IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

15 best high-protein, low-calorie foods for weight loss

High-protein foods are more filling, which may help prevent overeating. Here are the best protein-rich foods that are under 200 calories.
Stir fly noodles with edamame beans, and chicken.
Add edamame beans and chicken to a stir-fry for an added dose of protein without a bunch of extra calories.Getty Images

Protein is an essential nutrient that benefits your body in numerous ways. However, protein sources vary in their healthfulness, with lean, high-protein, low-calorie foods being healthier options than sources with higher amounts of saturated fat, sodium or a combination of the two.

Read on to learn about protein’s benefits, how high-protein, low-calorie foods influence your appetite and weight, and the best high-protein, low-calorie foods to add to your menu.

Benefits of high-protein foods

To understand the benefits of high-protein foods, it helps to learn some of protein’s roles in your body. The protein you eat is broken down and used to repair tissues, including muscle and bone tissues, and to make hormones, among other things. It also provides structural support for your skin, joints, bones and nails.

Protein is also helpful for hunger management. It increases the hormones that reduce appetite while suppressing a hormone that increases appetite, helping to control overeating. That makes a higher-protein diet beneficial for weight loss.

Meanwhile, if you aren’t consuming enough protein, you could be at risk of losing muscle mass, not to mention brittle hair and nails. Inadequate protein intake also puts you at risk of weak bones and getting sick more often since your immune system depends on protein to operate properly.

How much protein do you need?

Most people get enough protein to meet their basic needs, but evidence suggests that we may need more for optimal muscle health and weight management. Most people benefit from including 1.0 to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.

To simplify this, consider the average 171-pound female who’s trying to get 1.3 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. This equates to about 101 grams of protein each day. However, you can’t just down that at one sitting and call it a day. An ideal eating pattern includes protein spaced evenly throughout the day. So, for the average woman, this means getting roughly 25 grams of protein at each of her three meals and another 12 grams at two snacks.

By the way, despite what you may have heard, you can get enough protein on an exclusively plant-based diet. The key is to vary your plant-based protein sources, spread them out throughout the day, and meet your calorie needs.

Benefits of low-calorie foods

Low-calorie whole foods offer numerous nutrients while helping you control calorie intake. This makes it easier to meet your nutrient needs while staying within a healthy calorie range for your body, which is helpful for managing your weight and health.

While low-calorie, whole foods are an important part of your eating plan, low-calorie, heavily processed foods aren’t as beneficial. Typically, heavily processed foods are less nutritious than whole foods, and they’re linked to numerous health problems, including heart disease, cancer and diabetes. 

Are low-calorie, high-protein foods good for weight loss?

Weight loss involves more than eating low-calorie, high-protein foods, but they can certainly help. That’s because high-protein foods are more filling than other types of foods, which may help prevent overeating. They also help you maintain muscle mass–particularly when coupled with resistance training, which is associated with a more robust metabolism.

Low-calorie, high-protein foods also make it easier to adhere to a calorie deficit that’s needed to lose weight. 

Best high-protein, low-calorie foods

You can get protein from animal and plant sources, however, some sources of protein are healthier than others. For instance, experts recommend limiting red meat consumption to no more than 18 ounces per week and having processed meat (including bacon, hot dogs, ham and jerky) less often.

To reach your protein quota, consider healthier, lean options. We’ve compiled a list of the best foods that are under 200 calories and have a high protein content of at least 10 grams for the suggested serving. 

Low-fat cottage cheese

  • Serving size: ½ cup
  • Calories: 90
  • Protein: 12 grams

Not only is cottage cheese a good source of protein, but it also has a range of other nutrients, including calcium, selenium and vitamin B12. Use cottage cheese in parfaits, over toast, in place of ricotta cheese in pasta dishes, and blended as a dip for veggies.

Greek yogurt

  • Serving size: 1 cup
  • Calories: 145
  • Protein: 25 grams

Both Greek yogurt and its Icelandic cousin, skyr, are easy ways to score lots of protein, calcium and good-for-your-gut bacteria for under 150 calories. If you’re shopping for flavored yogurt, be sure to buy one that’s low in added sugars since added sugars contribute to health problems.


  • Serving size: 1 cup (in the pod)
  • Calories: 180
  • Protein: 18 grams

A bag of frozen edamame is a must-have for your last-minute protein needs. It’s highly nutritious, with calcium, iron, potassium, and a whopping 16 grams of fiber per cup. You can serve edamame on its own or add shelled edamame to whole grain and veggie bowls for a delicious high-protein, plant-based meal.

Canned salmon

  • Serving size: 3 ounces
  • Calories: 117
  • Protein: 20 grams

Canned salmon is a convenient and economical way to help you meet the recommendation to eat seafood twice per week an amount most people don’t meet. Enter canned salmon! It’s especially rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids and is also a notable source of vitamin D. You can eat canned salmon just as you would canned tuna: dressed in mayo, pesto or a vinaigrette and served in a sandwich, over a salad, or with veggies and whole grain crackers.

Canned tuna

  • Serving size: 3 ounces
  • Calories: 109
  • Protein: 20 grams

Canned tuna is a budget-friendly, shelf-stable protein pick. Think beyond tuna sandwiches and salads; it’s also delicious mixed with pasta, beans (such as white beans and chickpeas) or formed into patties burger-style. While experts recommend eating seafood twice weekly, adults should eat no more than three six-ounce portions of white (albacore) tuna per month to limit mercury exposure. Light tuna can be eaten more often–up to three times a week per the FDA.


  • Serving size: 2 eggs
  • Calories: 142
  • Protein: 12 grams

Eggs are another affordable, high-protein, low-calorie food. They have a reputation for being high in protein, but note that you need to eat two eggs to hit the mark. In addition to protein and loads of other essential nutrients, eggs contain the antioxidant carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which help you maintain good vision. One thing that makes eggs so great is that they pair well with veggies, so be sure to load up your egg dishes with tomatoes, mushrooms, broccoli, spinach or any veggies you like. While eggs are high in dietary cholesterol, experts believe that healthy people safely eat up to an egg a day.

Chicken breast

  • Serving size: 3 ounces
  • Calories: 120
  • Protein: 24 grams

Chicken breast is one of the leanest, protein-packed meats around. You can meal prep chicken breasts in advance with a simple seasoning or pick up a rotisserie chicken from the store for more convenience. Either way, you can use the breast in sandwiches, salads, soups, stews, casseroles and tacos.

Chicken thigh

  • Serving size: 1 thigh
  • Calories: 135 calories
  • Protein: 17 grams

Although thigh meat has slightly more calories than breast meat, it’s still relatively lean, with less than 2 grams of saturated fat. It also contains more iron and zinc than breast meat. Plus, many people prefer tender, rich thigh meat, and it’s also a more affordable option than chicken breast.


  • Serving size: 3 ounces
  • Calories: 85
  • Protein: 20 grams

As long as your shrimp isn’t breaded and fried, it’s a great low-calorie, high-protein option. Plus, shrimp’s pink color is due to astaxanthin, an antioxidant that supports brain and heart health. You can add steamed or boiled shrimp to salads, whole grain dishes, pasta, and tacos. Or stir-fry shrimp with veggies for a quick and nutritious meal.

Fresh turkey breast

  • Serving size: 3 ounces
  • Calories: 125
  • Protein: 27 grams

Fresh turkey breast is an easy way to boost protein at meals and snacks. It’s also rich in nutrients, including zinc, iron and vitamin B12. Pick up some fresh turkey breast at the deli counter, or make your own turkey breast or cutlets at home. However, be careful with packaged turkey breast and the processed turkey meat you buy from the deli counter. Even if they’re labeled no nitrates added, these meats are considered processed meats. They may also be high in sodium.

Ground turkey

  • Serving size: 3 ounces
  • Calories: 173
  • Protein: 23 grams

Ground turkey is slightly higher in calories than turkey breast, but it’s still a low-calorie choice at under 200 calories. And it’s relatively lean, with only 2 grams of saturated fat the same as a chicken thigh. Ground turkey is an excellent replacement for ground beef in burgers, tacos, meatballs, pasta dishes and skillet meals.


  • Serving size: 3 ½ ounces
  • Calories: 85 calories
  • Protein: 11 grams

Don’t sleep on tofu, a versatile, low-calorie, plant-based protein. Once it’s seasoned or marinated, you can stir-fry, air fry, bake and grill it to deliciousness. Eaten regularly, it may help protect your heart, thanks to its isoflavone compounds.


  • Serving size: ¾ cup
  • Calories: 170 calories
  • Protein: 14 grams

Pulses, including lentils are wonderful sources of plant protein. Unlike animal sources of protein, pulses have tons of fiber. Lentils have 5 grams per ¾ cup, not to mention other nutrients, including iron and folate. Add lentils to soups, stews, grain bowls, salads and tacos.

Pinto beans

  • Serving size: ¾ cup
  • Calories: 184 calories
  • Protein: 12 grams

One thing that makes beans so great is that you get a hefty portion and plenty of protein for under 200 calories. Between that and their fiber count — 12 grams in ¾ cup of pinto beans — they’re a very filling and nutritious choice. Pinto beans are mild-tasting, and they work well in soups, stews, chili, and Mexican meals.

Chickpea flour

  • Serving size: 1/2 cup
  • Calories: 178
  • Protein: 10 grams

Yes, chickpea flour is a thing! If you’re not familiar with it, add it to your grocery list and give it a try. As for what you can do with it, chickpea flour makes a delicious and simple flatbread that you can eat garnished with a little olive oil, salt and pepper or topped with various veggies, cheese, eggs or anything you wish. It’s also great to thicken soups (and add a pump of protein) and to coat chicken and fish (instead of breadcrumbs). Or use it to make high-protein baked goods, from pancakes and waffles to cookies and brownies.