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The 25 Best High-Protein, Low-Carb Foods

Low-carb, high-protein diets are eating patterns that prioritize protein-rich foods while limiting those high in carbohydrates. 

Following diets higher in protein and lower in carbs has been linked to various health benefits, including weight loss, improved blood sugar regulation, and reductions in heart disease risk factors like high triglyceride levels.1

Fortunately, there are many protein-rich, low-carb foods to choose from, many of which offer additional health benefits beyond their high protein content. 

Here are 25 high-protein, low-carb foods.

1. Eggs 

Eggs are amongst the most nutrient-dense foods you can eat. Not only are they packed with essential nutrients like B12, selenium, and vitamin A, but they’re high in protein and very low in carbs. Starting your day with two eggs will provide your body with 12.56 g of filling protein and less than one gram of carbs, making eggs an excellent choice for those following low-carb, high-protein diets.2

  • Calories: 71.5 calories per large egg
  • Carbs: <1 gram (g)
  • Protein: 6.28 g

2. Canned Salmon

Canned salmon is a carb-free food that’s very high in protein. A 3-ounce serving of canned salmon contains nearly 20 g of protein and is free from carbs.3 Salmon also packs 4.27 g of healthy fats per 3-ounce serving, including the omega-3 fats docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which play important roles in health, such as regulating inflammation and supporting immune function. Salmon is also rich in vitamins and minerals, such as B12, B6, selenium, and potassium, making it an all-around healthy choice.4

  • Calories: 117 per 3-ounce serving 
  • Carbs: 0 g
  • Protein: 19.6 g

3. Cheddar Cheese

Many cheeses, including cheddar cheese, are very low in carbs but high in protein, fat, and essential nutrients such as calcium and zinc. Just 1 ounce of cheddar cheese covers 15% of your daily needs for calcium, a mineral that’s needed for skeletal health, muscle function, heart health, and more.5 Cheese can be enjoyed as a low-carb, high-protein snack and can also be added to low-carb meals, such as keto-friendly meals, to boost fat content.6

  • Calories: 115 per ounce
  • Carbs: <1 g
  • Protein: 6.78 g

4. Whey Protein Isolate

Protein powders, such as whey protein, are an easy way to boost your protein intake. Whey protein isolate is a smart choice for those following low-carb, high-protein diets as it’s rich in highly bioavailable protein and contains zero grams of carbs, so it can be used to boost the protein content of meals and snacks without adding additional carbs. Just be sure to choose unsweetened protein powders or those sweetened with sugar alternatives such as monk fruit, as sugar-sweetened protein powders are higher in carbs.7

  • Calories: 100 calories per 30-gram serving
  • Carbs: 0 g
  • Protein: 25 g

5. Cottage Cheese

Cottage cheese is a versatile dairy product that can be enjoyed on its own as a high-protein, lower-carb snack and can also be added to recipes to boost their nutrition content. Cottage cheese is high in several vitamins and minerals but is especially rich in B12 and selenium.8 Selenium is a mineral that’s critical for thyroid function and also acts as a powerful antioxidant in the body. One cup of 2% cottage cheese covers 49% of your daily needs for this essential nutrient.9

  • Calories: 183 per cup
  • Carbs: 10.8 g
  • Protein: 23.5 g 

6. Turkey Sticks 

If you’re looking for a low-carb, high-protein snack option that’s shelf-stable and can be taken on-the-go, consider pre-packaged turkey sticks like Chomps Free Range Turkey Sticks. Chomps Turkey Sticks contain zero carbs and are rich in protein, making them a smart addition to high-protein, low-carb diets. Keep these portable snacks in your purse, desk drawer, and in your car so you always have a filling snack option on hand when hunger strikes. 

  • Calories: 60 calories per stick
  • Carbs: 0 g
  • Protein: 10 g 

7. Canned Tuna 

Canned tuna is another zero-carb protein option that makes a convenient meal or snack choice for those on low-carb diets.10 Tuna can be mixed with mayo, Greek yogurt, or mashed avocado to create a quick, low-carb tuna salad that can be paired with other carb ingredients like sliced vegetables or flaxseed crackers. Canned tuna is a shelf-stable protein option, which means you can stock up on this pantry staple without worrying about spoilage.

  • Calories: 109 per 3-ounce serving 
  • Carbs: 0 g
  • Protein: 20.1 g

8. Collagen Peptides

Collagen peptides can be used to boost the protein content of hot and cold beverages, including smoothies and coffee drinks, as well as recipes like baked goods, overnight oats, and energy balls. Collagen peptides are carb-free and rich in protein. Studies show that regularly consuming collagen peptides can benefit the health of the skin, bones, and joints, making collagen a smart addition to your wellness routine.11

  • Calories: 70 per 20-gram serving 
  • Carbs: 0 g
  • Protein: 20 g

9. Tofu

Most plant-based protein sources, like beans and lentils, are high in carbs, making it challenging for vegans and vegetarians to hit their protein needs while staying under their daily carb limit. Tofu is a soy-derived product that’s high in protein but low in carbs, making it a safe choice for those following plant-based diets who need low-carb protein options.12 Tofu can be added to both sweet and savory dishes, from stir-fries to pies, to boost their protein content. In addition to being high in protein, tofu also provides nutrients important for those following plant-based diets, such as calcium, selenium, zinc, and iron.

  • Calories: 78.2 per 3-ounce serving
  • Carbs: 1.55 g
  • Protein: 8.67 g

10. Hemp seeds

Hemp seeds are another plant-based protein source that is low in carbs. In addition to protein, hemp seeds are a concentrated source of vitamins and minerals, such as magnesium and zinc, as well as healthy fats.13 Hemp seeds can be added to dishes like salads and smoothies and are also used to make vegan-friendly, protein-rich products such as hemp milk and hemp protein powder.

  • Calories: 166 per 30-gram serving 
  • Carbs: 2.6 g
  • Protein: 9.48 g

11. Pumpkin seeds

Pumpkin seeds are packed with nutrients that play critical roles in health. For example, a 3-ounce serving of pumpkin seeds covers 37% of your daily needs for magnesium, an essential mineral that’s involved in the regulation of blood sugar, blood pressure, and stress.14 Pumpkin seeds can be incorporated into low-carb diets and provide a versatile and convenient source of plant-based protein.15

  • Calories: 163 per ounce
  • Carbs: 4.17 g
  • Protein: 8.45 g

12. Chicken breast

Chicken breast is one of the most popular protein sources in the U.S. It’s versatile, rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals, and contains zero carbohydrates. Chicken breast is a staple in many low-carb diets and can be used to increase the protein content of dishes like salads, soups, stir-fries, and more.16

  • Calories: 105 per small skinless chicken breast 
  • Carbs: 0 g
  • Protein: 31.1 g

13. Peanuts

Peanuts are low-carb legumes that are packed with plant-based protein. Peanuts are rich in several vitamins and minerals, such as folate, vitamin E, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, and copper, and have been shown to have cholesterol-lowering properties, making them a good choice for heart health.1718

  • Calories: 162.8 per ounce
  • Carbs: 4.48 g
  • Protein: 7.43 g 

14. Kefir

Kefir is a fermented yogurt drink that’s high in protein and relatively low in carbs. It’s rich in probiotics such as lactic acid bacteria (LAB), which are beneficial bacteria that may help improve digestive health. Try adding kefir to smoothies or enjoying it on its own as a filling snack.19

  • Calories: 104 per cup of low-fat, plain kefir 
  • Carbs: 11.6 g
  • Protein: 9.21 g 

15. Shrimp

Adding seafood to your diet, like shrimp, can help boost your intake of essential nutrients like B12, selenium, zinc, and protein. Shrimp is very low in carbs and can be enjoyed in a number of low-carb recipes, like salads, soups, stir-fries, and lettuce wraps.20

  • Calories: 84.2 per 3-ounce serving 
  • Carbs: <1 g
  • Protein: 20.4 g

16. Greek yogurt

Greek yogurt is much higher in protein than regular yogurt. In fact, Greek yogurt provides more than twice the amount of protein found in regular yogurt. In addition to being high in protein, Greek yogurt is lower in carbs and has a thicker, more satisfying texture than regular yogurt. It’s also a concentrated source of vitamins and minerals like B12, calcium, and vitamin A, and can be enjoyed as a snack or added to soups and smoothies to increase their protein content.21

  • Calories: 146 per 7-ounce serving of low-fat, plain yogurt
  • Carbs: 7.8 g
  • Protein: 19.9 g

17. Edamame

Edamame are immature soybeans that serve as a convenient source of protein for people following plant-based diets. Unlike most sources of plant-based protein, edamame is relatively low in carbohydrates. For example, black beans contain over 40 g of carbs per cup, while the same serving of edamame contains just 13.8 g of carbs. Edamame is also high in fiber, which is important for promoting gut health, including supporting the growth of beneficial bacteria and protecting against digestive diseases such as colorectal cancer.22

  • Calories: 188 per cup
  • Carbs: 13.8 g
  • Protein: 18.5 g 

18. Ground Turkey 

Ground turkey can be bought in bulk and kept in your freezer so you always have an option for a nutritious, low-carb, high-protein lunch or dinner. Try making low-carb turkey burgers by serving your burgers on a salad or in a lettuce wrap or top zucchini noodles with turkey meatballs for a high-protein, low-carb dinner idea.23

  • Calories: 173 per 3-ounce serving
  • Carbs: 0 g
  • Protein: 23.3 g

19. Chicken Liver

Organ meats, like chicken liver, are incredibly high in nutrients that are essential to health, including vitamin A, folate, and B12. A 3-ounce serving covers your daily needs for all three of these nutrients, while delivering over 20 g of protein and less than 1 g of carbs.24

  • Calories: 142 per 3-ounce serving 
  • Carbs: <1 g
  • Protein: 20.8 g

20. Peanut Butter

Peanut butter is a high-protein spread that pairs well with sweet and savory ingredients. It’s relatively low in carbs, yet high in fat and protein, which is why it’s a popular ingredient amongst people on low-carb diets. Spread peanut butter on celery sticks for a crunchy and filling snack or add peanut butter to low-carb protein shakes for a boost of nutrition and flavor.25

  • Calories: 200 per 2-tablespoon serving 
  • Carbs: 8.99 g
  • Protein: 7.01 g

21. Ricotta Cheese

Ricotta cheese is a creamy, high-protein, low-carb dairy product that’s rich in calcium, selenium, phosphorus, and several B vitamins. Ricotta cheese can be added to egg dishes, dips, and soups and can also be used to create low-carb desserts, like sugar-free ricotta cheesecake.26

  • Calories: 171 per half-cup serving
  • Carbs: 6.37 g
  • Protein: 14.1 g

22. Tempeh

Tempeh is a vegan-friendly protein that’s made from fermented soybeans. It’s high in protein and low in carbs, making it a suitable choice for people following plant-based, low-carb diets. Tempeh has a firm texture and can be used as a meat replacement in a variety of high-protein vegan dishes.27

  • Calories: 195 per 100-gram serving
  • Carbs: 7.62 g
  • Protein: 19.9 g

23. Pea Protein

If you’re following a plant-based, low-carb diet, it can be challenging to hit your protein needs while staying within your set carbohydrate limit. Unsweetened plant-based protein powders, like pea protein, are a helpful addition to plant-based, low-carb diets as they contain minimal carbs and can be added to a variety of recipes. When shopping for a low-carb pea protein product, be sure to check the ingredient and nutrition facts labels to make sure the product aligns with your dietary needs.28

  • Calories: 120 per 33-gram scoop
  • Carbs: 1 g
  • Protein: 24 g 

24. Bone Broth 

Swapping regular chicken or beef stock for bone broth is an easy way to increase the protein content of recipes like soups and curries. Bone broth is much more concentrated in protein than traditional stocks. In fact, a cup of bone broth contains about three times more protein than the same serving of regular chicken stock. Not only is bone broth high in protein, but it’s low in carbs and provides several minerals, such as magnesium, potassium, and calcium.29

  • Calories: 40 per half-cup serving
  • Carbs: 1.5 g
  • Protein: 9.5 g 

25. Parmesan Cheese

Parmesan cheese is a salty, aged cheese that’s high in protein and very low in carbs. It can be paired with other low-carb ingredients, like nuts and vegetables, for a hearty snack and can be used as a high-protein topping for soups, eggs, and many other low-carb recipes.30

  • Calories: 111 per ounce
  • Carbs: <1 g
  • Protein: 10.1 g 

How Much Protein and Carbs Do You Need?

Your needs for macronutrients, including protein and carbs, varies depending on factors such as your age, body size, and activity level. The current recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein is set at 0.8 grams per kg (g/kg) of body weight (0.36 grams of protein per pound (g/lb)), but the optimal protein intake for active people is likely closer to 1.2 to 2.0 g/kg per day (0.54-0.9 g/lb). It’s currently suggested that diets providing between 45-65% of energy from carbs and 20-35% of energy from protein are what’s best for overall health.31

That said, nutrition needs vary significantly from person to person, and research shows that diets providing different ratios of carbs and protein can benefit health and lower improve health parameters in people with certain health conditions. For example, people with medical conditions such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, and fatty liver may benefit from following an eating pattern that’s lower in carbs and higher in protein than the current macronutrient range recommendations.32

Working with an experienced healthcare provider, like a registered dietitian, can be helpful when trying to figure out exactly how much protein and carbs you should be consuming on a daily basis

A Quick Review

Whether you’re following a low-carb diet or simply want to increase your protein intake, there are a variety of high-protein, low-carb foods to choose from.

Canned tuna, edamame, Greek yogurt, cheddar cheese, pumpkin seeds, and pea protein powder are just some examples of high-protein, low-carb foods that can help you meet your daily protein needs.

Source: health