22 High-Protein, Low-Carb Snacks to Boost Energy
We've all been there: It's 3 p.m. and all you want to do is reach for a sugary treat or a greasy bag of potato chips to help you get through the rest of the day. Sure, these snacks will temporarily soothe your munchies, but you'll quickly find yourself crashing; these foods cause serious blood sugar spikes and don't curb appetite or cravings for very long.
That doesn't mean that your only option is the baby carrots relegated to the back your fridge. We've reached out to some well-known food and health experts and asked them to share with us their favorite high-protein, low-carb snacks for overcoming the mid-day slumps. Here's a look at energizing snacks you can nosh on with a clean conscience.
Blueberry, Greek Yogurt, and Granola Mini Parfaits
As a private chef, cookbook author, and TV personality, Mark Bailey recommends this blend because it's filling and will satisfy a sweet craving in a nutritious way. "Plus, using Greek yogurt in this parfait offers more protein per serving than regular yogurt," he says. Take note of our exclusive report on the best and worst Greek yogurts so that you pick the right one!
Chia Seed Water
"Add two tablespoons of chia seeds to your water for extra protein," says natural health expert Liana Werner-Gray, author of The Earth Diet. "They will fill you up and even give the illusion like you just ate gluten."
All you need is a tablespoon of hemp seeds for eight grams of protein. Hemp seeds, according to Werner-Gray, are easily assimilated in the digestive system because they're light and easy to break down. "They have a nice buttery flavor, and they're high in omegas, which are essential fats—often called 'brain food'—that help us get through the afternoon."
Eggs are a great source of protein and Bailey suggests making deviled eggs. Traditional deviled eggs, however, are loaded with fat and calories (they're not called devils for nothing!). Some quick and easy ways to keep the health factor of this snack in check are by using only half the yolk and opting for a combination of low-fat mayo, low-fat Greek yogurt, and mustard instead of regular mayo.
Tuna & Egg Salad Crostini
Another way to work high protein eggs into your diet is via a tuna and egg salad crostini. "Albacore tuna and egg salad over a cracker is rich in protein and taste," says Bailey. Here again, opt for the combination of low-fat mayo, low-fat Greek yogurt, and mustard instead of regular mayo for the egg salad. You can also swap a crostini for a GG Bran Crispbread for more fiber, which will work to help keep you full longer. If you're not a huge scramble fan, don't miss these foods with more protein than an egg!
Move over rice pasta! Werner-Gray singles out lentil pasta as her favorite gluten-free alternative to regular white flour pasta. "Once the water is boiled, it takes less than 10 minutes to cook the pasta. When the pasta is ready, just add a simple sauce like an organic tomato sauce." A typical serving, she says, has 11 grams of protein. Regarding the tomato sauce, however, make sure to watch sodium and sugar levels if you're buying a canned one. If you've got the time, take fresh tomatoes, oregano, basil, and garlic and make your own. It freezes easily and tastes delicious.
Quinoa not only has eight grams of protein per cup, but it's one of the few vegetarian sources of complete protein, which means that it has all nine essential amino acids that are needed by our bodies. "Once a week, cook up a batch of quinoa so you always have it on standby," suggests Werner-Gray. "Enjoy a few spoonfuls for a quick protein snack and you can freshen it up each time with spices or sauces or raw elements like cucumber, cilantro, and avocado."
Bread-less and Baked Chicken Nuggets
Chef Bailey says one of his favorite quick and nutritious recipes are seasoned and baked chunks of chicken breast meat. "They make for an easy and light protein snack," he says. Simply take a few small pieces of chicken and cover them in a thin coating of breadcrumbs. Next, place them on a baking sheet before adding a thin coat of olive oil spray. Bake them for 10 minutes. You can also add spices to the breadcrumb mixture, which will add flavor without having much of an effect on the calorie count.
Coconut oil has a bad reputation for being high in saturated fats. In moderation, however, it's an amazing addition to your diet. So much so, in fact, that Werner-Gray suggests swallowing a tablespoon of coconut oil straight up! "It will work to nourish your body with protein, antioxidants, and omegas."
Celery Slices with Dip
Nut butter sprinkled with crushed nuts is a delicious and very flavorful high-protein dip for celery or apple slices. Chef Bailey suggests opting for a natural peanut butter or one of Justin's almond butters. In fact, almond butter is not only low in carbs, it's considered a whole food. It's also a common favorite because it feels more indulgent than it is. That said, calories and fat can add up when consuming nuts or anything nut-based, so watch your serving sizes.
"Small and neatly packaged, this dairy snack helps maintain your protein intake to keep your metabolism going," says physical therapist Dr. Karena Wu. The built-in portion control is really the best part, though—it's a big reason why string cheese is on our list of best dairy products for weight loss.
RELATED: Learn how to fire up your metabolism and lose weight the smart way.
Another dairy snack that's individually packaged and loaded with probiotics for digestive health is yogurt. Dr. Wu loves this as a snack because of its high protein levels. Make sure to avoid yogurts with added sugar and for those avoiding dairy try Greek yogurt or almond or coconut-based ones.
Hard Boiled Egg
"This is one of the most complete nutritious foods found in nature," says clinical nutritionist Dr. Michael Forman. "What's great about a hard boiled egg is that it has a complete set of nutrients and essential minerals and provides sustainable energy. Make sure the eggs you use are organic, free range, and if possible pasture raised." For more of a flavor punch, Dr. Forman recommends sprinkling some organic sea salt or Himalayan salt "as this serves to enhance your thyroid and other organ function."
While most people think of tuna salad as a meal, Dr. Forman says not to overlook it as a snack. "It has plenty of protein and it's light enough not to weigh you down." Skip traditional tuna salad, which is almost always loaded with too much fat and calories and instead make your own. Simply combine tuna chunks with celery, some greens/herbs, a touch of olive oil, and lemon juice. Mash the ingredients together. If you have a nagging sweet tooth, you can add in some dried fruit, but make sure to opt for ones without added sugar.
Peanuts, almonds, and pistachios are all high in protein, are stable at room temperature, and easily transportable making them a perfect in-case-of-emergency snack to always have on hand. "Peanuts have the highest protein content. But almonds and pistachios offer fiber, and pistachios have potassium," says Dr. Wu.
Meat Sticks and Bars
There's a reason meat-based protein energy bars are now a thing (like EPIC bars). "Animal protein source offers a complete protein," says Dr. Wu, who recommends meat sticks or bars because they're shelf stable and can be carried around easily for a quick pick-me-up.
Reach for organic plant-based protein shakes for a high-protein, low-carb snack, according to Werner-Gray. "[A good] protein shake will typically have about 20 grams of protein per serving and are delicious mixed with almond milk and even just water. [Many include] superfood ingredients in each shake, which work to give you energy without loading your body with carbs or fat."
Raw chocolate made with a nut base like ground almonds or pistachios (check out Raw Chocolate Man) is a high protein option made without dairy, soy, refined white sugar, and preservatives. It's also low in carbs, which is why experts like Werner-Gray often recommend it to clients as part of their low carb snacks.
"Pumpkins seeds are ridiculously high in protein per spoonful," says Werner-Gray. She suggests adding a couple of spoons onto a salad or eating a spoonful or two on their own. Pumpkin seeds are also extremely low in carbs and are commonly recommended for those looking to lose weight.
The avocado is a versatile source of protein and is also high in omegas. Werner-Gray recommends slicing one in half, squeezing some lemon over it, and sprinkling hemp seeds over it for a mix of healthy fat, protein, and fiber. That tried-and-true trifecta is the cornerstone of many healthy meals!
"Get a double shot of protein with ham (or turkey) and cheese rolls," says Chef Bailey when asked about low carb snacks. Add a tomato and some avocado for more flavor, nutrients, and—of course—protein. Another option is a PB&J roll. "Combine natural peanut butter, all-fruit, low-sugar, and organic jelly and a slice of wheat bread. The combination keeps this roll high in protein, yet relatively low in fat and carbs." To cut down carbs even more, opt for a fiber cracker instead of the bread. You can also replace the bread with lettuce for the ham and cheese roll. For the PB&J, fruit is another fantastic alternative to jelly.
Chickpeas are not only a good source of protein—one cup has nearly 40 grams!—they're also known to reduce cholesterol. And because they're high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, they'll keep you feeling full longer. Chef Bailey recommends opting for hummus, chickpea salad, or simply eating cooked chickpeas on their own.