Going low-carb can help you lose weight and benefit your cardiovascular health -- it helps boost high-density lipoprotein, the beneficial type of cholesterol that actually protects against heart disease. And while you don't need to cut out carbs completely, a large portion of your diet should come from high-protein, low-carb foods so that you stay within your carb limits for the day. Make these no- and low-carb sources of protein staples in your kitchen to make low-carb dieting a breeze.
Meats Are Carb-Free and Packed with Protein
Unprocessed meats are carb-free, so they're staples in many low-carb diets. And because the protein in meat comes from animals, it's a "complete" protein. Translation: It's packed with the amino acids you need to nourish lean muscle and maintain healthy tissues, unlike "incomplete" plant proteins that lack at least one essential amino acid.
A 3.5-ounce serving of braised beef round, trimmed of any visible fat, supplies 36 grams of complete protein, while the same size serving of lean lamb shoulder has 34 grams. A 3.5-ounce serving of braised chicken breast supplies 32 grams of protein -- the same amount of protein found in 3.5 ounces of ground lean turkey or ground lean pork. Fish supplies carb-free protein, too -- 3.5 ounces of cooked bluefin tuna supplies 30 grams.
Dairy and Eggs Offer Protein, Too
You don't need to eat meat to get lots of protein for relatively few carbs -- just reach for eggs and dairy products. Like meats, these contain complete protein, so they're a great way to maintain healthy tissues. Eat 1/4 cup of shredded low-fat Monterey Jack cheese and you'll take in 9 grams of protein and less than half a gram of carbs, or opt for 1/4 cup of shredded mozzarella or low-fat cheddar for 8 grams of protein. Cottage cheese works, too -- a 1/2-cup serving has 14 grams of protein and only 3 grams of carbs. And include eggs in your meal plan -- each one contains 6 grams of protein but less than half a gram of carbs.
A glass of nonfat milk provides about 8 grams of protein and 12 grams of carbohydrates, which come from its natural sugar content. While those carbs might make milk hard to fit in very restrictive low-carb diets, it should work for moderately low-carb meal plans.
Select Soy as a Low-Carb, High-Protein Food
Whether you avoid animal products altogether or just want more variety in your diet, consider soy as a high-protein, low-carb option. A cup of boiled soybeans has 31 grams of protein -- which, like animal-derived protein, has all the amino acids you need to maintain healthy tissues. While soy does have some carbohydrates -- 14 grams of total carbs per cup -- 10 grams of that comes from indigestible dietary fiber, so each cup has only 4 grams of digestible, "net" carbs -- the ones that count on a low-carb diet.
Eat a half-cup of firm tofu and you'll get 22 grams of protein for only a half-gram of net carbs, or make burgers with soy meat extender -- each half-cup of extender has 19 grams of protein and 8 grams of net carbs. And drink unsweetened soy milk as a lower-carb alternative to dairy milk. Each cup supplies 8 grams of protein and just 3 grams of net carbs.
Try Other Beans and Nuts
Make nuts a staple in your pantry for plant-based low-carb eating. They're loaded with healthy proteins, fats and minerals to keep you healthy, and they're naturally low in carbs. Snack on 1/4 cup of almonds and you'll take in 8 grams of protein and 3 grams of net carbs, or munch on black walnuts for 8 grams of protein and less than a gram of net carbs.
You should also include beans in your diet. While most beans aren't as low in carbs as meat or soy, they supply tons of dietary fiber to help prevent constipation on the diet -- a definite benefit, since meat, fish, dairy and eggs are naturally fiber-free. Add a half-cup of chickpeas to your salad and you'll add 20 grams of protein and 50 grams of net carbs; make it black beans and you'll get 8 grams of protein and 13 grams of net carbs.