High protein, low calorie foods
It can be argued that out of the 3 macro-nutrients, protein is the most important. Proteins are essentially the building blocks of life and every cell in the body has protein.
Protein rich diets help with muscle mass maintenance and weight management. If you are trying to lose weight, you may be wanting to eat foods that are high in protein but low in calories. Below are a number of great options.
6 g of protein and 71 calories per large egg (50 g)
Eggs are very healthy, thanks to their extremely high nutrient content. They contain vitamin A, zinc and almost everything else in between.
Eggs are also a high quality complete protein source. This means that they provide the body with all 9 essential amino acids that it is unable to produce on its own.
Whilst all of the vitamins and minerals are found in the yolk, it is also much higher in calories than the egg white. A cup of egg whites only has 117 calories, but 26 g of protein. If you are watching your calorie intake like a hawk, eating egg whites on their own is an excellent way to boost your protein intake.
Chicken & turkey
54 g of protein and 284 calories per cooked chicken breast (172 g)
Lean meat obtained from fowl is high in protein and low in calories. As long as you avoid eating most of the fat (much of which is found in the skin), your overall calorie intake will be low. Just like eggs, these meats are complete protein sources.
Eating more protein can help to reduce your net calorie intake because it satisfies your appetite (thereby reducing the amount of food that you eat) and also boosts your metabolism slightly.
Chicken and turkey breasts are quite bland tasting on their own, but they can be marinated in a variety of homemade sauces and then cooked in lots of different ways. These include grilling, stir frying and barbecuing.
Lean cuts of red meats such as beef and pork also contain large amounts of protein for a moderate number of calories.
23 g of protein and 112 calories per cooked tilapia fillet (87 g)
Fish is an excellent food to eat because it provides certain nutrients (such as iodine) that many people don’t get enough of.
It is a fantastic source of omega-3 fatty acids, which help to reduce inflammation in the body. Fish is also the best dietary source of vitamin D and helps to reduce the risk of becoming deficient in it. Studies have found that fish consumption may reduce the risk of autoimmune diseases and improve brain health.
Many types of fish are high in protein and low in calories. Even fatty fish (such as salmon) fits in this category; an 85 g serving of cooked salmon has 19 g of protein and 175 calories.
It is important to eat high quality fish, so opt for wild-caught whenever possible.
18 g of protein and 84 calories per 85 g of cooked shrimp
The shellfish family is made up of mollusks and crustaceans. Some popular types of shellfish that are high in protein and low in calories include shrimp, crab and mussels.
Whilst shellfish is a good source of protein, it is quite high in cholesterol, so you may want to consume it in moderation. Shellfish is also a cause of allergies in some people, so care should be taken when eating it.
That being said, it is an important source of nutrients like selenium, iron, vitamin B12 & iodine.
Low & no fat cheese
15 g of protein and 104 calories per cup of no fat cottage cheese (145 g)
Whilst ordinarily cheese is fairly high in calories, low fat and no fat cheese contains a good amount of protein and only a few calories. Examples include cottage cheese and mozzarella.
Much of the protein found in cheese belongs to a family of proteins called casein, which is digested slowly by the body. It is for this reason that cottage cheese is popular among bodybuilders, who eat it before going to sleep.
Cheese is quite high in sodium; eating too much sodium can negatively affect some people’s health, so consuming it in moderation is recommended.
No fat yogurt and milk
18 g of protein and 100 calories per 170 g of no fat Greek yogurt
Another dairy product that has large amounts of protein is yogurt. As with cheese, you can get high fat and low fat versions.
Yogurt is a good source of various nutrients. Two notable ones are calcium and phosphorus, which the body needs for optimal bone and tooth health. Some yogurts are also rich in probiotics, which assist the digestive system.
You can enjoy yogurt on its own, together with fruit or add it to smoothies such as this one. No fat versions of milk are also available which have around 9 g of protein per cup.
20 g of protein and 100 calories per scoop of whey protein (28 g)
Whey protein is extremely popular in the fitness world and has been studied extensively. It is prepared from the liquid part of milk, which is a by-product of the cheese making process.
Whey is filling, promotes muscle growth and also has a number of health benefits. It is a complete protein source and is easy to consume.
Because there are plenty of brands out there that manufacture whey protein, it is important to read nutrition labels to ensure that the product you are consuming is indeed high in protein and low in calories & sugar.
Lentils & beans
18 g of protein and 230 calories per cup of cooked lentils (198 g)
Lentils are a cheap and versatile food, available worldwide. Their size & colour varies, ranging from yellow to black.
Besides their high protein content, they provide you with the B vitamins, iron, phosphorus, potassium, manganese and zinc.
A cup of cooked lentils also provides you with 16 g of dietary fiber, which is roughly 60% of the recommended amount. Their high protein and fiber content makes lentils very filling.
Lentils are common in the Middle East & India, where they are a staple of many people’s diet. You can use them to prepare curries, sauces and dips.
Most beans have a similar nutritional profile, with one cup of cooked kidney beans providing you with 16 g of protein and 219 calories.
10 g of protein and 88 calories per half cup of tofu (126 g)
Tofu looks quite a lot like some types of cheese and is made from condensed soy milk that is firmly pressed into solid blocks. Tofu is a controversial food, with some people praising it and others trying to avoid it at all costs. That said, it is high in protein and low in calories.
Tofu also contains decent amounts of other nutrients, including calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, selenium and copper. Some studies have shown that eating it may reduce the risk of heart disease, some types of cancer and diabetes.
Tofu is quite bland on its own, but it does absorb flavours well, so you should cook it with plenty of flavoursome ingredients.
Other soy based foods are also mostly high in protein and low in calories.
4 g of protein and 20 calories per tablespoon of spirulina (7 g)
Spirulina is quite different from the foods mentioned in this list. It is a bluish green coloured algae that is grown around the world and can be bought as a powder or tablets.
Studies have shown that spirulina may help prevent cancer, lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol and assist with weight management.
For the number of calories that it contains, it is very high in protein. You can include spirulina in a number of different recipes, such as this smoothie.