies (like leafy greens), a fourth with lean protein, and a fourth with whole grains or beans with healthy fats (like avocado or nuts).
Add a few fruit servings per day and some low-fat dairy products, and your diet will be appropriately balanced and lower in carbs than the typical American diet.
Choosing the right types of carbs for your high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet is key. If going low carb is important to you, make sure to use your carb grams wisely and pack in plenty of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, and low-fat dairy. That way, you'll still get a balanced amount of nutrients.
So, what are these high-protein, low carb foods you’ll want to stock up on? Here’s our top 25 choices:
1. Snacking Cheese
String cheese and Mini Babybel are good go-to snacks. Mini Babybel offers 100 percent real-cheese snacks in a convenient and fun little package. One creamy cheese round provides at least four grams of protein and zero grams of carbs for 70 calories or less.
Per cheese stick: 50 calories, 2.5 g fat (1.5 g sat), 1 g carbs, 0 g sugar, 160 mg sodium, 0 g fiber, 4g protein.
Pistachios make an excellent snack, with 30 nuts providing only 100 calories and five grams of carbs. These little nuts can also help aid weight-loss efforts.
Per 1/4-cup serving: 172 cal, 14 g fat (2 g sat), 8 g carbs (5 g net), 2.3 g sugar, 0 mg sodium, 3 g fiber, 6 g protein.
If you're on a high-protein, low-carb diet, fish is your best friend. Fish is a brain-healthy lean protein, and fatty fish in particular helps you get the essential omega-3 fatty acids that are important for healthy arteries, reduced inflammation, and a healthy brain. And each serving generally has 15 to 20 grams of protein (depending on the fish), with zero carbs.
Per 3-oz serving (salmon): 177 cal, 11 g fat (3 g sat), 0 g carbs, 0 g sugar, 50 mg sodium, 0 g fiber, 17 g protein.
4. Greek Yogurt
There are many lower-sugar Greek yogurts on the market now, some with just a touch of sugar and others sweetened with Stevia or monkfruit to keep the carb content down without use of artificial sweeteners. On average, these yogurts range from 90 to 120 calories with 12 to 15 grams of protein, 11 to 15 grams of carbs, and some with higher fiber counts as well. Look for varieties containing nine grams of sugar or less, and add in nuts or berries for added fiber.
Per one 7-oz container (plain, low-fat): 146 cal, 4 g fat (3 g sat), 8 g carbs, 7 g sugar, 68 mg sodium, 0 g fiber, 20 g protein. 5. Ricotta
Per the USDA, a half-cup serving of low-fat ricotta has 14 grams of protein and six grams of carbs, making it a great low-carbohydrate, high-protein food.
If you don't eat dairy, though, don't fret. Plant-based cheeses are a unique way to add protein and healthy fats to the day. Ricotta made from almond milk, using traditional cheese-making methods, has nine grams of plant protein per three ounces, and is completely plant-based, and therefore cholesterol-free.
Per 1/2-cup serving (part-skim): 171 cal, 10 g fat (3 g sat), 6 g carbs, 0.4 g sugar, 123 mg sodium, 0 g fiber, 14 g protein.
One large egg is enough to provide a good source of hard-to-get vitamin D, which can improve bone and tooth health. It also provides an excellent source of choline (20 percent daily value), an under-recognized nutrient important for memory.
Per one whole, large egg: 72 cal, 5 g fat (2 g sat), 0.4 g carbs, 0.2 g sugar, 71 mg sodium, 0 g fiber, 7 g protein.
Avocado is a nutrition powerhouse thanks to its high amount of fiber and heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.
Per avocado: 322 cal, 29 g fat (4 g sat), 17 g carbs (3 g net), 1 g sugar, 14 mg sodium, 14 g fiber, 4 g protein.
8. Cow’s Milk
Good old-fashioned cow's milk is a protein powerhouse. Plus, in addition to the high amount of protein you get per cup, cow's milk provides potassium, calcium, riboflavin, vitamin A, and vitamin B12.
Per 1-cup serving (low-fat): 101 cal, 3 g fat (1 g sat), 12 g carbs, 12 g sugar, 106 mg sodium, 0 g fiber, 8 g protein.
If you're vegetarian and looking to try a low-carb, high-protein diet, seitan is your answer. Made from wheat, seitan is the gluten protein that remains after wheat flour has been washed. (If you have Celiac's, steer clear.)
Per 2.5-oz serving: 90 cal, 1 g fat (0 g sat), 4 g carbs (3 g net), 2 g sugar, 340 mg sodium, 1 g fiber, 17 g protein.
Edamame is packed with vegetarian protein and iron.
Per 1-cup serving: 188 cal, 8 g fat (1 g sat), 14 g carbs (6 g net), 3 g sugar, 9 mg sodium, 8 g fiber, 18 g protein.
11. Mozzarella Cheese
A one-ounce serving of mozzarella provides eight ounces of high-quality protein with only one gram of carbohydrates.Per 1-oz serving (part-skim): 72 cal, 5 g fat (3 g sat), 1 g carbs, 0.3 g sugar, 175 mg sodium, 0 g fiber, 7 g protein.
Along with pistachios, almonds make a great high-protein, low-carb snack. May help with less belly fat, improved brain health, and more
Per 1/4-cup serving: 207 cal, 18 g fat (1 g sat), 8 g carbs (2 g net), 2 g sugar, 0 mg sodium, 5 g fiber, 8 g protein.
13. Deli Turkey Meat
Deli turkey makes an easy boost with 25 calories, one gram protein, two grams of carbs, and one gram fiber.
Per 2-oz serving: 62 cal, 0.5 g fat (0.1 g sat), 2 g carbs (1.7 g net), 2 g sugar, 440 mg sodium, 0.3 g fiber, 12 g protein.
14. Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are a secret weapon on any diet plan. They absorb about 10 times their weight in water, helping to keep you full. The high-protein food is also rich in healthy fats, like omega-3 fatty acids, which can lower inflammation.
Per 1-oz serving: 138 cal, 9 g fat (0.1 g sat), 12 g carbs (2 g net), 2 g sugar, 5 mg sodium, 10 g fiber, 5 g protein.
15. Peanut Butter
Peanut butter is a low-carb, high-protein snack or pre-workout fuel. Peanuts have the highest protein content among nuts. And if you're concerned about calories, try powdered peanut butter—which has comparable protein with way fewer calories.
Per 2-Tbsp. serving: 187 cal, 12 g fat (2 g sat), 13 g carbs (11 g net), 3 g sugar, 194 mg sodium, 2 g fiber, 10 g protein.
16. Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin seeds are fantastic with yogurt, cottage cheese, smoothie bowls, soups, and salads. They are also a rich plant-based source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, too, much like those chia seeds.
Per 1-oz. serving (roasted): 163 cal, 14 g fat (2 g sat), 4 g carbs (2 g net), 0.4 g sugar, 5 mg sodium, 2 g fiber, 8 g protein.
Jerky is back as a portable snack with many trendy, flavored varieties on store shelves, but not all are created equal. The nutritional content varies widely depending on the brand and the flavor. Some are much higher in carbs and sugar than others. But if you find one that isn’t heavily sweetened (so, no teriyaki flavor!), you've got yourself a low-carb and high-protein snack.
Per 1-oz serving (beef): 116 cal, 7 g fat (3 g sat), 3 g carbs (2.5 g net), 3 g sugar, 506 mg sodium, 0.5 g fiber, 9 g protein.
18. Cottage Cheese
Cottage cheese is such a great way to boost your protein intake with very few carbs. By swapping for cottage cheese, you're boosting the protein content and making it an even more filling meal.
Per 4. oz serving (low-fat, 2% milkfat): 92 cal, 3g fat (1g sat), 5g carbs (5g net), 5g sugar, 348mg sodium, 0g fiber, 12g protein
Tofu is an inexpensive source of protein that is extremely versatile and can be a great alternative to meat.
Per ½ cup serving: 181 cal, 11g fat (2g sat), 4g carbs (1g net), 0g sugar, 18mg sodium, 3g fiber, 22g protein
Skinless, chicken breast is low in saturated fat compared with other meats, which can help someone maintain a healthy weight.
Per serving of 3 oz. chicken breast: 140 cal, 3g fat (0.9 g sat), 0g carbs (0g net), 0g sugar, 63 mg sodium, 0 g fiber, 26g protein
Not only are artichokes loaded with the highest amounts of fiber of any vegetable, they also have four grams of protein per serving, making this a super filling vegetable.
Per medium artichoke: 60 cal, 0g fat, 13g carbs (6g net), 1.3g sugar, 120mg sodium, 7g fiber, 4g protein
22. Hemp Seeds
Technically a nut, hemp seeds are small but mighty when it comes to nutrition and protein. More than 25 percent of their total calories come from protein, and they're a great addition to all dishes. Hemp seeds are also a good source of phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, and iron, and they add a nice nutty, crunchy texture.
Per ¼ cup serving: 170 cal, 120 g fat (1.5 g sat), 3 g carbs (0 g net), less than 1 g sugar, 0 mg sodium, 3 g fiber, 10g protein
23. Grass-Fed Beef
A great source of protein, grass-fed beef is higher in omega-3s fatty acids, and lower in total fat compared to other types of meat. Opting for higher quality red meat, when available, is best.
Per 4 oz. serving: 157 cal, 7 g fat (3.1 g sat), 0 g carbs (0 g net), 0 g sugar, 72 mg sodium, 0 g fiber, 24 g protein
This cruciferous veggie will definitely fill you up. Broccoli ranks high on the protein list in terms of vegetables. Packed with antioxidants and fiber, it's definitely a powerhouse veggie.
Per 1 cup serving: 30 cal, 0 g fat (0 g sat), 5.8 g carbs (3.8g net), 1 g sugar, 30 mg sodium, 2 g fiber, 2.4g protein
25. Green Peas
Peas are a good source of many vitamins and minerals as well as fiber and protein. While they do contain carbohydrates, they still rank high in terms of vegetables that contain protein. If you’re trying to decrease carbs even further, simply lower the serving size and pair with another high-protein food.
Per ½ cup serving: 59 cal, 0 g fat (0 g sat), 10.5 g carbs (7 g net), 4 g sugar, 0 mg sodium, 3.5 g fiber, 4 g protein
*This post reflects our opinions, not to be taken as fact. Always check with a healthcare professional before implementing any of these suggestions or changing your diet in any way.