11 High-Protein, Low-Calorie Foods

by Ella

Balancing protein intake with calorie consumption is essential for maintaining a healthy weight and supporting overall well-being. High-protein, low-calorie foods are an excellent choice for those looking to manage their weight, build and maintain lean muscle mass, and stay satisfied throughout the day. In this article, we will explore a variety of nutrient-rich foods that are high in protein and low in calories, providing an effective and delicious way to achieve weight management goals.

The Importance of Protein in a Balanced Diet

1. Building Blocks of Life
Proteins are essential macronutrients made up of amino acids, which serve as the building blocks for various structures in the body. They play a crucial role in repairing tissues, supporting immune function, and producing enzymes and hormones.


2. Satiety and Weight Management
Protein has a satiating effect, meaning it can help you feel fuller for longer. Incorporating high-protein foods into meals and snacks can reduce overall calorie intake and support weight management efforts.


Choosing High-Protein Foods

1. Lean Sources of Protein
Selecting lean sources of protein is key to keeping calorie intake in check while still meeting protein needs. Lean proteins contain lower amounts of fat and calories, making them ideal for weight management.


2. Plant-Based Proteins
Plant-based proteins are a great option for those looking to reduce their calorie intake while increasing protein intake. Many plant-based protein sources are not only low in calories but also rich in fiber and essential nutrients.


High-Protein, Low-Calorie Foods

1. Chicken Breast
Skinless, boneless chicken breast is a lean protein option that is versatile and easy to prepare. It provides approximately 31 grams of protein per 3-ounce serving while being relatively low in calories.

2. Turkey Breast
Similar to chicken breast, turkey breast is another lean protein choice, offering about 29 grams of protein per 3-ounce serving.

3. Fish
Fish, such as cod, tilapia, and haddock, are excellent sources of protein and typically lower in calories compared to other protein sources. They also provide omega-3 fatty acids, which support heart health.

4. Greek Yogurt
Greek yogurt is a protein-rich dairy option that is lower in calories compared to regular yogurt. It contains probiotics that support gut health and provides approximately 15 grams of protein per 6-ounce serving.

5. Cottage Cheese
Cottage cheese is a high-protein dairy product that can be enjoyed on its own or added to various dishes. It contains approximately 14 grams of protein per half-cup serving and is relatively low in calories.

6. Eggs
Eggs are a complete protein source that offers essential amino acids. They provide about 6 grams of protein per large egg and are a versatile ingredient in cooking and baking.

7. Lentils
Lentils are a plant-based protein source that is rich in fiber and nutrients. They offer approximately 18 grams of protein per cooked cup and are low in calories.

8. Chickpeas
Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are versatile legumes that can be used in salads, soups, and hummus. They provide about 15 grams of protein per cooked cup and are relatively low in calories.

9. Edamame
Edamame, young soybeans, is a protein-packed snack option that offers about 17 grams of protein per cooked cup and is low in calories.

10. Tofu
Tofu is a popular plant-based protein made from soybeans. It provides approximately 10 grams of protein per 3-ounce serving and is a versatile ingredient in various dishes.

11. Quinoa
Quinoa is a grain-like seed that is considered a complete protein. It offers approximately 8 grams of protein per cooked cup and is rich in fiber and essential nutrients.

How Much Protein Should You Eat?

Since everyone’s goals, activity levels, and bodies are different, it stands to reason that there isn’t just one standard protein intake amount to always aim for.

If you’re cutting weight, a higher protein intake of one to 1.2 grams per pound of body weight can be beneficial. This higher intake supports lean tissue retention during a cut, further increases satiety while calories are restricted, and supports healthy stress levels.

When your goal is to maintain weight, there’s a slightly reduced need for protein. That’s because you’re not in a calorie deficit and so minimizing the risk of tissue loss. Thus, one gram of protein per pound of body weight is often considered sufficient.

And if you’re gaining weight, 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight may be adequate. Again, there simply isn’t the same risk of muscle protein breakdown in a surplus as there is in an energy deficit. Plus, once your baseline protein needs are met, strength gains and muscle growth will be fueled by additional carbohydrates, not protein.

Incorporating High-Protein, Low-Calorie Foods into Meals

1. Breakfast Ideas

Greek yogurt topped with berries and a sprinkle of nuts or seeds.

Scrambled eggs with spinach and tomatoes.

Quinoa breakfast bowl with fruit and a drizzle of honey.

2. Lunch and Dinner Ideas

Grilled chicken or turkey breast with a side of roasted vegetables.

Lentil or chickpea salad with mixed greens and a lemon vinaigrette.

Tofu stir-fry with a variety of colorful vegetables.

3. Snack Ideas

Cottage cheese with sliced cucumber and a dash of black pepper.

Edamame sprinkled with sea salt for a savory snack.

Hard-boiled eggs for a quick and portable protein source.

Other Considerations for Weight Management

1. Portion Control
While high-protein, low-calorie foods can support weight management, portion control is essential to avoid overeating. Be mindful of serving sizes and listen to your body’s hunger and fullness cues.

2. Balanced Meals
Incorporate a balance of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats in your meals to ensure you are meeting all your nutritional needs.

3. Regular Physical Activity
Couple a balanced diet with regular physical activity to further support weight management goals and overall well-being.

Myths About Protein

Though strength athletes widely will tout the benefits of protein, it still has plenty of myths and misconceptions out there.

Myth 1: You Can Only Eat So Much at Once

Until recently, many assumed you could only eat so much protein in one sitting. If you eat more than around thirty grams of protein at once, they’d say, you’re wasting your time.

However, it seems to be that the more protein you eat in a single meal, the longer it’ll take to digest and absorb. This seems especially true when you’re consuming slow-digesting protein sources combined with other macronutrients.

Still, while you needn’t worry if one meal contains a lot more protein than another, it is still a wise decision to spread your protein evenly throughout the day. It’s likely that you’ll feel satiated more often, find it easier to hit your daily needs, and sustain elevated protein synthesis rates.

Myth 2: Eating Too Much Protein Will Damage Your Kidneys

Nutrition and health scares make for shocking headlines. But in reality, the idea that too much protein will damage your kidneys has been extended from a half-truth.

Those with existing kidney disease may need to limit their protein intake. According to the National Kidney Foundation, people with existing kidney struggles may want to steer clear of excess protein because their kidneys may have trouble removing extra waste from their blood.

However, research suggests that there isn’t necessarily a cause-and-effect link between eating a high-protein diet and developing kidney disease. Eating too little protein is problematic, regardless of whether one has kidney disease, because of how essential it is for proper tissue repair and immune function.


In conclusion, high-protein, low-calorie foods offer a valuable strategy for managing weight and supporting overall health. Protein plays a crucial role in maintaining muscle mass, promoting satiety, and supporting various physiological functions. Lean sources of protein, both from animal and plant-based sources, can be easily incorporated into meals and snacks to help meet protein needs while keeping calorie intake in check. By including nutrient-rich options like chicken breast, fish, Greek yogurt, lentils, and quinoa in your diet, you can achieve your weight management goals while enjoying a delicious and satisfying array of foods. Remember to combine these protein sources with a balanced diet, portion control, and regular physical activity to optimize the benefits of a high-protein, low-calorie approach to your overall well-being. As with any dietary changes, consulting with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian can provide personalized guidance and support to tailor these strategies to your individual needs and preferences.



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