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20 Best High-Protein, Low-Calorie Foods

Registered dietitians reveal the top protein-packed weight loss foods that are low in calories.
FACT CHECKED BY Olivia Tarantino

It's no secret that protein is an essential nutrient. One of the three primary macronutrients your body needs (along with carbohydrates and fats) is protein, which helps improve immune function, build and maintain muscle mass, keep you satiated, and support healthy weight management. But in the neverending quest for a protein-rich diet, knowing which foods are high in protein and low in calories is crucial in keeping your energy intake in check. That's why we chatted with registered dietitians who share the best high-protein, low-calorie foods to help keep you on track with your weight loss goals.

Whether you're on a weight loss journey, chasing muscle gains in the gym, or simply seeking a healthier lifestyle, understanding the nutritional content of your daily meals is paramount for reaching your health and fitness goals. We've compiled a comprehensive list of healthful, protein-dense foods that includes lean meats, plant-based options, snacks, and other meal staples to provide you with a wide range of foods that pack a protein punch while delivering fewer calories to add to your weight loss menu.

Read on to discover the best high-protein, low-calorie foods from registered dietitians. Then, when you're done, check out the 10 Best Breakfast Foods for Losing Weight & Gaining Muscle.

Chicken Breast

chicken breast
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Serving size: 4 ounces (112 grams)
Calories: 120
Protein: 26 grams

Packed with lean protein, "Chicken breast is one of the best high-protein, low-calorie foods," says Kelsey Kunik, RDN, a registered dietitian at Graciously Nourished. Whether grilled, baked, or sautéed, chicken breast provides a protein-rich foundation for meals without adding a ton of calories.

33+ Best Healthy Chicken Breast Recipes for Weight Loss

Non-fat Greek Yogurt

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Serving size: 100 grams
Calories: 60
Protein: 10 grams

This rich and creamy breakfast option pairs well with fruits and granola or on its own. Sarah Schlichter, MPH, RDN, a registered dietitian at Bucket List Tummy, tells Eat This, Not That!, "Low-fat Greek yogurt offers the same amount of protein as high fat, with less fat. Greek yogurt has much more protein than traditional yogurt and boasts helpful gut-friendly probiotics. Use it as a smoothie base, or add to yogurt bowls, oatmeal, dips, and more."

Tuna

tuna salad
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Serving size: 3 ounces (85 grams)
Calories: 122
Protein: 20 grams

Whether canned or fresh, tuna is a high-protein and versatile seafood that goes well in salads and sandwiches, making it an ideal choice for those seeking nutrient-dense options. "Canned tuna is a budget-friendly high-protein choice that's also low in calories," says Kunik. "It's an easy and convenient way to get protein and omega-3 fatty acids in your diet."

Edamame

edamame with sea salt
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Serving size: 100 grams
Calories: 140
Protein: 12 grams

This plant-based option is low in calories and a fantastic source of essential nutrients like vitamin K, antioxidants, and fiber. Use edamame beans as a protein source in a bowl or salad, or just enjoy them as a snack. "Keep a bag of shelled edamame in your freezer to toss into pasta, salads, or stir-fries," recommends Kunik.

Low-Fat Cottage Cheese

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Serving size: 100 grams
Calories: 82
Protein: 11 grams

An underrated protein source, low-fat cottage cheese makes for a delicious standalone snack or a versatile ingredient in various dishes. "There's a reason cottage cheese is being added to everything these days. It's low in calories, high in protein, and is the perfect dip, smoothie addition, or side to a savory dinner," explains Kunik.

18 Creative Cottage Cheese Recipes That Aren't Old-School

Lentils

cooked lentils
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Serving size: 1 serving (35 grams)
Calories: 80
Protein: 10 grams

Besides being a plant-based protein source, lentils are a rich dietary fiber source supporting digestive health. Schlichter says, "Lentils pack a protein and fiber punch, which are great for satiety and weight management. A cup of lentils offers nearly 20 grams of protein, 15 grams of fiber, and several micronutrients."

10 Healthiest High-Fiber Foods You Can Eat

Shrimp

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Serving size: 100 grams
Calories: 91
Protein: 17 grams

Shrimp not only delivers a lean source of protein but also boasts astaxanthin, a potent antioxidant that offers anti-inflammatory benefits. Additionally, shrimp contains selenium, which the National Institutes of Health says supports your body's defense against oxidative stress, contributing to immune system health.

Quinoa

cooked quinoa
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Serving size: 1 serving (44 grams)
Calories: 160
Protein: 5 grams

Quinoa is a complete plant protein source containing all nine essential amino acids. Also, it's gluten-free, high in magnesium, and an excellent source of iron.

Turkey Breast

turkey breast
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Serving size: 3 ounces (85 grams)
Calories: 125
Protein: 26 grams

Rich in lean protein, turkey breast also contains B vitamins, including niacin, which is crucial in energy metabolism. Turkey also contains selenium, which acts as an antioxidant, helping protect cells from damage.

Skinless Chicken Thighs

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Serving size: 4 ounces (112 grams)
Calories: 140
Protein: 16 grams

Skinless chicken thighs are a protein-rich dark meat, which research shows contains more iron than white meat. Iron is an essential nutrient for energy production and red cell formation.

Egg Whites

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Serving size: 100 grams
Calories: 52
Protein: 11 grams

Egg whites are a high-protein, low-calorie food, making them an excellent choice for those focusing on weight management. They're rich in branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), which are crucial for muscle repair and growth.

38 High-Protein Breakfasts That Keep You Full

Tempeh

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Serving size: 100 grams
Calories: 192
Protein: 20 grams

Tempeh, originating from fermented soybeans, is a plant-based protein powerhouse with a uniquely nutty flavor and firm texture. This soy-based protein source also contains paraprobiotics that may enhance the performance of athletes.

21 Superfoods That Are Surprisingly High in Protein, Say Dietitians.

Tofu

tofu bites in a bowl, healthy habits to transform your body after 60
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Serving size: 100 grams
Calories: 144
Protein: 17 grams

"Soy products, such as tofu, are great for providing protein without cholesterol and nutrients such as fiber, calcium, iron, and more," says Schlichter. Tofu is rich in essential amino acids, making it a complete protein source for vegetarians and vegans. Also, its neutral taste allows it to absorb the flavors of other ingredients, making it a go-to ingredient for both savory and sweet dishes.

Cod

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Serving size: 3 ounces (85 grams)
Calories: 70
Protein: 15 grams

Cod is a nutrient-dense fish that not only supplies protein but also offers phosphorus, vital for bone health, and vitamin B12, crucial for nerve function and the formation of red blood cells.

Salmon

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Serving size: 3 ounces (85 grams)
Calories: 177
Protein: 17 grams

Packed with protein and omega-3 fatty acids, this fatty fish promotes heart health, reduces inflammation, and supports brain function. Salmon is also rich in vitamin D, selenium, and B vitamins, boosting your overall nutrient intake.

Beans

beans
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Serving size: 100 grams
Calories: 347
Protein: 21 grams

Beans are a fantastic addition to salads, sandwiches, stir-fries, and more, adding texture and nutrition to your meals. Rich in potassium for heart health, magnesium for muscle function, and iron for energy production, beans are truly a plant-based protein powerhouse.

"Beans, canned and dry, are a great, plant-based high protein option to add to salads, sandwiches, stir-fries, and more," says Schlichter. "Beans are also a great source of potassium, which is great for heart health, magnesium, iron, and more."

Eggs

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Serving size: 1 extra-large egg
Calories: 80
Protein: 7 grams

Loaded with essential amino acids, vitamins, and minerals, multiple studies have found that eggs support muscle repair, boost metabolism, and keep you feeling full longer. Their yolks contain healthy fats and essential nutrients like choline, which are crucial for brain health.

"Eggs contain several important micronutrients, such as B vitamins, iron, choline, and more," Schlichter explains. "Pairing a few eggs and veggies with half of an English muffin or piece of toast is a healthy, low-calorie breakfast."

Jerky

organic beef jerky
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Serving size: 1 serving (28 grams)
Calories: 80
Protein: 10 grams

Typically made from lean meats like beef or turkey, jerky is a low-calorie and convenient option. "Jerky is a shelf-stable, on-the-go protein option, which is great for a snack or addition to lunch. Jerky is also a lean protein source of micronutrients, like iron and zinc," says Schlichter. However, be mindful of sodium content and select varieties with minimal additives.

11 Best & Worst Beef Jerky Brands, According to Dietitians

Cauliflower

cauliflower
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Serving size: 100 grams
Calories: 25
Protein: 2 grams

While not traditionally known for its protein content, cauliflower is a surprising addition to the high-protein, low-calorie foods category. This cruciferous vegetable provides a modest amount of protein along with a host of other nutrients. Also, cauliflower's versatility allows it to be roasted, mashed, or turned into a low-calorie pizza crust, offering a unique way to increase your protein intake while keeping calories in check.

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Mushrooms

roasted mushrooms
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Serving size: 100 grams
Calories: 22
Protein: 3 grams

These fantastic fungi are an underrated protein source that offers a unique texture and flavor to dishes. Whether sautéed as a side, added to omelets, or used as a meat substitute in certain recipes, mushrooms add a modest amount of protein and essential vitamins and minerals, all while keeping your calorie intake in check.

Adam Meyer, RHN
Adam is a health writer, certified holistic nutritionist, and 100% plant-based athlete. Read more about Adam
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