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Eating a low-carb diet? Reach for these 22 protein-packed foods

If you want a protein-packed meal, but are keeping a close eye on carbs, fill your plate with these delicious options.
Eggs pack in protein with little carbs. Make it an omelet with low-carb veggies like mushrooms and spinach for a filling breakfast.
Eggs pack in protein with little carbs. Make it an omelet with low-carb veggies like mushrooms and spinach for a filling breakfast.iko636 / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Protein is one of the three important macronutrients that provide us with calories (the other two being carbohydrates and fat). So if you're trying to cut down on carbs, adding more high-protein, low-carb foods to your diet can go a long way.

Protein is used in many bodily functions, including cell maintenance and repair, blood clotting and the production of antibodies. It’s the primary component of many body tissues, such as skin, hair and muscle. Protein is also digested more slowly than carbohydrates, which helps increase feelings of satiety — aka satisfying your hunger.

Protein can be found in a variety of foods, including fish, poultry, meats, legumes, soy, nuts, seeds and dairy. Lesser amounts of protein can also be found in whole grains and vegetables.

Below is a list of some favorite high-protein, low-carb choices.


One cup of whole almonds contains 30.3 grams of protein. In addition to keeping you full longer than you'd expect, almonds may also reduce heart disease risk, as they lower cholesterol, have anti-inflammatory effects and are high in antioxidants. They’re also high in unsaturated fats and are good for gut health.

Black beans

Black beans contain some carbohydrates, but they are a great way to get in plant protein and fiber. A half-cup serving contains 7.5 grams of protein, 7.5 grams of fiber and 20 grams of carbs. They’re also jam-packed with phytonutrients, including anthocyanins and quercetin, both of which act as antioxidants.


This lean, white meat is a go-to protein source for good reason. A 4-ounce serving of chicken will give you 26 grams of protein for a minimal 120 calories (and no carbs!). Chicken is also versatile and goes with almost any type of cuisine.


Similar to black beans, this legume is higher in carbs than other protein options, but it’s also packed with protein, fiber and antioxidants. These little legumes are a great addition to soups and salads, especially if you’re trying to reduce your intake of animal protein. They contain about 7 to 9 grams of protein per half-cup serving and 20 grams of carbs.

Cottage cheese

In an age when enthusiasm for cultured dairy is pretty high, cottage cheese is making a comeback. A half-cup serving of cottage cheese contains about 100 calories, 12 grams of protein and 5 grams of carbs. It is also a versatile ingredient that can be used as the base for a sweet or savory meal, and makes a great dip for veggies.


Edamame refers to immature soybeans that are still in their pod, a common appetizer at Japanese restaurants. To prepare them, they’re typically boiled in the pods and then removed and eaten on their own. Edamame contain 17 grams of protein in 1 cup. They also reduce bad cholesterol and are high in vitamin C, calcium, iron and folic acid.


Who doesn’t love eggs? They’re an easy, nutrient-dense and wallet-friendly way to pack in protein, as well as a dose of satiating fat, with trace amounts of carbohydrates. With 6 grams of protein per egg, you can easily get a hefty dose through a simple, super healthy two-egg breakfast with sautéed greens.

Grass-fed beef

A 4-ounce serving of grass-fed beef has 22 grams of protein and no carbohydrates. Grass-fed and free-range means that the meat comes from cows that graze freely on grass for their entire lives. This kind of beef is the best choice, thanks to a healthier fat profile and more antioxidants. The meat from cattle that eat only grass contains two to three times the amount of conjugated linoleic acids (CLAs) compared to grain-finished beef. CLAs are healthy fats associated with reduced cancer risk, reduced cardiovascular disease risk, and better cholesterol levels.

Hemp seeds

Three tablespoons of hemp seeds contain about 160 calories, 10 grams of protein and just 2 gram of carbs. You’ll also get 240 milligrams of potassium and 15-20% of your daily iron needs (depending on the brand). It’s hard to find that much nutrient density in a single food. Hemp has a beautiful ratio of the common omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, but it is also loaded with the less commonly found stearidonic acid (SDA) and gamma linoleic acid (GLA). You need these fatty acids to fight inflammation and protect your heart and immune system. They are a simple and nutritious addition to your morning smoothie or oatmeal.


Lentils are a no-brainer for those looking to up their plant-protein consumption (which really should be all of us). Unlike animal proteins that deliver saturated fat — the type of fat that can raise our "bad" LDL cholesterol — plant-based proteins like lentils are free of saturated fat. Again, this option is higher in carbohydrates but also dietary fiber, which is critical for stabilizing blood-sugar levels, as well as lowering LDL cholesterol. A 1-cup serving of cooked lentils will provide 18 grams of protein with 40 grams of carbs.

Peanut butter

Nut butter is a delicious ingredient or standalone food in so many different contexts. Whether you’re a peanut butter lover, an almond butter addict or a cashew connoisseur, opt for natural nut butters made from just one ingredient: nuts! One 2-tablespoon serving puts about 8 grams of protein on your plate with 6 grams of carbs.

Pork tenderloin

When consumed in moderation, pork tenderloin, a lean cut lower in fat than others, can be a healthy, low-carb protein to add to your diet. A 3-ounce serving has 22 grams of protein. Pork also contains vitamin B12 and B6, iron and zinc. It’s also high in selenium, which contains antioxidants. If you’re buying a tenderloin in the store, try to avoid pre-seasoned ones as they usually are high in sodium.

Pumpkin seeds

Pumpkin seeds are a nutrient-packed ingredient to use all year long — not just after you carve a pumpkin! These small but mighty seeds pack in 9 grams of protein in a 1-ounce serving and also contain important minerals, such as zinc, magnesium and iron. They are also are a good source of healthy fats and add a nice crunch to just about any dish for only 4 grams of carbs per shelled serving.


This fish is a delicious source of omega-3s (important for your metabolism) and protein, with about 17 grams per 3-ounce serving and no carbohydrates. When purchasing salmon, make sure you opt for the wild-caught variety. It’s sustainable and can actually provide more nutritional benefit than farm-raised options. Salmon is also a protein source that can be quick and easy to get on the table on a hectic weeknight with a recipe like this parchment-baked salmon.


Sardines are a type of small fish often packaged in a tin, one of which contains about 23 grams of protein. Sardines are also high in vitamin B12, vitamin D and calcium, and a serving will get you most or all of the way toward your daily goal for omega-3 fatty acids, which protect against heart disease and boost brain health. These little fish can also help improve good cholesterol levels. Try grilling them or roasting them.


Keeping a bag of shrimp in your freezer is an easy way to add some protein to any meal, as they defrost easily and cook fast. (Buying them frozen also means they’re preserved at the peak of their freshness, instead of buying them thawed.) Unlike other seafood, shrimp is low in mercury. It also boosts good cholesterol because has high omega-3 fatty acid content and low saturated fat.


This green algae is popular with wellness advocate and for good reason. Gram-for-gram, spirulina may be the single most nutritious food on the planet. The quality of the protein in spirulina is considered comparable to eggs. It contains all the essential amino acids that you need: 4 grams in a tablespoon of dried spirulina (and less than 2 grams of carbs). It has a strong flavor, so mask it in a smoothie — it also adds a fun blue hue!

Sunflower seeds

Sunflower seeds’ high fiber and protein content make them an excellent on-the-go snack that will keep you full for a while. They contain 29 grams of protein in a 1-cup serving. Studies have shown that consuming sunflower seeds is associated with a reduction in heart disease risk, as well as lowering of cholesterol and blood pressure.


Not only is tempeh a source of gut-friendly probiotics, but it’s also packed with plant-based protein. Try experimenting with new meal options, like a tempeh breakfast hash, tempeh bacon or tempeh stir-fry. Not familiar with the ingredient? Check out this guide to tempeh. You’ll get about 15 grams of protein and 13 grams of carbs in a 4-ounce serving.


Looking to switch up your usual egg scramble? Try tofu. I love sautéing crumbled tofu with colorful veggies such as bell peppers, onions and spinach for a high-protein, egg-free breakfast. Don’t forget to add flavor your tofu with spices such as turmeric, black pepper, cumin and garlic. Tofu contains about 20 grams of protein and less than 4 grams of carbs in a half-cup serving.


Tuna delivers zero carbs per serving and 24 grams of protein in a 3-ounce serving, so safe to say that it’s a high-protein, low-carb fish. It’s also an excellent source of vitamins B12 and B6, as well as vitamin D. It’s high in omega-3 fatty acids, too, which can help lower LDL cholesterol, reducing risk of cardiovascular disease and possibly even boosting eye health, research shows.


All yogurt serves up protein, but strained options like Greek yogurt or Icelandic skyr are the highest in protein. Opt for an unsweetened version to avoid added sugars, then incorporate your own natural sweeteners, like fresh fruit and cinnamon. You’ll get more than 15 grams of protein and 5 grams of carbs per three-quarter-cup serving, depending on the brand.