13 Foods to Eat on A High Protein, Low-Carb Diet

by Marixie Ann Obsioma, MT, undergrad MD on June 12, 2024
Last updated on June 12, 2024

If you’ve landed here, you’re probably amazed by an awesome story of weight loss where someone dropped a whole bunch of weight. Big ups to the power of high-protein, low-carb eating plans!

13 Foods to Eat on A High Protein, Low-Carb Diet

It’s true that there are several success stories of weight loss achieved simply by limiting carb intake. The low-carb diet has reduced the weight and brought smiles to people’s faces from the 19th century, and it continues to do so every day, and with a good reason, that is. Read on more about this amazing diet plan and who knows, and you might join in on the whole weight loss experience any time soon! 

What is A Low-Carb Diet?

A low-carb diet, short for low-carbohydrate diet or also known as, carbohydrate-restricted diet, is a diet plan that limits the daily consumption of carbohydrates. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, a low-carb diet consists of 20% carbohydrates as compared with other diet plans (1). 

Normally, a low-carb diet does not only limit or restrict the intake of carbohydrates, but it also replaces them with foods which are high in healthy fats and proteins. A low-carb diet does not limit your calorie intake, it simply limits the intake of foods that are bad for you anyway, and it does it with style – it offers great replacements so that you do not have to feel hungry all the time. But when was that this great diet plan first appeared?

Despite the popular belief that the low-carb diet first appeared in the 21st century that is not true. Although we cannot deny that the low-carb diet certainly got way too famous in the 21st century, it was back in the 19th century when it was first developed by an Englishman named William Banting (2). 

William Banting was struggling with him being overweight, obese even and you can imagine his surprise when he found that as soon as he limited his carbohydrates intake, he started experiencing weight loss. He tried out different diet plans and even regular physical exercise, but nothing seemed to be working until he decided to give up on bread, milk, butter, sugar, and potatoes. That was when he noticed that he was losing a pound a week and he was highly satisfied with his results. So satisfied that he was more than happy to share his diet plan with the people around him. That was how the idea of the low-carb diet was born. 

How Does This Diet Work? 

Experts have been looking into low-calorie diets since as far back as the 1980s. It became a medical interest because of claims saying that it can slow the aging process. For weight loss, the science is very straightforward and simple – consume fewer calories than you burn, and you will lose weight. 

As a general rule, the USDA recommends a 2000 calorie per day diet for weight maintenance, and 1900 or fewer calories daily for weight loss. This can be reduced further to 1500 or fewer. It does, however, reiterates the importance of a balanced nutritional intake in accordance with USDA guidelines (3). 

However, it is not as easy as it may sound. It takes planning and effort to overcome hunger cues and to make sure those 1000 to 1500 are sufficient enough to fuel the body and contain the right nutrients. A low-calorie diet is not recommended for pregnant and breastfeeding women, who need more calories to sustain their infants as well as themselves. Athletes also require energy from calories to perform, hence not advised to go on a low-calorie diet. 

Before starting on a low-calorie diet, it is always a good idea to get a complete physical exam, especially if you have any health conditions, including high cholesterol and blood pressure. Measure your body composition and determine your goals. 

Also, it is very important to know your daily calorie needs. This step will be different for everyone and will even change for you over time. Determine how many calories you need daily to keep your current weight, then decrease that number by 100 to 500 calories. It is better to start slowly with just a small reduction. After all, this is lifestyle modification. If you are over-exuberant at the start, you might find the process too difficult to continue. 

Why Try A High-Protein, Low-Carb Diet?

Although people who lead sedentary lifestyles require less protein, physically active individuals, athletes, and pregnant women need significantly more than the current RDA of 0.36 grams per pound of body weight (4).

As such, high protein diets may provide numerous benefits as may low carb eating patterns, which are often associated with weight loss. Thus, combining the two diets may give numerous advantages.

Weight Loss

Protein is the most filling macronutrient and helps decrease hunger and food intake, two effects that promote weight loss.

In particular, foods high in protein boost levels of fullness hormones while lowering levels of hunger hormones like ghrelin.

Research has shown that meals comprising 25–81% of calories from protein increase feelings of fullness, meaning that even moderate protein diets may reduce hunger levels (5).

High protein diets also help enhance the thermic effect of food, or the calories burned during digestion. This may be due to the greater oxygen demand required to break down protein-rich foods.

Additionally, high protein, very low carb eating patterns have been shown to enhance the secretion of glucagon, a hormone produced by the pancreas that’s known to enhance fullness.

These diets also lead to higher ketone body production, particularly of beta hydroxybutyrate (BHB). Your liver produces ketone bodies when glucose availability is reduced. Studies show that increased BHB levels help suppress appetite.

Interestingly, a small 4-week study in men with obesity demonstrated that a reduced calorie, high protein, very low carb diet providing 30% protein and 4% carbs led to more weight loss than a high protein, moderate carb diet providing 30% protein and 35% carbs.

On average, the men in the high protein, low carb group lost 15 pounds while those in the moderate carb group lost 10 pounds.

Many other studies reveal that high protein, low carb diets are more effective for weight loss than those higher in carbs and protein.

Still, total calorie intake and calorie burning are the most important factors for weight loss.

Body Composition

When you lose weight, it’s normal to experience significant decreases in muscle mass. Yet, this loss can gradually lower your metabolism, as greater muscle mass increases the number of calories you burn while at rest.

High protein diets can help preserve muscle mass during weight loss and may even increase muscle mass.

Increasing protein intake while cutting 500–750 calories per day has been shown to maintain muscle mass while promoting fat loss. However, this effect is lost during more severe calorie restriction, such as during poorly planned, very low calorie diets.

Additionally, studies show that combining a high protein diet with exercise can boost fat loss while building lean body mass.

In a 4-week study, 20 men who exercised intensely 6 days per week ate either a high protein diet of 1.1 grams per pound of body weight or a control diet. Both diets provided 40% fewer calories than their energy needs and around 50% of calories from carbs.

Those following the high protein diet lost more body fat and gained about 3 pounds of muscle mass, while the control group’s muscle mass stayed the same (6).

Other studies note that high protein diets promote increased or stable muscle mass during weight loss for both men and women, compared with lower protein diets.

Plus, eating a low calorie, high protein diet has been shown to help athletes gain muscle mass during training.

A study in 48 athletes found that those who ate a minimum of 1.4 grams per pound of body weight combined with heavy resistance training gained significantly more muscle mass and less body fat than those who followed their normal diets.

These results occurred despite the high protein group consuming 490 more calories per day than the control group.

Low carb diets have likewise been shown to help reduce fat mass while maintaining muscle mass.

High protein, low carb diets may also aid the following:

  • Blood sugar regulation. Both high protein and low carb eating patterns have been shown to improve short- and long-term markers of blood sugar control.
  • Heart disease risk. This diet may reduce heart disease risk factors like high triglyceride and high blood pressure levels, though some research links high protein diets to increased heart disease risk.
  • Bone health. Research indicates that high protein diets may help prevent bone loss and reduce fracture risk in older adults.

13 Foods To Eat On A High Protein, Low-Carb Diet

Opposite to what most diet plans, the low-carb diet offers a variety of healthy foods that will satisfy your hunger, and keep you energized throughout the day. The trick is to learn to recognize which foods contain low levels of carbohydrates, high levels of clean proteins, and high levels of healthy fats. You would not like to cause an increase in your cholesterol levels by making the mistake of introducing unhealthy fats instead of healthy ones. Or, to make the mistake of feeling hungry because you are unsure what you are supposed to be eating and what not. Here are some of the best foods you should not miss in your high protein, low-carb diet.

1. Salmon

Salmon is one of the most popular types of fish among health-conscious individuals and for good reason.

It’s a fatty fish, which means it contains significant amounts of heart-healthy fats, which in this case omega-3 fatty acids.

Salmon is also loaded with vitamin B12, iodine and a decent amount of vitamin D3.

2. Shrimp 

Shrimp is a seriously underrated lean protein source and virtually carb-free. Just one serving provides nearly half of the daily value (DV) of protein. Shrimp also get their pink color from an antioxidant called astaxanthin, which is said to have skin and heart health benefits.

3. Sardines 

Sardines are oily fish that are generally eaten almost whole, including their bones.

Sardines are among the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet and contain almost every single nutrient that your body needs.

4. Almond Butter 

Typically low in carbs but higher in fat and protein, nut butters can make for great snacks. Almond butter provides a nice variety if you’re typically all about the peanut butter. 

5. Oats

Oats can certainly be an excellent addition to a healthy weight loss diet. They are not just low in calories but also contain high amounts of protein and fiber to help keep you feeling full. 

A ½ cup serving of dry oats has less than 150 calories but packs 3.8 grams of fiber and 5.5 packs of protein. These can have a significant impact on your appetite and hunger (7). It has been proven to be effective in increasing feelings of fullness and reducing hunger and calorie intake at the next meal (8). Another study found that instant and old-fashioned oatmeal can significantly improve appetite control for 4 hours compared to a bowl of ready-to-eat breakfast cereal (9).

6. Greek Yogurt 

Greek yogurt is also a good source of protein that can help reduce cravings and promote weight loss. Though the exact numbers may differ between brands and flavors, a 2/3 cup serving of Greek yogurt can provide approximately 130 calories and 11 grams of protein (10). Evidence found that women who ate yogurt instead of crackers and chocolates experienced less hunger and consumed 100 fewer calories at dinner (11). Also, another study suggested that high-protein Greek yogurt is more effective in creating feelings of fullness compared to lower-protein snacks (12). 

7. Eggs 

Eggs contain several vital nutrients minus the calories! One large egg contains 6 grams of protein, a wide array of important vitamins and minerals, and just 72 calories (13). 

Evidence found that consuming eggs in the morning can help reduce hunger and promote fullness. They are even better than bagels. They can help you consume 105 fewer calories later in the day (14). 

Other studies observed that a high-protein breakfast can limit snacking, slow the emptying of your stomach, and decrease levels of ghrelin, the hunger hormone (15). 

8. Cottage Cheese

Cottage cheese is the perfect snack for those who would want to lose weight. A single cup of low-fat cottage cheese contains about 28 grams of protein and only 163 calories (16). Several studies demonstrate that upping your protein intake from foods like cottage cheese can suppress your appetite and hunger levels (17). 

Other research also suggests that consuming protein can delay stomach emptying, thus promoting satiety (18). It is as effective as eggs in promoting feelings of fullness (19).

9. Potatoes 

Many are dismissing potatoes as unhealthy and harmful because of their association with chips and French fries. However, the truth is that potatoes can be very filling and are nutritious.

A medium-sized baked potato with its skin contains approximately 161 calories but offers 4 grams each of fiber and protein (20). A study assessing the effects of certain foods on satiety ranked boiled potatoes as the most feeling, with a satiety index score of 323. It is seven times greater than croissants (21).Animal and human studies indicate that the filling effects of potatoes are due to protease inhibitors, which are compounds that can decrease appetite and food intake (22). 

10. Legumes 

Because of their high protein and fiber content, legumes such as beans, lentils, and peas can be incredibly filling. A single cup of cooked lentils can give you approximately 230 calories, as well as 15.6 grams of fiber and nearly 18 grams of protein (23). 

Several studies proved that legumes have a powerful effect on appetite and hunger. A high protein meal with beans and peas can increase satiety better than a meal with pork and veal (24). 

Another review of studies reported that people felt 31% more full after consuming pulses, a type of legume, compared to high carb meals of bread and pasta (25).

11. Chia Seeds 

Often hailed as a superfood, chia seeds load high amounts of protein and fiber into a low number of calories. A single ounce serving will give you 137 calories, 4.4 grams of protein, and an impressive 10.6 grams of fiber (26)! 

Chia seeds are particularly rich in soluble fiber, a type that absorbs fluids and swells in your stomach to promote satiety (27). Some research noticed that they can absorb 10-12 times their water in water, moving slowly through your gut and keep you feeling full (28). Adding chia seeds to your regular diet can help prevent cravings for sugary foods and decrease hunger and appetite (29). You can mix it with your favorite yogurt too!

12. Berries 

Who doesn’t love berries? Which is your favorite? Do you like strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, or blackberries? Anyway, whichever you choose, they are equally nutritious! All are loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that can promote overall health. They are also rich in fiber, which can control hunger and boost weight loss. 

A single cup of blueberries can supply 3.6 grams of fiber and just 84 calories (30). Berries are also an excellent source of pectin, a type of dietary fiber that has been proven to be effective in delaying stomach emptying and increasing feelings of fullness in both animals and humans (31, 32). This can greatly help cut calorie consumption to aid weight loss. 

Another evidence noted that a 65-calorie snack of berries can help decrease calorie intake later in the day compared to a confectionary snack containing the same amount of calories (33).

13. Apples 

Fruits are an important part of a nutritious diet. Several studies showed that eating fruit is associated with lower calorie intake and may contribute to weight loss over time (34, 35). 

In particular, apples have a very high satiety index score (36). They contain pectin, a soluble fiber that naturally slows digestion to help you feel full. They are likewise over 85% water, which adds volume and improves satiety without adding calories. 

It is very important to remember that whole, solid fruits can increase satiety more than juice and purees (37). Evidence showed that those who ate solid apple segments took 91 fewer calories than those who had applesauce and 150 fewer calories than those who enjoyed apple juice (38). 

Who Can Try This Diet?

Sadly but true, the high protein, low-carb diet is not for everyone. Anyone who is dealing with cardiovascular issues, diabetes type 1 or type 2, or has a history of heart disease, heart attack, or stroke, should talk to his/her doctor first before proceeding to follow a low-carb diet. Despite the fact that there might not be any risk at all, there are a lot of other things to be considered at the same time. 

Please consult your doctor on whether the low-carb diet is the best diet option for you. There are a lot of other diet plans that can be just as effective as the low-carb diet and you should not feel disappointed if your doctor directs you away from the low-carb diet.

The Bottom Line

With the low-carb diet, weight loss has never been easier. By simply limiting the intake of carbohydrates through your diet and replacing them with healthier food choices, you will be making the great step towards weight loss in a number of weeks. Join in the many people all around the world, who thanks to the low-carb diet, have successfully lost weight and improved their lives to the better with a few simple steps. 

References

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