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20 High-Protein, Low-Carbohydrate Foods Everyone Should Be Eating

When you first embark on a low-carbohydrate diet, it feels like freaking EVERYTHING has carbs—leading to a lot of Regina George-level questions. (Don’t worry: Butter is not a carb.)

Yes, it can be super confusing. But this nutritionist-approved high-protein, low-carbohydrate foods list can make your next shopping trip a little bit easier.

In general when building a high-protein, low-carbohydrate meal, fill half of your plate with non-starchy veggies (like leafy greens), a fourth with lean protein, and a fourth with whole grains or beans with healthy fats (like avocado or nuts), says Lauren Harris-Pincus, registered dietician and author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club.

“Add a few fruit servings per day and some low-fat dairy products, and your diet will be appropriately balanced and lower in carbs than the typical diet,” she says.

Choosing the right types of carbs for your high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet is key. “If going low carb is important to you, make sure to use your carb grams wisely and pack in plenty of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, and low-fat dairy,” she says—that way you’ll still get a balanced amount of nutrients.

So, what are these high-protein, low carbohydrate foods you’ll want to stock up on? Dietitians share their top 20 choices:

Black Beans

“Black beans boast some of the same antioxidants that give blueberries their superfood status. They pack 60 percent of the daily recommended value of fiber per cup, and provide a source of vegetarian iron and plant protein, as well as a modest amount of calcium,” says Maggie Moon, registered dietician and author of The MIND Diet.

Per 1-cup serving canned beans: 912 kilojoules, 0.7 g fat (0 g sat), 40 g carbs (23 g net), 0.5 g sugar, 922 mg sodium, 17 g fibre, 1 g protein. Buy Black Beans HERE

READ MORE: These Foods Will Help You Stay Full Longer—And They’re Not All High In Protein

Snacking Cheese

Mini Babybel is Harris-Pincus’ go-to snack. “Mini Babybel offers 100 percent real-cheese snacks in a convenient and fun little package. One creamy cheese round provides at least four grams of protein and zero grams of carbs for 292 kilojoules or less,” she says.

Per cheese stick: 209 kilojoules, 2.5 g fat (1.5 g sat), 1 g carbs, 0 g sugar, 160 mg sodium, 0 g fibre, 4 g protein. Buy best Snacking Cheese HERE

Pistachios

“Pistachios make an excellent snack, with 30 nuts providing only 418 kilojoules and five grams of carbs,” says Harris-Pincus. These little nuts can also help aid weight-loss efforts.

Per 1/4-cup serving: 719 kilojoules, 14 g fat (2 g sat), 8 g carbs (5 g net), 2.3 g sugar, 0 mg sodium, 3 g fibre, 6 g protein. Order best PISTACHIOS  HERE

READ MORE: Which Is Better For Weight Loss: Vegetarian Or Meat-Based Protein?

Fish

If you’re on a high-protein, low-carb diet, fish is your best friend. “Fish is a brain-healthy lean protein, and fatty fish in particular helps you get the essential omega-3 fatty acids that are important for healthy arteries, reducing inflammation, and keeping the brain healthy,” says Moon. And each serving generally has 15 to 20 grams of protein (depending on the fish), with zero carbs. Order best FISH  HERE

Per 85 g serving (salmon): 740 kilojoules, 11 g fat (3 g sat), 0 g carbs, 0 g sugar, 50 mg sodium, 0 g fibre, 17 g protein.

Greek Yogurt

There are many lower-sugar Greek yogurts on the market now, some with just a touch of sugar and others sweetened with Stevia to keep the carb content down without use of artificial sweeteners, says Harris-Pincus. “On average, these yogurts range from 376 to 502 kilojoules with 12 to 15 grams of protein, 11 to 15 grams of carbs, and some with higher fibre counts as well. Look for varieties containing nine grams of sugar or less, and add in nuts or berries for added fibre,” she says.

Per one 200 g container (plain, low-fat): 610 kilojoules, 4 g fat (3 g sat), 8 g carbs, 7 g sugar, 68 mg sodium, 0 g fibre, 20 g protein.

READ MORE: What’s The Difference Between Good Carbs And Bad Carbs?

Ricotta

Plant-based cheeses are a unique way to add protein and healthy fats to the day. “Ricotta made from almond milk, using traditional cheese-making methods, has nine grams of plant protein per three ounces, and is completely plant-based, and therefore cholesterol-free,” says Moon.

If you’re not into the idea of a non-dairy ricotta, don’t fret. A half-cup serving of low-fat ricotta has 14 grams of protein and six grams of carbs, making it a great low-carbohydrate, high-protein food.

Per 1/2-cup serving (part-skim): 715 kilojoules, 10 g fat (3 g sat), 6 g carbs, 0.4 g sugar, 123 mg sodium, 0 g fibre, 14 g protein.

Eggs

One large egg is enough to provide a good source of hard-to-get vitamin D, which can improve bone and tooth health, says Moon. “It also provides an excellent source of choline (20 percent daily value), an under-recognised nutrient that is important for memory,” she says.

Per one whole, large egg: 300 kilojoules, 5 g fat (2 g sat), 0.4 g carbs, 0.2 g sugar, 71 mg sodium, 0 g fibre, 7 g protein.

READ MORE: “I Cut Out Everything And Only Ate Protein — This Is What Happened”

Avocado

“Avocado is a nutrition powerhouse,” says Harris-Pincus, thanks to its high amount of fibre and heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. “For a low-carb snack, roll up a slice of avocado in a piece of deli meat. Super easy,” she says.

Per avocado: 1 347 kilojoules, 29 g fat (4 g sat), 17 g carbs (3 g net), 1 g sugar, 14 mg sodium, 14 g fibre, 4 g protein.

Broad Beans

In need of a crunchy snack that’s high in protein but low in carbs? Ditch the bag of chips and roast beans instead. “Roasted broad beans are so versatile and delicious. They are portable, non-perishable, and a terrific snack for your desk, car, or gym bag,” says Harris-Pincus.

Per 1-cup serving (canned): 761 kilojoules, 0.6 g fat (0.1 g sat), 32 g carbs (22 g net), 3 g sugar, 14 mg sodium, 10 g fibre, 14 g protein.

READ MORE: Exactly How Many Carbs You Should Eat If You’re Trying to Lose Weight

Cow’s Milk

Good old-fashioned cow’s milk is actually a protein powerhouse loaded with great nutrition. In addition to the high amount of protein you get per cup, “cow’s milk provides potassium, calcium, riboflavin, vitamin A, and vitamin B12,” says Elizabeth Shaw, registered dietician and author of Fertility Foods.

Per 1-cup serving (low-fat): 422 kilojoules, 3 g fat (1 g sat), 12 g carbs, 12 g sugar, 106 mg sodium, 0 g fibre, 8 g protein.

Seitan

If you’re vegetarian and looking to try a low-carb, high-protein diet, seitan is your answer. “Made from wheat, seitan is the gluten proteins that remain after wheat flour has been ‘washed,’” says Shaw. “You can use this in stir-fry, sandwiches and really, any meat-based recipe that you are looking to turn vegetarian.” It does tend to be high in sodium, so be mindful of adding tons of extra salt or seasonings like soy sauce to it. And of course, if you have Celiac’s, steer clear.

Per 70 g serving: 376 kilojoules, 1 g fat (0 g sat), 4 g carbs (3 g net), 2 g sugar, 340 mg sodium, 1 g fibre, 17 g protein.

READ MORE: 5 Weird Signs That You Need To Eat More Protein

Edamame

“There’s a reason this crunchy high-protein, low-carbohydrate snack is appearing all over the snack food aisle,” says Shaw—it’s packed with vegetarian protein and iron. You can easily toss this into a salad, stir-fry, or soup.

Per 1-cup serving: 786 kilojoules, 8 g fat (1 g sat), 14 g carbs (6 g net), 3 g sugar, 9 mg sodium, 8 g fibre, 18 g protein.

Mozzarella Cheese

With tomato and basil, who can resist this high-protein, low-carbohydrate snack? “A one-ounce serving of mozzarella provides eight ounces of high-quality protein with only one gram of carbohydrates,” says Shaw.

Per 30 g serving (part-skim): 300 kilojoules, 5 g fat (3 g sat), 1 g carbs, 0.3 g sugar, 175 mg sodium, 0 g fibre, 7 g protein.

READ MORE: The Best Whole Grains That Don’t Taste Like Cardboard

Almonds

Along with pistachios, almonds make a great high-protein, low-carb snack. “Research suggests that eating nuts like almonds regularly is linked to longer lifespan, less belly fat, improved brain health, and more,” Moon says.

Per 1/4-cup serving: 866 kilojoules, 18 g fat (1 g sat), 8 g carbs (2 g net), 2 g sugar, 0 mg sodium, 5 g fibre, 8 g protein.

Lean Deli Meat

“Lean deli meat makes an easy lunch or fast snack,” says Harris-Pincus. “Spread on one tablespoon of hummus and create roll-ups for an additional 104 kilojoules, one gram protein, two grams of carbs, and one gram fibre,” she says.

Per 60 g serving: 259 kilojoules, 0.5 g fat (0.1 g sat), 2 g carbs (1.7 g net), 2 g sugar, 440 mg sodium, 0.3 g fibre, 12 g protein.

READ MORE: What Is The Keto Flu And Why Does It Make Me Feel Horrible?

Chia Seeds

“Chia seeds are a secret weapon on any diet plan. They absorb about 10 times their weight in water, helping to keep you full,” says Harris-Pincus. What’s more, the high-protein food is also rich in healthy fats, like omega-3 fatty acids, which can lower inflammation. “Add them to smoothies, oatmeal, yogurt, cereal, and much more,” she says.

Per 30 g serving: 577 kilojoules, 9 g fat (0.1 g sat), 12 g carbs (2 g net), 2 g sugar, 5 mg sodium, 10 g fibre, 5 g protein.

Peanut Butter

Here’s more reason to open up a jar of peanut butter for a low-carb, high-protein snack or pre-workout fuel. “Peanuts have the highest protein content among nuts,” says Harris-Pincus. And if you’re concerned about kilojoules, try powdered peanut butter—which has comparable protein with way fewer kilojoules.

Per 2-Tbsp. serving: 744 kilojoules, 12 g fat (2 g sat), 13 g carbs (11 g net), 3 g sugar, 194 mg sodium, 2 g fibre, 10 g protein.

READ MORE: The 12 Best Foods To Burn Fat And Build Lean Muscle

Pumpkin Seeds

“Pumpkin seeds are fantastic with yogurt, cottage cheese, smoothie bowls, soups, and salads,” says Harris-Pincus. They are also a rich plant-based source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, too, much like those chia seeds.

Per 30 g serving (roasted): 681 kilojoules, 14 g fat (2 g sat), 4 g carbs (2 g net), 0.4 g sugar, 5 mg sodium, 2 g fibre, 8 g protein.

Biltong

“Biltong is back as a portable snack with many trendy, flavoured varieties on store shelves,” says Harris-Pincus—but not all are created equal. “The nutritional content varies widely depending on the brand and the flavour. Some are much higher in carbs and sugar than others,” says Harris-Pincus.

However, if you find one that isn’t heavily sweetened, you’ve got yourself a low-carb and high-protein snack.

Per 30 g serving (beef): 485 kilojoules, 7 g fat (3 g sat), 3 g carbs (2.5 g net), 3 g sugar, 506 mg sodium, 0.5 g fibre, 9 g protein.

READ MORE: 9 Foods That Are Naturally Gluten-Free

Lentils

Lentils are a versatile and delicious high-protein food. “Add them to salads, soup, pasta, chili, veggie burgers, and so much more. They are incredibly satisfying and can help to stabilise blood sugar and lower cholesterol,” says Harris-Pincus.

Per 1-cup serving (cooked): 962 kilojoules, 0.8 g fat (3 g sat), 40 g carbs (24 g net), 4 g sugar, 4 mg sodium, 16 g fibre, 18 g protein.

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9 Homemade Protein Bars That’ll Stop You Snacking – For Good!

Feel like all you’re ever doing is snacking? These nutrient-dense, protein-packed bars will stop mindless eating in their tracks!

Snacking is a slippery slope: while snacks to stave off hanger offer major weight-loss benefits, if you’re constantly reaching for fillers in-between meals it could be detrimental to your diet. The key: a snack so packed with nutrients and satiating protein that you only need one. Whip up a batch of these babies and you’re set for days…

1. Hunger-Busting Butter Bar

hunger busting protein bar

Makes 10 bars

The low-fat low-down: 782kJ | 0.7g sat fat | 13.6g sugar

You’ll need: 140g rolled oats; 115g almond butter; 8 Medjool dates, pitted; 2 tbsp chia seeds; 2 tbsp flaxseed flour; 60ml water

Method: Grind the oats in a food processor. Add the remaining ingredients and mix to form a dough. Line a 20x20cm pan with parchment, place the mixture in and press down. Chill in the fridge for about an hour, then cut.

BONUS: Scoffing one of these could make you eat more healthily for the rest of the day: fact. A study published in the European Journal of Nutrition found that a mid-morning snack of almonds increases satiety and, in turn, lets you make healthier food choices. Magic.

2. Let’s-Make-A-Date-Bar

date protein bar

Makes 10 bars

The low-fat low-down: 957kJ | 5g sat fat | 20g sugar

You’ll need: 12 Medjool dates, pitted; 200g chia seeds; 1 tsp raw cacao powder; 2 tsp cacao nibs; 4 tbsp coconut oil

Method: Pulse the dates in a processor until they form a paste. Mix in a bowl with the chia seeds, cacao, nibs and oil to form a thick dough. Press into the bottom of a 20x20cm baking tray and cut into squares. Eat right away for a more doughy treat or place in the freezer for one hour for a chewier texture.

BONUS: The dates pack a slow-release carb punch to fuel you through your weights session. Plus, they contain vitamin B6, which helps regulate mood, so you’ll sweat happy.

3. You-Look-Soy-Good Bar

soy protein bar

Makes 10 bars

The low-fat low-down: 1 400kJ | 4.1g sat fat | 2g sugar

You’ll need: 100g sesame seeds; 200g each sunflower and pumpkin seeds; 50g flaxseeds; 3 tbsp dark soy or tamari; 2 tbsp olive oil; 2 tbsp honey; 1 tbsp wheatgerm

Method: Preheat the oven to 200°C. Put the seeds in a bowl and stir in the soy and oil. Spread on a tray and toast in the oven at 200°C for five minutes, until the pumpkin seeds are puffed. Leave to cool. Combine in a bowl with the honey and wheatgerm. Line a 20x20cm baking tray, put the mixture in and smooth down. Freeze, slice… You know the drill.

BONUS: Wheatgerm is a good source of vitamin E, which can boost immunity and keep skin and eyes healthy. Essentially: eat and glow.

4. Sunflower Power Bar

sunflower protein bar

Makes 24 bars

The low-fat low-down: 786kJ | 3g sat fat | 6g sugar

You’ll need: 135g hazelnuts; 135g almonds; 50g sunflower seeds; 70g rolled oats; 5 Medjool dates, pitted and soaked; 70g Brazil nuts; 55g pumpkin seeds; 55g sesame seeds; 2tbsp tahini; 2 tbsp quinoa; 3 tbsp coconut oil; 3 tbsp honey; 2 tbsp maca powder; 90g goji berries

Method: Set your oven to 100°C and dust off your food processor. Put the hazelnuts and almonds in the oven for two minutes, adding the sunflower seeds midway. Blitz the oats, dates, nuts and seeds. Add to a bowl with the rest of the ingredients. Mix by hand then press onto a tray. Freeze for one hour.

BONUS: Research found goji berries speed up recovery from sunburn by reducing inflammation. They’re also antioxidant-rich!

5. Hearty Breakfast Bar

breakfast protein bar

Makes 6 bars

The low-fat low down: 1 463kJ| 4g sat fat | 8g sugar

You’ll need: 140g rolled oats; 50g sunflower seeds; 100g pumpkin seeds; 30g each almonds and walnuts, chopped; 50g dried cherries, chopped; 3 ripe bananas; 1 tsp vanilla extract; 1⁄2 tsp salt; 1⁄2 tsp cinnamon

Method: This seed bar takes the longest to make as it requires baking time. Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease a 20x20cm baking tray. In a large bowl, mix the oats, seeds, nuts and dried fruit. Blend the bananas, vanilla, salt and cinnamon until smooth. Pour the purée into the oat mixture, stir and press into the tray. Bake for 30 minutes, until lightly browned on the edges. Cool, then slice.

BONUS: A study found that the oil in walnuts reduces risk of heart disease.

6. Chocs-Away Energy Bar

chocolate protein bar

Makes 14 bars

The low-fat low-down: 1 739kJ | 14.7g sat fat | 15.5g sugar

You’ll need: 400g sesame seeds; 175g raisins; 50g dried, shredded coconut; 65g flaxseed flour; 115g tahini; 115g coconut oil; 120ml maple syrup; 1 tsp vanilla extract; 3⁄4 tsp sea salt. For the topping: 2 tbsp each coconut oil, maple syrup and raw cacao

Method: Mix all dry ingredients in a bowl, then fold in the rest. Press all that into a rectangular tray. Cover and freeze for 1 hour, cut into slices. For the topping, melt the oil and syrup in a pan, add the cacao and mix until a thick liquid forms. Dip half of each bar in the chocolate. Cool then refrigerate for one hour.

BONUS: Epicatechin, a compound in cacao, can up energy levels as much as exercise. The possibilities!

7. Flax-Your-Muscles Bar

flax protein bars

Makes 15 bars

The low-fat low-down: 627kJ | 4g sat fat | 8g sugar

You’ll need: 65g flaxseed flour; 65g hemp powder; 140g rolled oats; 175g cranberries; 115ml coconut milk; 115g unsalted peanut butter; 175ml maple syrup (or agave); 1 tsp vanilla extract

Method: Mix the dry stuff and chuck in a food processor. Stir the wet stuff in a bowl. Now combine wet and dry to become one happy family. Line a 20x30cm baking dish with baking paper and spread the mixture evenly. Leave in the fridge overnight to set, then slice. No midnight snacking – sorry!

BONUS: Both flax and hemp seeds are bursting with omega-3, which a Clinical Science UK study found increased muscle- protein levels. Hello, guns.

8. Chia Up, Coconut Bar

chia protein bars

Makes 16 bars

The low-fat low-down: 957kJ | 6.4g sat fat | 8g sugar

You’ll need: 160g Medjool dates, pitted; 150g desiccated coconut; 175g blanched almonds; 60g macadamia nuts; 60g walnuts; 2 tbsp pumpkin seeds; 1 tbsp chia seeds; 1 tbsp wheatgrass powder; 1⁄2 tsp vanilla extract; 1⁄2 tsp matcha powder

Method: Place all the ingredients in a food processor and mix until they form a dough. Line a tray, press the mixture in, smoothing over the surface. Sprinkle on the coconut. Freeze for an hour, cut into squares, store in mouth, erm, fridge.

BONUS: Compared with regular green tea, matcha has as much as 137 times the concentration of EGCG – a powerful antioxidant. And you don’t even have to faff about with the kettle.

9. Mac-My-Night Bar

macadamia protein bars

Makes 10 bars

The low-fat low-down: 1 547kJ | 7.5g sat fat | 7.2g sugar

You’ll need: 100g ground almonds; 100g sunflower seeds; 100g flaxseed flour; 100g pumpkin seeds; 2 tbsp chia seeds; 2 tbsp maca powder; 90ml maple syrup; 60ml coconut oil; 75g almond butter; 1⁄2 tsp sea salt

Method: Place the dry ingredients in a bowl. Put the wet ones in a pan on a low heat until melted, mixing well. Add to the dry mix. Line a 20x20cm pan with baking paper. Spread in the mixture and pack down tight. Place in the fridge for an hour to set. Behold your chilled aphrodisiac. #LibidoLife #Winning

BONUS: Research from Northumbria University has shown that maca can up male sex drive. Oh, yeah! At worst, he’ll at least have the energy to clean the dishes…

“I Cut Out Everything And Only Ate Protein — This Is What Happened”

This eating plan will blow your mind!

We’re easy to spot. We’re the ones with plastic beakers in our bags, empty save for a pile of powder at the bottom. Our freezers are jammed full of pre-portioned chicken breasts. And come mid-afternoon, we’re tucking in to our second hard-boiled egg of the day. It’s a diet once associated with bodybuilders and elite athletes. We’re neither. But we have earned ourselves a less comfortable moniker: “protorexics”. The term refers to those who rely on lots of protein while avoiding carbs to control weight and fuel workouts.

My obsession with the much-loved macro

Two years ago, after joining the gym in the hope of losing my stomach paunch, I began chugging on protein shakes at the behest of my PT. At first, I found that a pre-workout shake upped my stamina and killed my hunger. So I started subbing one in for breakfast.

Soon, as I became more interested in how protein could fuel my training – and the inevitable flip side: how carbs could be hindering my results – every meal became based around it. Eggs for breakfast, lunches involving packets of cooked chicken slices and the strict rule that at least half of my dinner plate was protein. An inevitable part of the process was that carbs were all but banished from my diet, bar the odd oat biscuit or Sunday roast.

READ MORE: “I Tried Drinking Plant-Based Protein Shakes After Every Workout”

I shrank from a size 14 to a 10 within six months and went from pull-up virgin to smashing six sets. No complaints. Except the good times don’t always last. Which is why, a couple of months ago, I ended up at the door of personal trainer and sports nutritionist David Arnot. I’d hit a fitness plateau and had gone, I suppose, looking for answers – armed with what I’d thought was my exemplary eating plan.

My eating plan

6:45am Protein bar
9:30am Handful pistachio nuts
10:30am Boiled egg with smoked salmon and spinach
11:30am Half a protein bar
12:30pm Tinned tuna, salad
2pm Half a protein bar
3:30pm Protein shake
4:30pm Greek yoghurt with protein powder
6:15pm Half a protein bar
7:30pm Grilled salmon with stir-fried veg
10:15pm Greek yoghurt with half a protein bar

READ MORE: 5 Foods You Won’t Believe Contain More Protein Than An Egg

My nutritionist’s verdict?

He’d never seen anyone with my sort of exercise regime eat as few carbs as I did. That was to blame for my lack of fitness gains. And he also pointed to a few other issues – my struggle to focus at work and generally being so knackered by the end of the day that I rarely have the energy or inclination to catch up with friends. When I revealed that each evening my husband cooks two different meals – a regular version for him, a carb-free version for me – Arnot began to shake his head.

He broke down the stats for me: by the time I flop into bed, I’ve consumed more than 150g of the magical macro, which means I’m getting through about 2.5g per kilogram of my body weight.

READ MORE: 3 Signs You Need To Incorporate More Cabs In Your Diet

According to Dr Duane Mellor of the British Dietetic Association, that’s far too much: “We advise adults to eat around 0.75g per kilogram of body weight daily to get the necessary benefits of protein, which includes building lean muscle mass, aiding digestion, regulating nutrient absorption and removal of waste.”

Arguably, I could get away with totting up a little more than this as I clock up between five and seven workouts a week, but I’m still way over the mark. Sports and exercise nutritionist James Collins recommends aiming for something between 1.2g and 1.6g per kilogram of body weight, but warns an intake of more than 2g can do more harm than good. (Think: hormonal imbalances, high cholesterol, exacerbation of existing kidney problems, chronic dehydration, weight gain…)

READ MORE: “I Tried HIIT Training For 3 Months – This Is What I Learnt”

Arnot’s proposed eating plan

8:30am Porridge with low-fat milk
10:30am Apple, handful cashews
12:30pm Chicken with ratatouille and 125g brown rice
2pm Biltong or 1 protein bar
7:30pm Red meat/fish with green veg and sweet potato
10:15pm Handful granola, yoghurt, honey and berries

The last word…

“Nobody’s denying how important protein is,” Arnot says. “But the message has become misunderstood and carbs have become demonised in the process. So I see lots of carb-phobic women eating so much more protein than is necessary. What they often don’t realise is that kilojoules from protein aren’t used as efficiently for energy as kilojoules from carbs because they can’t be oxidised quickly enough to meet the demands of high-intensity exercise. The fixation on pre- and post-training protein means many aren’t getting the most out of their workouts.” Arnot agreed to devise a personalised 10-day eating plan for me to follow without leading me into a kilojoule surplus. Meaning? More carbs, less protein equals more energy, no weight gain. I’ll eat to that.

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