Unexpectedly, there are a surprising number of everyday foods that are high in protein and low in calories.
Learning which foods contain the desired amount of nutrients and which do not is essential to achieving a balance between protein and calories in food.
Why Is High Protein Low Calorie Food Important?
Because proteins are macronutrients, which the body requires in relatively large amounts in order to function properly, high-protein foods are crucial.
Without calories, the body's cells could not function and would die. By learning the nutrient contents of various foods and keeping intake within a reasonable range for each individual, one can calculate the precise amount of protein and calories required for optimal health.
Meat, Fish, Poultry, and Eggs
Eggs are an excellent and inexpensive source of protein, and are a convenient food choice when in need of a quick meal, as they only take a few minutes to prepare.
The amount of protein and calories in eggs depends largely on how they are cooked.
One large egg:
• Hard-boiled, has 6 grams of protein and 78 calories
• Fried in butter, has 6 grams of protein and 94 calories
• Scrambled with butter, has 7 grams of protein and 107 calories
Egg whites, containing 4 grams of protein and a mere 17 calories, are a good source of the amino acid leucine, which aids in weight loss. Eggs contain carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, which protects our eyes by helping to prevent macular degeneration, an age-related blindness.
2. Lean Ground Beef
Three ounces of 85% lean ground beef, broiled, has 22 grams of protein and 213 calories.
Lean ground beef can be included as part of an intense diet program, such as a Protein-Sparing Modified Fast (PSMF).
It has creatine, which studies show may reverse the loss of muscle mass, bone density, and strength in older adults. Studies also show that cognitive processing, whether due to lack of sleep or the aging process, is improved with creatine.
100 grams of salmon have 22 grams of protein and 131 calories.
Fish oil, a product of salmon and other fish, is one of the primary food items shown to be effective in treating major depression, and one study shows that fish oil in combination with anti-depressant medications worked better than either method alone when treating major depression.
Salmon is high in potassium, and shown to play a key role in maintaining healthy blood pressure. In diets containing potassium supplements, an analysis of 31 studies found that blood pressure was significantly reduced, especially in those with a high-sodium diet.
4. Canadian Bacon
Canadian bacon is cut from the loin of the pig and has much less fat and fewer calories than regular bacon.
One six-ounce package of unheated Canadian bacon has 35 grams of protein and 267 calories.
It is an excellent source of vitamin D, and necessary for good overall health. Deficiencies in vitamin D have been shown to result in bone fractures in elderly women who have rheumatoid arthritis.
Not only is this fish high in protein and low in calories, it has zero carbohydrates and sugar. It is also a good source of B12, B6, B3, potassium, selenium, and phosphorus.
A 100 gram portion of halibut, cooked with dry heat, has 22 grams of protein and only 111 calories.
Halibut is a complete protein, meaning it has all 9 essential amino acids that the body cannot produce on its own, so they need to be ingested.
Halibut is a good source of niacin, which shows promise for better cognition later in life when supplemented throughout childhood, along with other B vitamins. It’s a good source of magnesium, shown to be beneficial in treating depression, migraines, asthma, and coronary heart disease.
6. Light Tuna
Three ounces of light tuna, canned in water, drained, has 22 grams of protein and 100 calories.
Tuna has heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to improve cardio-vascular health in those with coronary heart disease. DHA and EPA deficiencies have been linked to symptoms of major depressive disorder as well as an increased risk of suicide and cardiovascular disease . Tuna offers many health benefits, as it helps to lower blood pressure, reduces cholesterol levels, aids in weight loss, boosts the immune system, prevents cancer, and increases energy.
7. Turkey Breast
An excellent alternative to red meat, turkey breast is packed full of protein.
Three ounces of roasted turkey breast has 24 grams of protein and only 135 calories.
While dark meat has more vitamins and minerals, it has more fat and calories than white meat.
The Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) diet, created by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, and endorsed by the AHA, lists turkey as one of the food items that should be consumed to improve overall health.
Anchovies are best eaten fresh as canned anchovies contain a high amount of sodium.
A serving of five fresh fillets has 4 grams of protein and 26 calories.
They are a rich source of iron, which transports oxygen throughout the body and is helpful to white blood cells’ ability to kill bacteria.
For those who wish to reduce premature signs of aging, anchovies contain selenium, which helps skin keep its natural moisture. One study discusses the role selenium plays in increasing skin elasticity.
A popular meat alternative for vegetarians, tofu is made from soybean curds, and is a gluten-free, zero cholesterol food item.
One block of hard tofu, weighing 122 grams, has 15 grams of protein and 177 calories.
Soy products, such as tofu, have been shown to relieve some of the symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes, due to the phytoestrogens they contain. Studies are being done to examine the role of soy in the prevention of breast cancer.
10. Chicken Breast
Three ounces of grilled boneless chicken breast has 26g protein and 128 calories.
Chicken has choline, an essential nutrient which studies show may assist in the prevention of Alzheimer’s, and may also be beneficial for the neurological health of an unborn fetus.
Shrimp, like other seafood provide a punch of protein with very little in the way of calories you don’t need.
3-ounces of shrimp has around 84 calories and 18g of protein in it. Eaten in many different dishes, and very available when fresh, or frozen, Shrimp should be on your lost of great sources of protein without over budgeting on calories.
1 serving, or roughly 115g of Ostrich has around 90 calories and 22g of protein in it.
This may not be available to everyone, and it may require some hunting to find it, but if you can find a specialty butcher or meat store that carries it, Ostrich provides an excellent source of protein and a different taste to either replace, or mix with pork or beef in your regular meals.
Bison, like other read meats may be slightly higher on the ratio of calories to protein, but it’s better for you than it’s beef counterparts, and packs a whopping 25g of protein per 100g serving of meat, with only 185 calories.
In contract to even lean ground beef, Bison is the king.
Bison should be far more available than other specialty meats like Ostrich, but it again might take a few phone calls to find a butcher or meat market in your area that can take your order.
Yogurt helps to reduce hunger, increase fullness, and delay subsequent eating as compared to lower protein snacks in healthy women.
Eight ounces of:
Greek yogurt, fat-free, vanilla, has 23 grams of protein and 207 calories
Plain yogurt, low fat, has 14 grams of protein and 137 calories
The primary difference between regular and Greek yogurt is that Greek yogurt is made by straining out the extra whey in regular yogurt, resulting in a thicker, tangier, and creamier substance.
Which is the healthier choice? Regular yogurt has twice the amount of calcium and potassium, but it also has twice the amount of sodium, carbohydrates, and sugar. Both have protein and probiotics, which keep the gut healthy.
In regular yogurt, the plain flavor is a healthier choice as flavored yogurts contain extra sugar. To sweeten plain yogurt, add fresh fruit or honey. Yogurt can be used as a healthier choice when cooking by replacing it for other ingredients when baking, such as butter, oil, shortening, milk, or sour cream.
15. Non-Fat Cottage Cheese
One cup of non-fat cottage cheese has 15 grams of protein and only 100 calories.
Known as a low-energy-density-food, it is an excellent choice for weight management as it has a low amount of calories within a high volume of food. The CDC recommends these types of food for weight management.
While low in sugar and carbohydrates, this nutritious food is high in calcium, and is helpful in maintaining healthy bones and teeth, as well as in the proper functioning of nerves.
16. Swiss Cheese
One slice of Swiss cheese has 8 grams of protein and 106 calories.
Low in fat and sodium, it is one of the healthiest cheese choices overall.
Swiss cheese is among the foods listed in the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD), a diet plan popular among those suffering from digestive disorders.
It has plenty of calcium, a deficiency of which, along with vitamin D, is shown to contribute in the development of high blood pressure, colon cancer, breast cancer, and bone fragility.
17. Gruyere Cheese
1 cubic-inch of Gruyere contains roughly 4.5g of protein and about 62 calories.
In context of the rest of this list, it might seem like an indulgence to some degree, but it’s a delicious cheese and it’s not far from the benchmark we want to set for our high-protein foods.
1 ounce of non-fried and non-breaded cheese curds contain 6.7g of protein and 83.6 calories.
Curd is also full of calcium, which is a key mineral for bone growth and repair, making it an essential addition to your favorite meals.
This is good news for the poutine lovers out there, if we can find a low calorie high protein French fries and gravy, our Canadian neighbors will be so pleased!
Legumes, Grains and Nuts
One once (28g) of cashews provide about 5g of protein in exchange for 125 calories.
This may not seem like a great ratio, and you might want to pass on cashews at first glance, however the cashew is absolutely packed with other vitamins and minerals. The same one ounce of cashews provide you with 20% of your daily recommended value of Magnesium, which has been shown to have multiple health benefits, as well as many other minerals and vitamins that are excellent for our health and development.
Almonds are higher in fiber, calcium, vitamin e, riboflavin, and, niacin than any other tree nut.
Per ounce, they have 11 grams of protein and 163 calories.
Almonds are one food source that has been shown to reduce blood sugar in diabetics due to their high magnesium content. One study indicates that 25-38% of type 2 diabetics have low magnesium.
One study indicates that, along with controlling other dietary factors and known cardiac risk factors, ingesting nuts is shown to reduce the risk of sudden cardiac death.
One 155g cup of exposed edamame beans provide you with a whopping 18.5g of protein and 188 calories.
This is an exceptional amount of protein, around 12%. Especially for a plant.
Along with the boost in protein, Edamame may also lower your cholesterol and is packed with vitamins and minerals that will round out your diet.
22. Quinoa (keen-wah)
The Quinoa Corporation calls it the “Supergrain of the Future”, as it has twice as much fiber as most other grains.
One cup, cooked, weighing 185 grams, has 8 grams of protein and 222 calories.
An excellent choice for vegetarians, as quinoa is one of only a few plants that are considered a complete protein, meaning it has all nine essential amino acids. Quinoa has high levels of antioxidants quercetin and kaempferol, and studies show these may protect against chronic diseases, including cancer.
One cup of cooked lentils provides 17 grams of protein and 230 calories.
Cooking lentils do not reduce their overall health benefit.
Researchers studying the effects of resistant starch, found in lentils, for their ability to treat or prevent inflammatory bowel disease and bowel cancer found promise in the prevention of other types of cancers, as well.
For those suffering from dietary constipation, increasing dietary fiber may help resolve the issue. Lentils are a good source of soluble fiber.
24. Peanut Butter
Two tablespoons of peanut butter have 8 grams of protein and 188 calories.
An excellent choice, this FODMAP snack is a good source of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats which help reduce LDL cholesterol and lower the risk of heart disease
Monounsaturated fats have been shown to contribute to the prevention and control of high blood pressure in general populations.
25. Pumpkin Seeds
Also known as “pepitas”, is Spanish for “little seeds of squash”.
One cup of whole, roasted pumpkin seeds has 12 grams of protein and 285 calories.
This tasty FODMAP snack provides a rich source of magnesium, which is vital to maintaining good blood pressure.
Pumpkin seeds are anti-microbial, as they have been shown to aid in the body’s elimination of dangerous parasites in the intestines . They are also a good source of tryptophan, an amino acid which the body converts into serotonin, known as the “feel-good” hormone, and melatonin, known as the “sleep” hormone.
A study shows that a mixture of pumpkin and flax seeds may prove helpful with diabetic complications. They may also reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
A 100 gram serving of raw oats contain 17 grams of protein and 389 calories.
Oats contain more protein than most other grains.
Oats have long been known to reduce LDL cholesterol, and prevent cholesterol oxidation, a risk factor for heart disease.
There is evidence that this gluten-free food item may improve symptoms in those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.
27. Navy Beans
Known by many names, the navy bean bean is named after the U.S. Navy as it was a predominant staple in their diet since the 1800’s.
A 100 gram serving of navy beans has 22 grams of protein and 354 calories.
Navy beans are naturally gluten-free, so they are an excellent source of food for those with celiac disease who must maintain a specific diet or anyone who is allergic to gluten.
Navy beans contain a good amount of copper, which plays an integral role in the synthesis of elastin and collagen. Collagen aids in the maintenance of healthy-looking skin and also in the healing of wounds.
Navy beans are also a good source of potassium. Studies show that as little as four 100 gram servings of legumes per week, is associated with a 14% lower risk of heart disease.
Every 100g of Green Peas has about 62 calories, and about 4 grams of Protein.
This staple food has a wide variety of uses, and can be added to other more protein-rich foods as a garnish and additive. One of my favorite foods, even before I was looking for high-protein.
Guava is one of the most Protein Rich fruits in the world. You’ll get an amazing 4.2 grams of the stuff in every cup. This tropical fruit is also high in vitamin C and fiber.
One amazing avocado contains roughly 2.7g in Protein, and about 227 Calories.
There are many kinds of mushrooms, but the average garden-variety mushroom available all over the world will land somewhere in the 3g of Protein per cup of mushrooms and around 21 calories per serving.
Spinach is an amazing food for so many reasons. So much to love about this amazing vegetable.
In one cup (about 21g) of spinach, you can find only 7 calories, but a good 0.9g of protein.
That’s a king-sized serving of protein in a vegetable all things considered!
33. Sun-dried tomatoes
Sun-dried tomatoes contain a hefty 258 calories, but an even more impressive 14g of protein.
Combined with the obvious delicious flavor and the million ways you can cook and incorporate sun-dried tomatoes, it’s a go-to choice for everyone!
100g of Artichoke contains about 47 calories, but a healthy 3.3g of protein.
100g of Broccoli contains about 31 calories, but 2.5g of protein.
It’s most delicious when you roast it, as steaming or boiling it will sap it of many of the other essential nutrients, so don’t be afraid to roast it with a bit of olive oil!
100g of Cauliflower contains about 25 calories, but about 2g of protein.
Cauliflower can be an amazing substitute for starchy foods like potatoes and bread, and you can find many recipes that use this amazing vegetable to it’s fullest.
37. Kimchi (Fermented Cabbage)
Probably one of the most amazing superfoods ever, Kimchi has health and longevity benefits that are far-reaching and almost too good to be true.
Half of a cup of Kimchi can contain only a single gram of protein, but also has only 15 calories.
Balancing Protein And Calories In Food Intake
Protein and calories are both a valuable part of any diet.
Maintaining a healthy caloric intake while eating foods that contain other valuable nutrients is incredibly important to good overall health.
The list provided here offers a good start to maintaining a healthy and balanced diet which is rich in protein and low in calories.