25 Low-Calorie and High-Protein Foods, Snacks, and Meal Ideas

Medically reviewed by Jonathan Purtell, RDN

Low-calorie, high-protein foods can fit into a healthy eating plan for weight loss or other personal health and fitness goals. This article includes what foods are naturally low in calories and high in protein, as well as how to use them for snacks and meals.

<p>Kinga Krzeminska / Getty Images</p>

Kinga Krzeminska / Getty Images

10 Foods Low in Calories and High in Protein

When looking for high-protein foods, opt for those with at least 10 grams or more of protein per serving. If comparing calories to protein, aim for more than 20% of calories coming from protein per serving. Lean protein food sources can help you meet these nutritional goals.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) definition of a lean meat protein is one that contains less than 10 grams of total fat and fewer than 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat per 100 gram portion. This includes certain cuts of red meat, such as loin and round or at least 90% lean ground meat.

Other sources of lean proteins include skinless poultry, fish, nuts, beans and legumes, tofu, eggs, and low-fat or nonfat dairy products.

How Much Protein Do Adults Need?

Daily caloric needs will vary based on the individual calorie needs per person. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends adults get 10% to 35% of their daily calories from protein.  Your daily calorie needs depend on age, sex, health status, and activity levels.

Skinless Chicken Breast

Chicken breast is often a go-to food for people looking to increase their protein intake while staying within their daily calorie goals. A 3.5-ounce (100 gram) serving of cooked boneless, skinless chicken breast provides 32 grams of protein, 158 calories, and 3 grams of fat.

Chicken can be made in a number of ways. Choose healthier cooking methods, such as baking, broiling, grilling, pressure cooking, or air frying, to keep it lower in calories.

Turkey Breast

Keeping within the poultry family, turkey breast is another excellent source of lean protein. A 3.5-ounce (100 gram) serving of cooked boneless, skinless turkey breast provides 30 grams of protein, 147 calories, and 2 grams of fat. In addition to being high in protein, turkey is also a good source of zinc, selenium, choline, and vitamin B12.

Turkey is great alone but also goes well on sandwiches, paired with pasta, or added to soups and casseroles.

White Fish

White fish such as cod, halibut, tilapia, and haddock are a lower-calorie choice and a great source of protein. A 3.5-ounce (100 gram) serving of white fish provides 19 grams of protein, 134 calories, and 5.8 grams of fat.

White fish contain heart-healthy fats and are rich in vitamin D, selenium, vitamin B12, magnesium, and phosphorus. Instead of eating fried fish, choose baked, broiled, steamed, or grilled.


Shellfish such as shrimp, crab, lobster, squid, oysters, and scallops are rich in protein while being low in calories. For example, a 3.5-ounce (100 gram) serving of shrimp provides 22.8 grams of protein with just 119 calories and less than 2 grams of fat.

In addition to being a great high-protein and low-calorie choice, shellfish is also a good source of other nutrients, such as zinc, selenium, iron, and vitamin B12.


Eggs are a great way to start your day with some protein. Two whole large eggs (100 grams) provide over 12 grams of protein, 143 calories, and 9.5 grams of fat. The egg white is where the majority of the protein comes from, while the yolk contains most of the vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin D, choline, phosphorus, and vitamin A.

Don’t assume eggs are just a breakfast item, they are great any time of the day as a snack or part of a meal.

Greek Yogurt

Nonfat plain Greek yogurt provides a punch of protein with a low amount of calories. A 5.5-ounce (156 grams) portion of nonfat plain Greek yogurt offers up 16 grams of protein, 92 calories, and less than 1 gram of fat. Greek yogurt also provides a variety of other nutrients, such as calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and selenium.

Serve up Greek yogurt as part of your smoothie, parfait, or fruit salad, or even use it as a substitute for sour cream in many dishes.

Cottage Cheese

Another dairy product that brings a lot of protein to the table is cottage cheese. One cup (226 grams) of low-fat cottage cheese brings with it a whopping 28 grams of protein, only 163 calories, and 2.3 grams of fat. Other nutrients in cottage cheese are calcium, selenium, vitamin B12, phosphorus, and riboflavin (vitamin B2).

Cottage cheese is another versatile protein source, proving to work well in a variety of both sweet and savory dishes, whether as a snack or main course meal.


Tofu is a plant-based product made from soybeans that is pressed into blocks of different firmness. It is rich in protein and low in calories. One-half cup (126 grams) of firm tofu contains 21.8 grams of protein, 181 calories, and 11 grams of fat.

Keep in mind that the majority of the fat in tofu is the healthier unsaturated fat. Tofu is considered a complete plant-based protein, meaning it provides all the essential amino acids your body needs. It is also a good source of calcium, manganese, copper, and selenium.

You can prepare tofu in a variety of ways, and it can easily be substituted for animal protein in many dishes.


Edamame are immature soybeans that come in a fuzzy, fibrous green pod, with the inner beans being smooth and tender to the bite. Edamame is another plant-based complete protein source.

One cup (155 grams)  of shelled edamame provides over 18 grams of protein, 188 calories, and 8 grams of fat. Edamame also contains beneficial nutrients such as fiber, iron, vitamin C, and calcium.

Edamame are great as a snack on their own (cold or warmed) with a variety of different seasonings or go great in dishes such as stir-fry and salads.

Pork Loin

You may be surprised to find pork on this list, but it’s all about choosing the right cut. Loin cuts of red meat tend to be lower in fat and thus calories while being high in protein. A 3.5-ounce (100 gram) serving of pork loin with visible fat removed provides 26 grams of protein, 143 calories, and 3.5 grams of fat.

Pork loin pairs well with sweet or savory sauces, making it a versatile protein you can add to any meal.

10 Low-Calorie High-Protein Snacks

High-protein snacks can help you stay full longer, tiding you over until your next meal. When looking for high-protein, low-calorie snacks, choose those that have at least 10 grams of protein and 250 calories or less.

Almonds and String Cheese

Nuts are an easy-to-grab and portable snack option. Add in a piece of part-skim string cheese, and you have a filling, high-protein snack.

One ounce of part-skim mozzarella cheese paired with 1 ounce of raw almonds contains a combined 250 calories, 13 grams of protein, and 3 grams of fiber.

Hard-Boiled Eggs

Eggs are a straightforward, simple source of protein. Hard-boiled eggs, in particular, are an easy-to-make and portable snack option. Two large whole eggs provide around 145 calories and 12.5 grams of protein. They are also a good source of vitamins A, D, and E, iron, choline, and folate.

To keep things simple for a grab-and-go snack, peel your hard-boiled eggs beforehand and keep them in the fridge. Eat them whole, or slice and add to salad greens or atop a piece of whole wheat toast.

Cottage Cheese and Diced Tomatoes

Low-fat cottage cheese is a quick and easy high-protein snack, providing 12 grams of protein and 90 calories in just one-half cup. Stir in some chopped fresh tomatoes for a delicious and nutritious mix-in.

If you’d rather have a sweet snack, mix in some fruit, such as berries, sliced peaches, or pears, with a sprinkle of ground cinnamon.

Apple Slices Wrapped in Turkey

Combine the lean protein powerhouse of turkey breast with a sweet, crunchy apple for a satisfying afternoon snack. One medium apple with the skin on has around 95 calories and provides 1 gram of protein and 3 grams of fiber.

Core the apple and slice into wedges, wrapping a total of 2 ounces of thinly sliced turkey for an additional 12 grams of protein and only 62 calories.

Roasted Chickpeas

Roasted chickpeas are a great way to satisfy your craving for crunchy foods while staying within your nutritional goals. Chickpeas are versatile when it comes to the spices and seasonings you choose to top them with. Sweet, savory, or spicy—there is sure to be a combination to fit the mood you are in.

A 1-cup serving of drained and rinsed chickpeas contains 10.7 grams of protein, 210 calories, 9.6 grams of fiber, and nutrients like vitamin B6, folate, manganese, and phosphorus.

If you don’t want to make roasted chickpeas yourself, you can often find premade versions at the supermarket or grocery store.

Tuna Salad

Another healthy and convenient fish that is high in protein is canned tuna. Three ounces (85 grams) of light tuna fish canned in water contains about 21 grams of protein and 98 calories. In addition to being a great source of protein, tuna is a good source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

Instead of loading your tuna salad with mayonnaise, choose to stir in plain Greek yogurt or skip the creamy mix-in altogether by seasoning it with lemon juice and dill. If desired, pair it with some whole-grain crackers.


If you are searching for a tried-and-true portable snack, look no further than jerky. It is a great way to get some protein in your day while staying within your calorie targets. A 1.5-ounce (42.5 grams) serving of beef jerky strips or sticks provides, on average, around 14 grams of protein and 174 calories.

For a healthier option, choose jerky with less than 300 milligrams of sodium per serving and minimal added sugars and additional ingredients.

Seasoned Edamame

Sautéed edamame in its shell with a mix of seasonings is a delicious way to get more protein. Seasoning combinations include ginger and garlic, chili flakes and teriyaki sauce, simply salt and pepper, or sesame seeds and soy sauce. Experiment with different flavors to find what you like best.

As a reminder, 1 cup (155 grams)  of shelled edamame provides over 18 grams of protein and 188 calories.

Greek Yogurt Parfait

Nonfat, plain Greek yogurt is another simple high-protein snack, providing 16 grams of protein and 92 calories in a 5.5-ounce (156 grams) serving.

Sprinkle in a small handful of low-sugar granola and chopped fresh fruit for some added fiber, and a boost of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.

Baked Tofu

Baked tofu is a great plant-based snack choice.  A one-half cup (126 grams) serving of firm tofu provides 21.8 grams of protein and 181 calories.

Chop your tofu into squares and soak in your choice of marinade. Bake in the oven or air fryer until crispy for a protein-filled, crispy snack.

5 Low-Calorie High-Protein Meal Ideas

When looking to keep your calories in check, you may want to consider keeping your meals around 400 calories. Protein should account for 25% of your meal, as should carbohydrates. Add a generous serving of vegetables to your meal.

Baked Chicken With Vegetables

Sheet pan meals are an easy way to prepare a delicious meal with little cleanup. Place your chicken breasts and a mix of chopped vegetables, such as broccoli, bell peppers, zucchini, carrots, and others, on a sheet pan, drizzle with a small amount of olive oil, and season as desired. Bake or roast in the oven until the chicken is cooked through and the vegetables are tender-crisp.

Shrimp Tacos

Sauté shrimp with your desired seasonings until cooked through. Add to 6-inch corn tortillas, with a topping of shredded cabbage topping, and drizzle with a cilantro-lime dressing and some freshly made pico de gallo. You could swap out the shrimp for a fish of your choice, if desired.

Quinoa and Ground Turkey Stuffed Peppers

Switch up the traditional ground beef and rice stuffed peppers by swapping out white rice for nutrient-dense quinoa and using ground turkey instead of beef. Go easy on the cheese to keep fat and calories in check.

Coconut Curry Tofu

Curry is an excellent dish in which to add tofu, making a plant-based, protein-rich, and flavorful meal. Make the curry sauce, then prepare the tofu. Bring the two together for a delicious, nutritious meal.

Chicken and Vegetable Stir-Fry

A simple and classic lean-protein packed meal is chicken and vegetable stir-fry. Pair with cauliflower rice or quinoa instead of white rice additional nutrition.

What to Limit on a Low-Calorie, High-Protein Eating Plan

When you are trying to keep calories under a certain target but also reach a higher protein goal, it’s important to look at other nutrients in your diet. It’s best to limit sources of saturated fats. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends no more than 10% of daily calories come from saturated fats.

Other foods to limit include added sugars, which are often found in sugar-sweetened beverages, dry cereals, desserts, candies, cookies, and baked goods but can also be found in flavored yogurts, condiments, and sauces.

Processed foods, while often convenient, are also something that should be limited on a high-protein, low-calorie diet. Highly processed foods are frequently high in calories, saturated fats, sodium, and/or added sugars.

If you are focusing on including more protein in your diet, you may be tempted to cut a lot of carbohydrates out of your diet. While lowering your consumption of carbohydrates is not a bad thing, per se, it is where dietary fiber is found. Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that is linked to improved gut and digestive health, heart health, and overall metabolic health.

Fiber is found in whole vegetables and fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, and legumes.

Healthy Calorie Targets for Weight Loss

Calorie needs are based on an individual’s age, sex, health status, activity levels, and desired health goals. In general, for healthy weight loss and to lose around 1 pound per week, you should decrease your daily calorie intake by 500 calories per day.

Calorie targets for healthy weight loss may be around 1,500 calories per day for women and 1,800 calories per day for men, though needs should always be individualized based on the person.

If you need help figuring out your individual daily calorie target, talk with a healthcare provider or registered dietitian nutritionist.


High-protein, low-calorie foods can be a part of a healthy eating pattern. Meals and snacks high in protein can help you feel full longer, providing a satiating effect. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends getting 10 to 35% of calories from protein per day. High-protein snacks should have around 10 grams or more of protein.

Lean protein food sources include lean red meats, skinless poultry, fish, eggs, low-fat or nonfat dairy products, nuts, seeds, and legumes. Avoid foods high in saturated fats and added sugars, as well as those that are highly processed.

Read the original article on Verywell Health.