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The best high-protein dairy for weight loss

Are dairy products helpful or harmful for losing weight? It all depends on the types you choose. To lose weight effectively, eat high-protein, high-satiety dairy foods — the kinds that help you feel full and satisfied.

In this guide, we’ll show you which dairy products can help you achieve your health and weight loss goals. You’ll find out exactly what to eat, why it’s good for you, and what to look for when making dairy choices.

The image below shows the protein as a percentage of calories for different dairy products.The higher the number, the more protein the food provides per calorie.

 
 
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Protein percentage is key

Your body needs protein to survive and thrive. Of the three macronutrients — protein, carbohydrates (carbs), and fat — only protein is used for building muscle and making vital enzymes.

Eating plenty of protein — including dairy sources — may help you feel full, slightly boost your metabolism, and improve your body composition.1

Indeed, many high-protein dairy foods can be great for weight loss.

The key is choosing dairy products with a high protein percentage. This percentage tells you how much of a food’s calories come from protein instead of fats and carbs.

It’s true that many dairy products provide protein. But if you want to lose weight, you should consider protein percentage when making dairy choices — and we’ll show you how. Don’t worry, it’s easier than it sounds!

For the best weight-loss results, try to choose foods with protein percentages of 35% or more most of the time.

Additionally, aim to eat at least 100 grams of protein per day if you’re a woman and 140 grams if you’re a man of average height and build. Eat more if you’re a man taller than 6 feet (183 cm) or a woman taller than 5 feet 6 inches (168 cm) or if you’re very physically active. Eat less if you’re shorter or have a petite frame.

While dairy can contribute to your daily goal, you should include other high-protein foods as well, such as meat, seafood, eggs, legumes, and vegetables.

This guide provides both the protein percentages and grams per serving for dairy products.2These are based on average values. The protein percentages and gram amounts can vary depending on processing, additives, and other factors. They can also differ slightly among brands.


 

1. Yogurt

Sour cream in glass bowl isolated on white background with clipping pathYogurt is made by treating milk with bacteria that ferment most of the lactose (milk sugar) into lactic acid, which lowers its carb content. Straining yogurt removes even more lactose, resulting in a higher protein concentration. Strained yogurt is commonly known as Greek yogurt or Icelandic Skyr yogurt.

Plain nonfat Greek yogurt or Skyr has the highest protein percentage. However, low-fat Greek yogurt is excellent, too. Full-fat Greek yogurt is also a decent choice. Since they’re all high in protein and low in carbs, feel free to eat the kind you like best.

What’s the worst option? Any sugar-sweetened yogurt — especially sweetened full-fat yogurt, which is high in both fat and sugar.

The list below provides standard information for different types of yogurt. But it’s a good idea to check labels for the protein content, since amounts can vary by brand. Also, look for added sugar — even on “plain” varieties — which decreases a yogurt’s protein percentage.

What are those percentages you see on Greek yogurt labels, such as 0%, 2%, or 5%? That’s the percentage of a yogurt’s weight — which includes water — that comes from fat. This is different from the percentage of a yogurt’s calories that come from fat. Only protein, fat, and carbs contain calories. And what is important is protein as a percentage of calories.

For instance, 47% of the calories in full-fat (5%) Greek yogurt come from fat. And 38% of its calories come from protein, as shown in the list below.

Below are the protein percentages and grams of protein and carbs per five-ounce (170-gram) serving of yogurt (about three-quarters of a cup).

  • Plain nonfat (0%) Greek yogurt or Skyr
    Protein percentage: 77%
    18 grams of protein and 5 grams of carbs per serving*
  • Plain low-fat (2%) Greek yogurt or Skyr
    Protein percentage: 57%
    17 grams of protein and 5 grams of carbs per serving
  • Plain nonfat yogurt
    Protein percentage: 43%
    8 grams of protein and 11 grams of carbs per serving
  • Plain full-fat (5%) Greek yogurt or Skyr
    Protein percentage: 38%
    16 grams of protein and 5 grams of carbs per serving
  • Plain triple cream (9%) Greek yogurt or Skyr
    Protein percentage: 23%
    14 grams of protein and 8 grams of carbs per serving
  • Plain full-fat yogurt
    Protein percentage: 23%
    6 grams of protein and 8 grams of carbs per serving
  • Sugar-sweetened nonfat yogurt
    Protein percentage: 20%
    8 grams of protein and 32 grams of carbs per serving
  • Sugar-sweetened full-fat yogurt
    Protein percentage: 18%
    6 grams of protein and 16 grams of carbs per serving

*Protein and carb amounts of Greek yogurt vary among brands

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2. Cottage cheese

Cottage cheese in glass bowlDo you want a tasty high-protein food to enjoy at a meal or as a snack? Consider cottage cheese.

It’s made by adding acidic bacteria to milk, which creates curds that give cottage cheese its familiar lumpy appearance.

The good news is that almost all cottage cheese types — including those with more fat — have high protein percentages. The one exception? Cottage cheese with added fruit or sugar.

Just like yogurt, you’ll notice different percentages on cottage cheese containers, such as 1%, 2% or 4%. This is the percentage of the cottage cheese’s weight (which includes water) that comes from fat. The percentage of calories that come from fat is another matter.

For example, 25% of the calories in low-fat (2%) cottage cheese come from fat. And an impressive 58% of its calories come from protein, as shown in the list below.

Below are the protein percentages and grams of protein and carbs per four-ounce (113-gram) serving of cottage cheese (about one-half cup).

  • Nonfat (0%) cottage cheese
    Protein percentage: 69%
    13 grams of protein and 5 grams of carbs per serving
  • Low-fat (1%) cottage cheese
    Protein percentage: 65%
    13 grams of protein and 5 grams of carbs per serving
  • Low-fat (2%) cottage cheese:
    Protein percentage: 58%
    13 grams of protein and 5 grams of carbs per serving
  • Regular (4%) cottage cheese
    Protein percentage: 47%
    13 grams of protein and 5 grams of carbs per serving
  • Cottage cheese with pineapple
    Protein percentage: 31%
    10 grams of protein and15 grams of carbs per serving

 

3. Cheese

Cheeses board isolated on white backgroundAlthough cheese is traditionally considered a delicious protein and calcium source, its protein percentage is fairly low because it is high in fat and calories.

For example, Swiss cheese is considered a high-protein cheese, but its protein percentage is only 27% because it contains a lot of fat.

Fortunately, some reduced-fat cheeses rank pretty high on the protein percentage scale.

Plus, there’s no need to avoid the higher-fat cheeses that you love! Just keep portion sizes small and have it occasionally rather than at every meal if weight loss is your goal.

Below are the protein percentages and grams of protein and carbs per 2-ounce (60-gram) serving of cheese (about two slices or one-quarter cup):

  • Reduced-fat cheeses (Swiss, cheddar, provolone)
    Protein percentage: 60% (average)
    14 to 16 grams of protein and 2 grams of carbs per serving (Read labels, as the amount of protein can vary among brands)
  • Part-skim mozzarella
    Protein percentage: 39%
    14 grams of protein and less than 1 gram of carbs per serving
  • Parmesan
    Protein percentage: 36%
    20 grams of protein and less than 2 gram of carbs per serving
  • Part-skim ricotta
    Protein percentage: 33%
    7 grams of protein and 3 grams of carbs per serving
  • Provolone
    Protein percentage: 28%
    14 grams of protein and less than 1 gram of carbs per serving
  • Whole-milk mozzarella
    Protein percentage: 27%
    12 grams of protein and less than 1 gram of carbs per serving
  • Swiss
    Protein percentage: 27%
    16 grams of protein and less than 1 gram of carbs per serving
  • Halloumi
    Protein percentage: 25%
    14 grams of protein and less than 1 gram of carbs per serving
  • Brie or Camembert
    Protein percentage: 25%
    12 grams of protein and less than 1 gram of carbs per serving
  • Cheddar
    Protein percentage: 24%
    14 grams of protein and less than 1 gram of carbs per serving
  • Bleu, Roquefort
    Protein percentage: 22%
    12 grams of protein and less than 1 gram of carbs per serving
  • Feta
    Protein percentage: 21%
    8 grams of protein and less than 2 grams of carbs per serving
  • Whole-milk ricotta
    Protein percentage: 20%
    5 grams of protein and 5 grams of carbs per serving

 

4. Milk

Milk bottleMilk — the origin of all other dairy products — provides calcium, potassium, and other nutrients.

Unlike fermented dairy products, such as cheese and yogurt, milk contains a large amount of lactose (milk sugar), which dilutes its protein content and lowers its protein percentage. Whole milk is higher in both fat and carbs compared to protein, so it ranks near the bottom of the protein percentage list.

Like yogurt and cottage cheese, milk has different percentages on its labels: 1%, 2%, and 3.5%. This is the percentage of a milk’s weight (which is mainly water) that comes from fat.

Whole milk (3.5%) contains 48% fat as a percentage of calories. Only 21% of its calories come from protein, as shown in the list below.

High-protein, lower-carb milk is available in the US. But overall, although milk is fine in small amounts, it shouldn’t be a staple food — especially if you’re trying to lose weight.

What about cream? It contains almost no protein or other nutrients. Use it as needed to add fat and calories.

Below are the protein percentages and grams of protein and carbs per 8-ounce (240-ml) serving of milk (one cup):

  • High-protein low-fat (1%) milk3
    Protein percentage: 43%
    13 grams of protein and 6 grams of carbs per serving
  • Nonfat milk
    Protein percentage: 39%
    8 grams of protein and 12 grams of carbs per serving
  • Low-fat (1%) buttermilk
    Protein percentage: 33%
    8 grams of protein and 12 grams of carbs per serving
  • Low-fat (1%) milk
    Protein percentage: 31%
    8 grams of protein and 12 grams of carbs per serving
  • Reduced-fat (2%) milk
    Protein percentage: 26%
    8 grams of protein and 12 grams of carbs per serving
  • Whole (3.5%) milk
    Protein percentage: 21%
    8 grams of protein and 12 grams of carbs per serving
  • Nonfat chocolate milk
    Protein percentage: 21%
    8 grams of protein and 28 grams of carbs per serving
  • Light cream
    Protein percentage: 6%
    0.5 grams of protein and 0.6 grams of carbs per serving (one tablespoon)
  • Heavy cream
    Protein percentage: 3%
    0.5 grams of protein and 0.5 grams of carbs per serving (one tablespoon)

 

5. Whey protein

Measuring scoop of protein powder on a white backgroundWhey is a natural byproduct of making cheese. It is the protein-rich liquid remaining after milk has curdled. Whey protein powder is made by filtering whey to remove most of the fat and carbs. This creates a concentrated protein product that is then spray-dried into a powder.

Gram for gram, whey protein contains considerably more protein than other dairy products. It’s also a convenient way to get a large protein dose quickly.

On the other hand, it’s a highly processed product rather than a minimally processed food.

We recommend eating high-protein dairy foods rather than whey protein most of the time.

However, if you find it challenging to meet your protein needs with food alone, supplementing with whey protein is fine. It is also a convenient way to add more protein to occasional treats like low-carb desserts, bread, and smoothies.

Choose unflavored whey protein powders or types sweetened with stevia or other sugar-free sweeteners.

Which is better: whey protein isolate or concentrate? Whey isolate undergoes further processing known as ultrafiltration, which removes more of the carbs and results in a higher protein percentage. But whey protein concentrate’s protein percentage is still impressive at 80%.

Stay away from weight gainer protein powder, though. You’ll get very little protein but a lot of carbs and calories.

Below are the protein percentages and grams of protein and carbs per 1-ounce (30-gram) serving of whey protein powder, except where noted:

  • Whey protein isolate powder (plain or artificially sweetened)
    Protein percentage: >90%
    25 grams of protein and 1 gram of carbs per serving
  • Whey protein concentrate powder (plain or artificially sweetened)
    Protein percentage: 80%
    25 grams of protein and 2 grams of carbs per serving
  • Sugar-sweetened whey protein isolate powder*
    Protein percentage: 70%
    25 grams of protein and 6 to 9 grams of carbs per serving
  • Sugar-sweetened whey protein concentrate powder
    Protein percentage: 65%
    25 grams of protein and 7 to 10 grams of carbs per serving
  • Weight-gainer protein powder
    Protein percentage: 17%
    13 grams of protein and 63 grams of carbs per serving (2.7 ounces/80 grams)

*Protein percentages of sweetened whey protein powders vary among brands


 

 

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