High-protein, low-carb foods are easy to obtain if you eat meat products. However, there are also a variety of vegetarian-friendly high-protein, low-carb foods, like eggs and dairy products. Furthermore, you can eat a range of vegan-friendly options, like seitan, soy products, nuts and seeds.
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High-Protein, Low-Carb Foods
The most common high-protein, low-carb foods are animal products. These include:
- Meat products from birds, like chicken, duck, goose and quail, as well as their eggs
- Meat products, like beef, lamb, mutton and pork
- Fish, like salmon, tuna and haddock
- Shellfish, like lobster, shrimp, prawns, clams and crab
- Dairy products, like cheeses, yogurts and products made with whey. Not all dairy products are high-protein, low-carb foods, though. Many are rich in both fat and carbohydrates.
In addition to animal products, a variety of plant-based sources of protein are low in carbohydrates. High-protein, low-carb foods from plant sources include:
- Seitan, which is made from vital wheat gluten
- Nuts and seeds, although the fat and carbohydrate content can vary dramatically between types
- Legumes and beans, although many of these are considered to be very carbohydrate rich compared to other sources of protein
- Soy-based products like tofu, bean curd and tempeh. However, as these are made from soybeans, they have the potential to be rich in carbohydrates.
Most people following high-protein diets choose to consume meat or other animal products as part of their main meals. However, animal products are often rich in saturated fat and can also contain trans fat. According to the American Heart Association, both saturated fat and trans fat may increase your cholesterol and have negative effects on the health of your heart.
If you're consuming more protein than you would eat on the average diet, varying the protein sources is good for your health. For example, plant-based sources of protein are typically low in saturated and trans fats compared to animal products. Consuming meals made up of proteins like lean meats and legumes is generally better for you than one large, fatty steak.
Fish and seafood are often high in fat, but they tend to be rich in healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These fats, known as omega fatty acids, are good for your heart and can also positively affect your nervous system, immune system and mental health.
High-Protein Versus Low-Carb Diets
Many low-carb diets, like the ketogenic diet or Atkins diet, require followers to avoid most carbohydrates. High-protein diets also minimize carbohydrate consumption. Both of these types of diets are frequently consumed by athletes, people with diabetes and people who are trying to lose weight.
Although both low-carb and high-protein diets minimize carbohydrate consumption, people on high-protein diets are able to consume more carbohydrates than people on low-carb diets. This is because low-carbohydrate diets prioritize fat consumption over both protein and carbohydrate consumption.
While people on low-carb diets may focus on consuming fatty proteins, like salmon or pork belly, high-protein diets allow the consumption of leaner, more varied proteins, like proteins from plant-based sources.
High-Protein Diet Macros
Most people who follow a standard 2,000-calorie diet consume 50 to 60 percent of their daily calories from carbohydrates. Between 12 and 20 percent of their daily calories come from protein. The remaining calories come from fat (about 30 percent).
People on high-protein diets may consume anywhere from 30 to 45 percent of their daily calories from protein. Around 30 percent of the calories in these diets come from fat — the same as in a standard diet. The remaining calories (between 25 and 40 percent) may come from carbohydrates.
Low-carbohydrate and ketogenic diets are typically known as high-fat, low-carb diets. However, certain variations of these diets allow the consumption of more protein. For instance, high-protein ketogenic diets allow daily protein consumption as high as 30 percent.
In contrast, standard ketogenic diets typically feature daily protein consumption of around 15 percent. The other macronutrients in both types of ketogenic diets remain the same: Fat consumption is around 70 percent of calories, whereas carbohydrate consumption is around 5 percent.
Plant-Based Protein and Low-Carb Diets
Three of the most common high-protein, low-carb plant-based food options are tofu, tempeh and seitan. Of these, seitan is the lowest in carbohydrates and the richest in protein.
Each ounce (28 grams) of vital wheat gluten is rehydrated to make a standard serving of seitan. This serving size provides 21 grams of protein and just 3.9 grams of carbohydrates. This low amount of carbohydrates makes this protein source suitable for even the strictest low-carb diets.
However, you should be aware that seitan lacks two essential amino acids: lysine and threonine. These amino acids can easily be found in both animal-based protein sources and plant-based sources, like tofu and tempeh. However, these other soy products are often considered to be too high in carbohydrates.
Although nuts and seeds may not top your protein foods list, they are considered essential for low-carb diets. Both of these protein-rich foods are good sources of fiber. While you're unlikely to see either featured as the main element of a low-carb dish, both can easily be incorporated into high-protein, low-carb snack recipes.
Plant-Based Protein and High-Protein Diets
While people on high-protein diets may be open to consuming soy-based products, these foods are often considered too high in carbohydrates for many low-carb diets. For instance, 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of tempeh has 9.4 grams of carbohydrates. For someone on a strict ketogenic diet, that could be almost half of the daily carbohydrate allowance.
However, since high-protein diets have more flexibility with carbohydrate consumption, foods like legumes, nuts and seeds can be more freely consumed. This means that people following high-protein diets can freely consume foods like tempeh, as well as other foods made with plant-based proteins, like bean burgers, nut loaves and bean curd.
- SELFNutrition Data: Tempeh
- Trends in Food Science & Technology: Wheat-Gluten Uses and Industry Needs
- SELFNutrition Data: Vital Wheat Gluten
- The International Journal of Biochemistry and Cell Biology: Mitochondria: The Ketogenic Diet—a Metabolism-Based Therapy
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Effects of a High-Protein Ketogenic Diet on Hunger, Appetite, and Weight Loss in Obese Men Feeding Ad Libitum
- Culinary Nutrition: The Science and Practice of Healthy Cooking: Chapter 10 - Weight Management: Finding the Healthy Balance: Practical Applications for Nutrition, Food Science and Culinary Professionals
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: The Effects of Consuming a High Protein Diet (4.4 G/Kg/D) on Body Composition in Resistance-Trained Individuals
- Kaiser Permanente: Balancing Carbs, Protein and Fat
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: The Role of Protein in Weight Loss and Maintenance
- National Institutes of Health: Omega-3 Fatty Acids Fact Sheet for Health Professionals
- American Heart Association: Saturated Fat
- American Heart Association: Trans Fat
- MyFoodData: 200 Vegetarian Foods Highest in Protein
- MyFoodData: 200 Foods Highest in Protein