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We've said it before and we'll say it again: Carbs are not the enemy! Carbohydrates are an essential part of a healthy diet and our body's primary preferred source of fuel. But somewhere along the way, carbs have gotten a bad rap, partially due to popular low-carb diets like Atkins and keto that have demonized this important nutrient due to its potential to make you retain water (so while it's true that cutting out carbs can result in a quick drop on the scale, that's mostly just water weight).
Still, some people may decide to try following a low-carb diet. What does this look like? General nutrition guidelines suggest between 45 and 65% of total daily calories come from carbohydrates (about 225 grams based on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet), and that ratio shifts down to between 30 and 40% of daily calories from carbs when adhering to a low-carb plan.
The key to making this a nourishing way of eating is to choose low-carb foods that are filling and nutrient-dense. This means reaching for complex carbohydrates such as beans, dairy and fruit, which provide vitamins and nutrients we need for optimal overall health, as well as plenty of protein and fiber for satiety, energy, cognition, cellular function and more. Simple carbohydrates (such as processed or sugary foods) are the type that warrant a side eye—these don't provide much nutritional value and tend to spike blood sugar levels, which can mess with our health over time.
These are the best high protein, low-carb foods to fill you up, curb cravings and help manage your weight:
The tinned fish craze is worth checking out for more than the trend points. Canned sardines, for instance, are a tasty toast topper that delivers about 11g per half can; you'll also get selenium for immunity support, choline to support brain health and electrolytes like potassium and magnesium to help offset the sodium content in some varieties.
Nutrition facts (per 1/2 can): 96 cal, 5g fat, 141mg sodium, 0g carb, 0g fiber, 11g protein
Try treating ricotta as more than a supporting actor in recipes. A half cup of part-skim ricotta packs 14 grams of protein, plus calcium and vitamin D (which need one another for optimal absorption).
Nutrition facts (per 1/2 cup serving): 171 cal, 9g fat, 123mg sodium, 6g carb, 0g fiber, 14g protein
It's time to join the tofu fan club. This plant-based protein is an excellent source of the muscle-builder, with 14g packed into just a quarter block of firm tofu. It's also a complete protein, meaning it provide all nine essential amino acids that our body needs to function, but can't make on its own.
Nutrition facts (per 1/4 block of firm): 117 cal, 7g fat, 101mg sodium, 2g carb, 2g fiber, 14g protein
This interactive nut is on the higher side when it comes to nuts, with 6g per ounce, as well as filling fiber, antioxidants, and sleep-supporting tryptophan. Pistachios are the perfect snacking nut, since shelling them is a mindful way to keep tabs on portion.
Nutrition facts (per ounce): 159 cal, 13 fat, 0mg sodium, 8g carb, 3g fiber, 6g protein
This lean cut is high in protein at 25g, but it also provides two key immunity supporters in the form of selenium and zinc. You can also expect to reap the benefits of potassium and phosphorus, two minerals that function as electrolytes to support kidney health and help offset sodium.
Nutrition facts (per 100g): 134 cal, 3g fat, 9mg sodium, 8g carb, 0g fiber, 25g protein
This soy-based plant protein is a versatile way to get 20g of the stuff per 100g, and it's also a good source of calcium and potassium. It's great seared or with a glaze or sauce, and it has a neutral flavor that means you can season it many different ways.
Nutrition facts (per 100g): 192 cal, 11g fat, 339mg sodium, 0g carb, 0g fiber, 20g protein
Seafood is a smart choice when you want to load up on protein while monitoring carbs. Three ounces of shrimp gets you 17g of protein alongside minerals like calcium and potassium.
Nutrition facts (per 3 oz serving): 72 cal,.4g fat, 101mg sodium, 0g carb, 0g fiber, 17g protein
This fermented beverage is a smart choice for so many reasons. Aside from providing 9g of protein per cup, it's also a good source of gut health-supporting probiotics. A balanced gut microbiome plays a role in everything from mood to immunity. Try using it as the liquid in a smoothie or overnight oats.
Nutrition facts (per 1 cup serving): 104 cal, 2.5g fat, 97mg sodium, 11g carb, 0g fiber, 9g protein
The filling combo of fiber and protein in edamame makes it an excellent choice when an afternoon craving hits. The bonus? Magnesium-packed soybeans may help with mood regulation. Plus, the de-shelling can help serve as a fun distraction while you munch. Try topping a cup with a pinch of cayenne pepper and sea salt for a tasty snack.
Nutrition facts (per 1 cup serving): 130 cal, 6g fat, 7mg sodium, 9g carb, 6g fiber, 13g protein
A half cup of lower-sodium cottage cheese can pack up to 20 grams of protein — making it great for high protein low carb breakfasts. Try Good Culture's portable cups for prime taste, texture, and nutrition. All of their flavors are made with live and active cultures, which may contain probiotic properties to help boost gut health. Add some berries for a boost of filling fiber to round out the snack.
Nutrition facts (Good Culture Low-Fat Classic, 5.3 fl. oz.): 120 cal, 3g total fat, 2g sat fat, 20mg cholesterol, 460mg sodium, 3g total carb, 0g fiber, 3g total sugars, 0g added sugars, 19g protein
Peanuts and Peanut Butter
What can’t peanut butter do? It packs 8 grams of plant-based protein per 2 tablespoon serving, and nuts are rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. Just look for varieties with under 140 mg sodium per serving and no added sugar; the ingredient list should include peanuts and maybe a little salt but that's it. Whole peanuts in the shell, like GH Nutritionist Approved Hampton Farms Peanuts, are also a great plant-based protein snack and the shells can force you to slow down and eat more mindfully.
Nutrition facts (per 2 Tbsp. serving): 190 calories, 16g total fat, 3g sat fat, 0mg cholesterol, 110mg sodium, 7g carb, 3g fiber, 2g total sugars, 0g added sugars, 8g protein)
Unsweetened Greek Yogurt
Choose Greek yogurt that’s plain and unsweetened, and check the ingredient list to make sure there are at least five strains of bacteria added. One of the best foods for gut health, Greek yogurt contains probiotics which can help build up your body’s beneficial bacteria and support digestion, immunity and more. Non-fat options make this choice a high protein, low carb and low fat food, but opting for 1% or 2% varieties can provide a little fat to help keep you full.
Nutrition facts (per 6 oz. container, non-fat, plain): 100 cal, 0.5g total fat, 9mg cholesterol, 61mg sodium, 6g carbohydrate, 0g fiber, 18g protein
Sunflower seeds contain important antioxidants linked to improved cognition and heart health, plus decreased risk of dementia. In the short term, they can help load up on some good-for-you fat, protein, and fiber in between meals. Sunflower seed butter is also having a moment and is an allergen-friendly alternative to peanut butter, making it a great high protein low carb vegetarian food too.
Nutrition facts (1 oz. dry roasted, unsalted): 165 cal, 14g total fat, 0mg cholesterol, 0mg sodium, 7g carb, 3g fiber, 5g protein
Filled with plant-based antioxidants and minerals, this protein-packed milk alternative may help improve your cholesterol levels. That’s because it’s lower in saturated fat than whole milk or other vegan swaps, but unlike it's almond milk and oat milk counterparts it actually contains a good source of protein boasting 7-8 grams per serving. Look for unsweetened versions that contain as few ingredients as possible and come fortified with the same vitamins and minerals as cow’s milk (vitamins A and D).
Nutrition facts (1 cup): 100 cal, 4g total fat, 0.5g sat fat, 0mg cholesterol, 124mg sodium, 15g carb, 1g fiber, 8g protein
Always a delicious choice, salmon comes with a myriad of health benefits, not too mention lots of protein. A 4-ounce sockeye fillet has 26 grams! Aim for about 8–12 ounces of mixed seafood per week. There's no easier way to ensure that we meet our needs for heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
Nutrition facts (3 oz. fillet): 120 cal, 6g total fat, 47mg cholesterol, 37mg sodium, 0g carb, 0g fiber, 17g protein
RELATED: 30+ Easy Weeknight Salmon Recipes
Hard Boiled Eggs
Often considered one of the best sources of protein available, eggs can supercharge your diet since they are an inexpensive, nutrient-dense, and versatile food. They also provide choline, an essential nutrient that's involved in memory, mood and muscle control. Two large eggs contain more than 50% of the recommended choline you need each day. Hardboiled eggs make a great snack, and scrambled or fried eggs can go great on everything from avocado toast to fried rice.
Nutrition facts (1 large egg): 70 cal, 5g total fat, 207mg cholesterol, 70mg sodium, 0g carb, 0g fiber, 6g protein
RELATED: 35 Easy Egg Recipes
Rotisserie chicken is often one of the more affordable picks in the grocery store and it's lower in sodium than pre-packaged deli meat. You’re better off getting the flavor from skin-on rotisserie chicken, just remove before eating and add this poultry to salads, soups, stews, or stir frys. Chicken also naturally provides selenium, a mineral linked to immunity.
Nutrition facts (3 oz., breast): 122 cal, 3g total fat, 73mg cholesterol, 279mg sodium, 0g carb, 0g fiber, 24g protein
Snacking on these high-protein powerhouses (1 ounce has 10 grams!) can help boost immunity. They're loaded with zinc, magnesium, iron, and calcium. As a plant-based source of soluble fiber, they’ve also got an all-star heart-health benefit. They can help lower your serum triglycerides and "bad" cholesterol levels (LDL) while increasing "good" cholesterol (HDL).
Nutrition facts (3 Tbsp.): 160 cal, 15g total fat, 0mg cholesterol, 1mg sodium, 3g carb, 1g fiber, 10g protein
Low-Fat, Unsweetened Latte
One standard latte can pack around nearly 10 grams protein, which is a great solution when you’re pinched for time but don’t want to skip out on the first meal of the day. Plus, since milk is 80% water and packed with minerals such as calcium and potassium, it can help you hydrate from both fluid and electrolytes. Just go for unsweetened varieties when possible and be mindful of sugary syrups.
Nutrition facts (12 fl. oz.): 100 cal, 0g total fat, 0g sat fat, 5mg cholesterol, 130mg sodium, 14 g carb, 0g fiber, 13g total sugars, 9g protein, 75mg caffeine
Almonds contain more fiber than any other nut (about 4 grams per ounce). Coupled with their healthy fat profile and plant-based protein, they make for the ultimate satisfying healthy snack. But almonds are a true standout for their excellent vitamin E content, which is an important antioxidant that not only fights inflammation but also promotes healthy skin, nails and hair. They make a great snack on their own or sliced and added to salads and more.
Nutrition facts (1 oz. or 23 almonds): 164 cal, 14g total fat, 0mg cholesterol, 0mg sodium, 6g carb, 4g fiber, 6g protein
Less than 10% of Americans eat enough fish (2-3 servings per week), according to the USDA. The good news is that it's super easy to add more protein-packed seafood to your daily meal lineup with canned tuna, whether it's packed plain in water or mixed with olive oil. You can even try a on-the-go tuna pouch to easily enjoy at the office.
Nutrition facts (3 oz., canned in water): 110 cal, 2.5g total fat, 35mg cholesterol 320mg sodium, 0g carb, 0g fiber, 20g protein
Chickpeas provide prebiotic fiber, which can helps your body’s probiotics to survive and thrive and offer long-term immune benefits. Fiber also makes your meal or snack take longer to digest, meaning you'll feel fuller with more stable energy levels. Plus, protein-packed pulses like chickpeas are extremely versatile; enjoy as a snack or sprinkle them into your favorite salad for a boost.
Nutrition facts (1 oz., sea salt): 120 cal, 6g total fat, 0.5g sat fat, 0mg cholesterol, 190mg sodium, 15g carb, 6g fiber, <1g total sugars, 0g added sugars, 6g protein
This can be a great portable protein snack when you're in a pinch, but most on the market contain so much added sugar that they more closely resemble a candy bar. Look for ones that have nuts, seeds, egg whites, or a legume-based flour as the first ingredient. Also pay attention to the sweetener used, especially for lower sugar bars since they typically include sugar alcohols that can be difficult to digest for some.
Nutrition facts (per 1 peanut butter chocolate chip Aloha bar): 240 cal, 12g total fat, 3g sat fat, 0mg cholesterol, 95mg sodium, 24g carb, 10g fiber, 5g total sugars, 3g added sugars, 14g protein
RELATED: The 10 Best Healthy Protein Bars
Part Skim Cheese
Just one piece of part-skim mozzarella can add 5-8 grams of protein depending on the size with no carbs. Since dairy provides calcium, magnesium, and potassium, it'll also aid in reducing bloat, balancing blood pressure and helping you stay energized throughout your day. Use around 1/3 cup if cheese is the only source of protein in the meal or opt for 1/4 cup if it’s for adding flavor in dishes like a classic omelet.
Nutrition facts (1 slice): 65 cal, 4g total fat, 14mg cholesterol, 147mg sodium, 0g carb, 0g fiber, 5g protein
Pumpkin seeds are filled with potassium, magnesium, zinc and iron which all play vital roles in maintaining energy levels and overall health. The seeds pack in a ton of protein in just 1 ounce, not to mention beneficial antioxidants and more. They are great on their own roasted or added to soups, stews and stir frys.
Nutrition facts (1 oz.): 160 cal, 14g total fat, 0mg cholesterol, 5mg sodium, 4g carb, 2g fiber, 9g protein
RELATED: How to Roast Pumpkins Seeds
The bottom line
Not only are high-protein, low-carb foods nutrient-dense but they are extremely versatile too. They range from entree mains to satisfying snacks, all packed with additional beneficial vitamins and minerals.
Although these foods can be part of a healthy diet, they are not the end all be all. A balanced eating plan that also includes foods from other foods groups is key. All foods can fit into a healthy diet and it's important to note that too much of even a good thing can be detrimental. Too much protein for instance can put unnecessary stress on the kidneys and other organs, so meeting your needs is important but not overdoing it is key.
Why trust Good Housekeeping?
As deputy director of the Good Housekeeping Institute Nutrition Lab since 2020, registered dietitian Stefani Sassos is dedicated to evidence-based diet and nutrition reporting. She takes the pulse of the latest nutrition research and trends, translating to readers what principles are science-backed and worth incorporating into a healthy lifestyle (and what fads are worth avoiding). She is passionate about incorporating nutrient-dense whole foods, like the ones listed here, into a balanced diet to support overall health and wellness.
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