What are the best food items that have high protein and less carbs? If you are on a diet Atkins, how to order your plate in a way that will allow you to get enough protein? What should we eat that won’t put us at risk for diabetes, heart disease or other diseases of excess weight? These questions always come into the mind of people who want to lose weight.
Foods to eat that are high in protein and low in carbs
- Protein and carbs
- Foods to include
- Foods to avoid
- Meal plan
Low carb, high protein diets restrict people’s consumption of carbohydrates, such as bread, while promoting a higher-than-usual consumption of proteins, such as lean meats. This type of eating plan may be beneficial for weight loss and muscle building, but it may also carry a few health risks.
Protein, carbohydrates, and fats are macronutrients. These nutrients are necessary in large quantities to provide a person with energy and keep them healthy.
It is important for a person to have a balanced diet and consume sufficient amounts of each macronutrient. However, if a person is looking to lose weight or alter their body composition, they may wish to adjust the balance of their macronutrients and consume more protein while reducing their carbohydrate intake.
In this article, we discuss the roles of carbohydrates and protein in the diet. We also explain what foods are high in protein and low in carbs and suggest a meal plan that people can try.
Role of protein and carbohydrate in the diet
Along with fat, protein and carbohydrates make up the three macronutrients present in food.
Protein is a major component of the skin, muscle, bone, organs, hair, and nails. Dietary protein is important for preventing lean body mass loss, promoting growth and repair of the body, and generally maintaining good health. Dietary protein may come from animal sources or plant-based foods.
Carbohydrates act as the body’s main energy source and can be either simple or complex. These types of carbohydrates differ in chemical structure and the speed at which the body absorbs them. Simple carbohydrates contain one or two sugar molecules, and the body absorbs them more quickly than complex carbohydrates, which have a longer molecular chain.
Dietary guidelines suggest the following carbohydrate and protein intake for male and female adults:
|Recommended protein intake (% of calories)||10–35||10–35||10–35||10–35||10–35||10–35|
|Recommended carbohydrate intake (% of calories)||45–65||45–65||45–65||45–65||45–65||45–65|
To follow a low carbohydrate, high protein diet, a person would need to drop their carb intake to about 26% of their total calories. The definition of a high protein intake varies among sources, but one study trialing a high protein diet defined it as 30% of a person’s total calorie intake.
A low carb, high protein diet may offer several benefits, including:
- Weight loss: There is some evidence to suggest that a low carb, high protein diet may facilitate weight loss. This result is due in part to protein helping people feel fuller with less food. However, the results will vary depending on various factors, including calorie consumption and amount of exercise.
- Maintain weight loss: In addition to facilitating weight loss, a high protein diet may help people maintain a lower body weight.
- Body Composition: Body composition refers to the percentage of fat, bone, water, and muscle in the human body. Research suggests that diets high in protein may improve body composition.
- Blood Sugar: A 2019 study looking at a reduced carbohydrate, high protein diet for people with type 2 diabetes notes that this way of eating improved average glucose levels.
- Heart Disease: Low carbohydrate diets may have a beneficial effect on factors that contribute to heart disease. However, more research is necessary to establish the long-term effects of a low carb diet on heart health.
- Bone health: A 2019 meta-analysis highlights that eating more protein than the average recommended daily allowance can reduce the risk of hip fracture and loss of bone mineral density in older adults.
Adopting a low carb, high protein diet may pose certain risks. For example, a diet that is high in protein can put acid load on the kidneys, which may increase a person’s risk of developing kidney disease.
An older review suggests that the long-term consumption of a high protein diet may also contribute to the following health issues:
- bone disorders
- increased cancer risks
- problems with liver function
- coronary artery disease
A 2018 study notes that the type of protein that a person consumes on a low carb, high protein diet may affect mortality. Low carb diets that incorporate protein and fat from meats, such as chicken, pose a higher mortality risk than plant-based proteins and fats.
A person should consider consulting their doctor before making any radical dietary changes. They may also wish to work with a dietitian to create an eating plan.
Foods to include
People following a low carb, high protein diet can include the following foods in their meals:
- fish and shellfish
- certain dairy
- nonstarchy vegetables
Learn more about foods that are high in protein.
Foods to avoid
People who are trying to limit their carbohydrate intake may wish to avoid the following types of foods:
- bread and grains
- sugary drinks
- processed high carb foods
- certain alcohols
A person can also increase the amount of protein in their diet by taking supplements, although it is advisable to discuss this with a doctor first. Protein supplements include:
- Whey isolate: Whey is a byproduct of milk, and it is often a core ingredient in protein shakes. Whey isolate has undergone a process to remove fats and carbs, leaving mostly protein. A person can mix whey isolate powder with milk or water.
- Vegan isolate powder: Products with vegan isolate powder often use pea or bean isolate. Similar to whey isolate, a person can mix vegan isolate powder with a plant-based milk or water.
- Protein bars: These are often a useful snack when on a low carb, high protein diet. However, a person should check the nutrients, as protein bars vary in the amount of carbs and protein they contain.
- Protein capsules: These are pills that contain protein powder. Depending on the manufacturer, the capsules may use different types of protein powder.
Meal plan example
Below is an example of a low carb, high protein meal plan:
- Breakfast: spinach omelet or scrambled tofu
- Snack: cucumber strips wrapped in chicken slices or hummus with carrot batons
- Lunch: seasoned grilled chicken or tempeh with cauliflower rice and vegetables, such as broccoli or oven baked carrots and zucchini
- Snack: whey isolate or a vegan protein shake
- Dinner: grilled turkey or vegan burger with a salad containing cucumber, tomato, and feta or a cheese alternative
- Snack: boiled egg or a small handful of seeds and nuts
Protein and carbohydrates are important macronutrients that provide the body with energy and support good health. A diet that is low in carbs but high in protein may help facilitate weight loss and improve body composition.
However, this eating plan can negatively affect the liver and kidneys, and more research is necessary to understand its long-term effects on health. A person should consult a doctor before making drastic changes to their diet.
Food With High Protein And Less Carbs
1. MCDONALD’S MCDOUBLE
Per serving: 400 calories, 20g fat, 33g carbs, 2g fiber, 7g sugar, and 22g protein
We get it: Sometimes a salad just won’t cut it. Luckily, McDonald’s McDouble, (aka two beef patties, American cheese, pickles, ketchup, onion, and mustard) is relatively low in calories and carbs considering the amount of protein it offers. If you want, you can nix the cheese and lose 50 calories and 4 grams of fat.
2. ARBY’S ROAST CHICKEN ENTRÉE SALAD
Per serving: 250 calories, 14g fat, 8g carbs, 3g fiber, 4g sugar, and 25g protein
3. CHICK-FIL-A LEMON KALE CAESAR
Per serving: 470 calories, 24g fat, 22g carbs, 0g fiber, 8g sugar, and 43g protein
Another high-protein salad option is Chick-Fil-A’s rendition of a kale Caesar. Shaved Parmesan, panko breadcrumbs, and fresh lemon wedges make it feel very 2021.
4. WENDY’S APPLE PECAN SALAD
Per serving: 460 calories, 23g fat, 26g carbs, 5g fiber, 18g sugar, and 39g protein
The combination of apples, dried cranberries, roasted pecans and crumbled blue cheese feels a little bit ’90s and we are so into it. Go easy on the dressing if you want to keep the amount of sugar to a minimum.
5. CHIPOTLE SALAD WITH CHICKEN, FAJITA VEGETABLES, AND ROASTED CHILI-CORN SALSA
Per serving: 295 calories, 8.5g fat, 24g carbs, 6g fiber, 7g sugar, and 37g protein
TBH, Chipotle’s menu is all about mixing and matching, so it’s one of the easiest restaurants to find a healthy option. But to make it even simpler, we suggest swapping your usual burrito bowl for a salad (no rice equals fewer carbs) and adding the just-sweet-enough corn salsa in place of the dressing.
Food With Low Carb
Low-carb diets limit the number of carbohydrates a person eats. Instead of carbs, people focus on eating proteins, healthful fats, and vegetables.
Carbohydrates or carbs are one of three main food types that the body needs to work properly. The other two are protein and fat. Carbs give the body energy. The body breaks carbs down to use immediately or later.
If the body does not need to use the carbs for energy as soon as a person eats them, it stores them in the muscles and liver to use later. However, if the body does not use these stored carbs, the body converts them to fat.
Ten low-carb diet tips
Many people find following a low-carb diet challenging, particularly at the beginning of the diet. The following low-carb diet tips might help people stick to their diet and may help them lose weight successfully.
1. Knowing what foods are low-carb
Low-carb foods include:
- lean meats, such as sirloin, chicken breast, or pork
- leafy green vegetables
- cauliflower and broccoli
- nuts and seeds, including nut butter
- oils, such as coconut oil, olive oil, and rapeseed oil
- some fruit, such as apples, blueberries, and strawberries
- unsweetened dairy products including plain whole milk and plain Greek yogurt
2. Know the carb counts and serving sizes of foods
Most low carb diets only allow for 20 to 50 grams (g) of carbohydrates per day. Because of this, it is essential that people following low-carb diets choose foods that have a lower carb count but a high nutritional value per serving.
The foods in the quantities listed below all contain approximately 15 g of carbs:
- 1 tennis ball sized apple or orange
- 1 cup of berries
- 1 cup of melon cubes
- ½ medium banana
- 2 tablespoons of raisins
- 8 ounces of milk
- 6 ounces of plain yogurt
- ½ cup corn
- ½ cup peas
- ½ cup beans or legumes
- 1 small baked potato
- 1 slice of bread
- 1/3 cup of cooked rice
While the foods listed above all contain roughly equal amounts of carbohydrates, they are not all nutritionally equivalent. The dairy products on the list contain protein and vital nutrients, such as Vitamin D and calcium in addition to the carbohydrate content.
The fruit and vegetables also contain essential vitamins and minerals. Choosing whole-grain varieties of bread and rice will provide more nutrients than white varieties, even though the carb content is similar.
3. Make a meal plan
A meal plan can help make things easier.
Anyone trying to follow a low-carb diet could try mapping out their week and plan all meals before heading to the grocery store.
Planning meals in advance can help people stick to the diet.
Knowing what they are going to eat for lunch and dinner can help a person avoid making unhealthful food choices, such as stopping at a fast food restaurant.
Meal planners are available for purchase online.
4. Meal prep
Planning is one thing, but preparing meals ahead of time can also help. Meal prep can help a person:
- avoid making unhealthful food choices
- save time during busier times of the week
- save money
Some people like to prepare a week’s worth of breakfasts and lunches ahead of time and store the meals in containers, so they are convenient and ready to go. It is possible to freeze some meals too, meaning people can prepare even more food in advance.
Having lots of pre-prepared meals on hand can help people avoid choosing less healthful options.
Popular low-carb meals to prepare in advance include:
- egg muffins
- Greek yogurt bowls
- protein pancakes
- chicken lettuce wraps
- protein and vegetable stir fry with no rice
5. Carry low-carb snacks
Low-carb snack options for between meals include:
- hard boiled eggs
- unsweetened yogurt
- baby or regular carrots
- handful of nuts
It is essential to regulate portion size of any snacks to avoid overeating.
6. Consider carb cycling
Carb cycling involves eating very low-carb foods for a set amount of days, followed by one day of eating higher carb meals. This helps the body avoid fat-burning plateaus that can develop after weeks of low-carb dieting.
Carb cycling is not for everyone, and anyone considering it should talk to their doctor or nutritionist first.
7. Not all carbs are created equal
Carbs come in different forms.
Simple carbs consist of easy to digest sugars. Refined and processed carbs, such as white sugar and white flour, are simple carbs.
People who are starting on a low-carb diet need to think about reducing their intake of refined and processed carbs. Avoiding these carbs will be beneficial for reaching an ideal weight and for health in general.
However, not all simple carbs are created equal. Fruits include fructose, which is a simple carb, but eating fruit is recommended in a low-carb diet, as it is loaded with nutrients and is a whole-food source of carbs.
Complex carbs take longer to digest than simple carbs, as they need to be broken down into a simpler form. Complex carbs are found in more nutrient-rich foods, such as beans, whole-grains, and fiber-rich fruits, such as bananas.
Complex carbs also have the added benefit of making a person feel full faster, which might prevent them from overeating. Complex carbs also make people feel full for longer, which might help them avoid snacking between meals.
8. Be aware of alternatives
Substituting low-carb or no-carb foods for high-carb foods can help reduce carb intake.
Some low-carb substitutions include:
- lettuce leaves instead of taco shells
- portobello mushroom caps instead of buns
- baked butternut squash fries
- eggplant lasagna
- cauliflower pizza crust
- spaghetti squash instead of noodles
- zucchini ribbons instead of pasta
9. Exercise appropriately
Exercise is an important part of overall health. People should avoid a sedentary lifestyle but refrain from excessive exercising.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source recommend that adults do moderate exercise for 150 minutes a week for a minimum 10 minutes at a time for moderate health benefits. For optimal health benefits, the CDC recommend 300 minutes of exercise. The CDC also suggest that people lift weights or do other strength training exercises to improve overall health.
Those on low-carb diets may want to avoid long periods of intense activity such as distance running. This is because people who are doing a form of exercise that requires extra endurance, such as marathon training, will need extra carbohydrates to fuel their bodies.
10. Use common sense
People should know about potential health risks before starting a low-carb diet.
Short-term health risks caused by a low-carb diet may include:
- high cholesterol
- brain fog
- lack of energy
- bad breath
- reduced athletic performance
Long-term health risks caused by a low-carb diet may include:
- nutritional deficiencies
- loss of bone density
- gastrointestinal problems
Some people should not follow a low-carb diet unless instructed to do so by a doctor. These groups of people include those with kidney disease and teenagers.