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20 high-protein, low-calorie foods to aid your weight loss

Getting enough protein is an important part of maintaining an overall nutritious diet.

20 High-Protein, Low-Calorie Foods for Weight Loss | Juniper

Protein is made up of around 20 different building blocks called amino acids that our bodies metabolise to make new proteins like muscle and bone. [1] Protein actually includes 9 essential amino acids that our bodies can't make on our own — we have to get them through our diets.

Plus, it is an important energy source to keep our bodies working, repair cells and help with muscle building.

Needless to say, getting enough protein is an important part of maintaining an overall nutritious diet.

If you're on a weight loss journey, choosing to eat high-protein, low-calorie foods can help you hit your overall calorie intake without feeling hungry or deprived.

Now, before you clear the supermarket shelves of protein powder, there are plenty of options to choose from when it comes to high-protein, low-calorie foods. Read as we dive into the topic of protein and weight loss.

Can you lose weight on a high-protein diet?

Clinical trials have found that eating a high-protein diet that includes more than the standard protein intake both creates weight loss and enhances overall body composition [2].

High-protein foods help us feel satiated, and fuller for longer, which can be really helpful if you're trying to hit a calorie deficit for weight loss.

In fact, a 2022 study from Rutgers University found that increasing your overall protein intake from 18% to 20% of your overall calorie count whilst dieting can lead to better food choices. [3] The study also found that eating more protein also helps to avoid losing lean muscle mass.

How much protein should you consume?

Let's talk macros. The proteins, fats and carbohydrates we consume all contribute to our dietary energy intake (and our overall calorie count).

There is a so-called Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR) that is thought to reduce the risk of chronic disease [4].

When it comes to protein, the British Nutrition Foundation recommends adults consume 0.75 grams of protein per kilo of body weight [8].

It's important to remember that our bodies don't store protein in the same way they do carbohydrates and fat.

That's why we need to regularly consume protein with our meals.

Now, skipping protein for a day won't immediately cause a loss of lean muscle mass. But if your overall goal is muscle growth, muscle building or weight loss, then getting enough protein is pretty important.

The minimum amount of protein per day can also be calculated as around 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight [2].

Keep in mind, though, that protein needs can be different depending on your age, gender and stage of life so it's worth looking at the Eat for Health guidelines to check what you need [5].

When you add weight loss into the equation, eating a low-calorie diet with higher grams of protein can be beneficial.

Some research has shown that eating more protein at breakfast or lunch might help maintain muscle mass as we age. [6] It's also a bit easier to hit your overall protein goals if you can get your high-protein food in earlier in the day instead of trying to cram all your protein sources in at night.

It's also important to check the protein content relative to the overall nutritional content of a food item. A protein bar or protein powder shake may not be as helpful to consume if it is excessively high in sugar or overly calorically dense, for example.

Not all protein is equal

Protein sources can be broken down into 3 main categories: animal, vegetarian, and vegan.

The highest quality protein sources contain all essential amino acids known as 'complete sources of protein', whilst the 'incomplete sources of protein' lack at least 1 essential amino acid, making them a lower-quality source of protein.

Complete sources include:

  • Meat
  • Eggs
  • Some dairy products
  • Soy products
  • Quinoa
  • Amaranth

Incomplete protein sources include:

  • Nuts and seeds
  • Legumes, lentils and beans
  • Wholegrains

Incorporating complete and incomplete protein sources together through nutritious foods can help you create a protein-rich snack that helps you hit your daily goals.

20 high-protein, low-calorie foods for your weight loss journey

Let's look at the A to Z of foods that are high in protein, low in calories and nutrient-dense:

1. Chicken

Chicken breast is a staple for people seeking a lean protein source that is pretty versatile and easy to add to your meals.

2. Chickpeas

Chickpeas can be a great option for weight loss as they are high in fibre as well as protein, helping you feel fuller for longer.

Whether you eat them in salads, blend them into hummus, or roast them for a crunchy protein-rich snack, chickpeas are a great addition to your diet.

3. Cottage Cheese

Cottage cheese is an excellent protein source for vegetarians or omnivores with around 11 grams of protein per 100 grams.

It's versatile enough to be eaten at any time of the day and can be added to meals like pancakes, scrambled eggs, salad, stews and even lasagna to give it a protein boost.

Low-fat cottage cheese is also a great low-calorie option that is still high in protein.

4. Edamame

The edamame soybeans are a plant-based protein staple and also one of the few complete proteins that are vegan-friendly. Ideal addition to salads or grain bowls.

5. Eggs

There's a reason the stereotype about gymgoers choking down a dozen raw eggs exists. Eggs are a truly high-protein food.

To start the day off right, one of the easiest ways to increase the overall grams of protein in a savoury breakfast is to add additional egg whites. Egg whites have less protein than egg yolks, but they also have a comparatively low calorie count.

6. Greek yogurt

Greek yogurt and low-fat Greek yogurt are a protein staple.

You can also buy high-protein Greek yogurt to give you up to 15 grams of protein per serve.

Greek yogurt can be eaten with fruit, granola, oats or added to sauces to boost the overall protein content. It can also be used as a high-protein substitute for sour cream.

7. Lean meats

Looking to add some lean meat in as protein? There is a range of lean meat protein options in Australia including lean beef, lamb, kangaroo, turkey, duck, emu, bush birds, pork, goose and veal.

8. Lentils and beans

Legumes and pulses are staples in many diets because they're cheap and tasty high-protein, low-calorie foods that can be added to lots of dishes.

Lentils, split peas, white beans, black beans, mung beans, chickpeas, kidney beans and soybeans are all suitable plant protein options.

9. Overnight oats

Overnight oats are a breakfast staple for weight loss. They're easy to prep the night before and extremely versatile.

The oats themselves contain fibre, protein and key vitamins and minerals.

You can also create a high-protein version by adding in milk, protein powder, whey protein, chia seeds, and Greek yogurt, as well as a small amount of nuts, seeds or a drizzle of nut butter. This is an easy meal to make plant-based or adjustable to your own taste.

10. Peas

Technically peas are considered to be a legume, but they earn their own place on this list by being generally thought of as the highest protein vegetable bringing in close to 8 grams of protein per cup.

On top of protein, peas are a great source of fibre, antioxidants, vitamins C and E, zinc and copper.

11. Prawns

There's a reason Paul Hogan told us all to throw another shrimp on the barbie — they're a great low-calorie protein source.

They're also low-fat, as well as rich in selenium, omega-3 fatty acids, B6 and B12. Plus, they contain a similar amount of protein to chicken breast but around half the overall calories.

12. Protein bars

Protein bars aren't always low in calories, but they are a super convenient way to get in a few extra grams of protein.

They can be used as high-protein snacks, but it's worth aiming for a ratio of around 20 grams of protein for around 200 calories to keep within your calorie intake goal.

13. Protein pasta

Pasta might not be the first choice when you think of low-calorie foods, but hear us out.

Usually made from lentils or legumes, protein pasta can give you an extra 37 grams of protein per serving, and is often lower in calories compared to your standard white pasta.

14. Protein powder

Not all protein powders are created equal, and it's worth looking for a protein powder that has at least 20 grams of protein per serving like Juniper's Nourish Shakes.

Containing 24 grams of whey protein, these shakes are packed with high-quality ingredients and the nutritional benefits of a balanced meal.

Whey protein is a popular choice, but for plant-based options, there's hemp, rice and pea protein. You can drink your protein powder mixed with water or milk.

If you don't enjoy the milky taste, clear or water protein powder might be an option.

15. Salmon

We've already covered fish in general, but salmon gets a special shoutout for being a protein-rich fish (with healthy fats as well) that is ideal to add to salads and grain bowls.

Canned salmon is said to be calcium-rich as well, which helps with our overall bone health.

16. Sprouts

Adding sprouts to your diet can help boost the overall protein of your meal whilst getting in some essential nutrients.

Popular choices include alfalfa, mung beans, pea sprouts, broccoli sprouts, radish sprouts and fenugreek. Studies have found that sprouting actually increases the protein of sprouted pulses and seeds. [7]

17. Tempeh

Made from soybeans, tempeh is another great plant-based protein ideal for vegans or even meatless Mondays.

A great addition for wraps, sandwiches, salads and stir-fries, tempeh is a complete plant-based protein with around 34 grams of protein per cup.

18. Tofu

A staple for anyone wanting a plant-based protein, tofu is a rich source of minerals like iron, calcium and selenium.

Firm tofu is great in sandwiches, pho, stir-fries and curries, whilst silken tofu can be added to dips and sauces to help boost the protein content.

19. Tuna

One of the true MVPs of high-protein, low-calorie foods is tuna.

Canned tuna is a super convenient option and an easy addition to any lunch. It's even good on its own for a high-protein snack. Tuna steaks are also another lean protein option.

20. White fish

Flathead, hoki, snapper, barramundi and whiting all have a lot of protein and a lot less fat compared to other proteins like lean beef or chicken breast.

Eat them grilled, poached or crumbed to eat essential nutrients like B12, zinc and selenium.

There you have it. By adding a few of these high-protein, low-calorie foods into your everyday eating you can maintain a nutrient-dense diet whilst consuming fewer calories.

Of course, your diet is only a part of the equation if you're on a weight loss journey. If you've been trying to reach your weight loss goals and feel like you need a hand, Juniper’s Weight Reset Programme might be just what you need.

Designed by UK clinicians and dietitians, it combines clinically proven weight loss medications with ongoing support and health advice to help you form sustainable lifestyle habits that last.

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