The best high-protein foods for weight loss

What are the best high-protein foods, that can also help you lose weight? Foods that are minimally processed, filling, protein-rich, and provide maximal nutrition per calorie.

By contrast, the worst weight-loss foods are highly processed, high in calories, low in nutrients — and extremely easy to overeat.

In this guide, you’ll learn which high-protein foods you should eat, which ones to limit, and which ones to avoid entirely if you want to lose weight in a healthy and effective way.

Beef medium rare steak and romaine salad cherry tomatoes yogurt dressing salad on a gray background, top view

 

 

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Why high protein for weight loss?

For healthy weight loss, focus on high-protein foods. Why? High-protein foods are high-satiety foods — the kinds that help you stay full and satisfied.

High-protein foods provide essential nutrients that you need to stay healthy. Essential nutrients are the ones your body can’t make on its own, such as essential amino acids (the building blocks of protein), fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals. High-protein foods are on average high in all of these nutrients.

By targeting foods that are high in protein, you are likely to end up meeting your essential nutrient needs and feeling full, which may help you lose weight.1

In this guide, we provide the “protein percentage” of foods. This percentage reflects how much protein contributes to a food’s total calories, excluding calories from fiber.

Fiber calories aren’t included because, unlike other carbohydrates, fiber isn’t broken down and absorbed by your digestive tract.2

Instead, fiber passes through your system until it reaches your colon, where it is either fermented by bacteria or eliminated, depending on the fiber type.3 Therefore, fiber is nearly calorie-free. Think of it as a nutrient for your microbiome, or gut bacteria.

To lose weight effectively without feeling hungry, eat foods with a high protein percentage.

How much protein should you eat?

Learn how much protein to aim for each day in this guide.

Foods to eat

You can generally eat as much as you want of the foods on this list. Getting plenty of variety is important, too! So it’s fine to sometimes choose foods that have a relatively lower protein percentage compared to others in the same category.

For instance, fatty steak has less protein per calorie than chicken breast. However, red meat is an excellent source of protein and minerals like iron. It’s also pleasurable and filling, so enjoy that steak.

Here is your list of high-protein weight loss foods.4

grilled juicy beef steak meat

Meat and poultry

Meat and poultry — such as beef, pork, chicken, and turkey — are excellent food choices for losing weight.

They provide protein and many vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B12, magnesium, and potassium. Carbs? None. And science suggests that including it in your diet may help you lose weight.5

Grill, broil, or roast your meat. Eat any parts that you like, including the skin and innards. Eating the whole animal is less wasteful and may be better for the environment. And while eating the skin on a chicken breast will slightly decrease its protein percentage compared to a skinless breast, you may enjoy your meal much more.

Is red meat healthy?

Are you concerned that eating red meat isn’t healthy? Read our full red meat guide to find out why those concerns may not be warranted.

Protein percentage range: 85% (skinless turkey breast) to 30% (prime rib)

fish

Seafood

Trout, tuna, shrimp, and crab are rich in potassium, magnesium, and iodine, among other nutrients. Fatty fish, such as salmon, provide higher amounts of essential omega-3 fatty acids — which have been linked to health benefits — than other fish.6

However, all kinds of fish and shellfish are nutrient powerhouses. Eating more seafood may slightly boost weight loss in some people, according to at least one study.7 Plus, fish and shellfish have some of the highest protein percentages of all the recommended foods. That means more protein per calorie, which means you’ll feel fuller longer.

If you want to lose weight, make sure your fish isn’t breaded or battered and fried. These add carbs and calories without improving seafood’s nutritional value.

Protein percentage range: 97% (shrimp) to 37% (mackerel)

Zucchini

Non-starchy vegetables

Vegetables are among the best foods to eat to lose weight.

Leafy greens and other non-starchy vegetables that typically grow above the ground — such as cauliflower, broccoli, cucumber, and mushrooms — are high in nutrients yet very low in calories and carbohydrates. They’re also rich in fiber and water, which can help you feel full.8

Enjoy them raw in salads with a creamy dressing. Grill or pan-fry your veggies in olive oil, butter, or ghee.

Although they provide less protein than the other categories on this “foods to eat” list, many non-starchy vegetables have a fairly high protein percentage.

However, unlike animal foods, protein from vegetables isn’t considered “complete” because it is low in one or more of the essential amino acids that your body needs to stay healthy.9 So eat your fill of these vegetables, but make sure to get plenty of protein from the other categories on this list.

Protein percentage range: 57% (spinach) to 15% (yellow bell peppers)

Group of brown raw eggs, one is broken, isolated white

Eggs

Eggs are a great weight loss food because they help you stay full for several hours after eating.10 And although they’re high in cholesterol, they generally don’t raise blood cholesterol levels much.1112

Plus, eggs are one of the most versatile, popular, and inexpensive protein sources around.

Learn more about eggs

Do you want to learn more about eggs, including why the claims that they cause health problems are based on weak science? Read our full guide on the health benefits of eggs.

One large egg provides just over 6 grams of protein and 1 gram of carbs. Although the egg white contains more protein, the golden yolk is richer in essential vitamins like vitamin A, iron, and selenium.

Whether they’re hard-boiled, scrambled, fried, or poached, eggs are a fantastic protein for breakfast or any time of day.

To get the best taste and most complete nutrition, choose whole eggs. On the other hand, egg whites are a great choice if you want to add more protein with few calories.

Protein percentage range: 85% (egg white) to 34% (whole egg)

Cottage Cheese In Blue Dish

Dairy products

According to some studies, high-protein dairy foods may provide weight loss benefits.13

Fermented dairy products like yogurt and cottage cheese are low in lactose (milk sugar) yet rich in nutrients.

Although plain nonfat and low-fat Greek yogurt and cottage cheese have higher protein percentages than full-fat varieties, it’s important to enjoy your food. So choose the type of yogurt and cottage cheese you like best.

Whey protein supplements (powders and shakes) have more protein than other dairy products. However, whey protein is a highly processed food that doesn’t provide a lot of nutrition aside from amino acids.14 As a general rule, go for other high-protein dairy products instead unless you’re looking for an easy way to boost your protein intake.

What about cheese? You’ll find cheese in the list of foods to enjoy in limited amounts, below.

Protein percentage range: >90% (whey protein isolate) to 38% (full-fat Greek yogurt)

Heap of chickpeas isolated on white, from above

Beans, lentils, peas, & soy

Legumes — beans, lentils, peas, seeds, and soy — are a good source of protein and provide other essential nutrients. Yes, most are higher in carbs than the other foods on this list. However, they’re also high in fiber. Plus, as an excellent source of plant-based protein, legumes are perfect for vegetarian and vegan weight-loss diets.

One review of 21 trials found that people who included beans, lentils, and other legumes in their diet lost a small amount of weight without deliberately restricting calories.15

Additionally, consuming soy products has been shown to help reduce appetite and support weight loss in several studies.16

While soy is considered a complete protein, beans and legumes are low in one or more of the essential amino acids that you need to eat to stay healthy.17 The good news is, combining different plant proteins, such as beans and nuts, can provide adequate amounts of all the essential amino acids your body needs.18

Plant protein powder supplements are processed, so they lack the fiber found in whole foods. However, they are a good option for getting more protein with fewer carbs. For this reason, you may want to consider occasionally including plant protein powders if you’re a vegetarian or vegan who eats keto or low carb.

Protein percentage range: 82% (pea protein powder) to 26% (chickpeas or garbanzo beans)

What to drink

Cropped shot of Barista pouring a hot coffee after drip in a glass cup of coffee.

Drink beverages with minimal calories — preferably zero — if you want to lose weight.

  • Water: Whether still or sparkling, water is the best option. Drinking water may be beneficial for weight loss.19
  • Coffee and tea: Research suggests that drinking caffeinated coffee or tea may help you lose a little weight by slightly boosting your metabolism.20 Most people can drink up to two to three cups of coffee or tea per day. However, drink less — or choose decaf coffee or herbal tea — if caffeine makes you feel jittery or causes other side effects.

    Coffee and tea are virtually calorie-free if consumed alone. If you must lighten or sweeten your beverage, add a little milk, cream, or sugar-free sweetener.
  • Broth: Drinking broth or bouillon is a delicious way to stay hydrated and get some sodium and other minerals. Choose beef, chicken, or vegetable stock — or bone broth. This is one beverage that actually provides some nutrition, although the amount of protein in broth can vary from 1 to 9 grams per cup, depending on how it is made.

 

Foods and beverages to consume in limited quantities

Composition of cheese cubes on a wooden table

The foods on this list can be included, but they shouldn’t be the main focus if you want to lose weight. Although many of them are nutritious, their protein percentages aren’t high. Depending on what you like and the way you eat, you can enjoy them in small quantities on a frequent or even daily basis.

  • Cheese: Cheese is delicious, low in carbs, and a great source of calcium. However, it doesn’t provide a lot of protein per calorie. Additionally, some people find that eating cheese causes cravings for more.21If you follow a keto or low-carb diet, feel free to have a small portion daily, if you like.

    Protein percentage range: 38% (part-skim mozzarella) to 21% (feta)
  • Nuts: They provide crunch, flavor, and enjoyment at meals and when snacking. Unfortunately, they don’t provide much nutrition per calorie.

    Also, once you start eating nuts, it can be difficult to stop. Eating too many nuts can increase your caloric intake, making weight loss more difficult.22

    Aim for no more than a small handful no matter what type of nut you choose. Also, portion them out and eat them in a small bowl rather than from the container.

    Protein percentage range: 18% (peanuts) to 4% (macadamia nuts)

  • Low-protein processed meats: Yes, they’re flavorful and convenient. But foods like bacon, sausage, and salami contain far less protein than other meats. Can you still lose weight if you include them in your diet? Absolutely. But try to choose the processed meats listed in the “foods to eat” section most of the time.

    Protein percentage range: 23% (pork sausage) to 14% (hot dog)
  • Added fats: Using butter, cream, or oil in cooking or adding these fats at the table can make vegetables and other foods taste delicious. But when your goal is weight loss, it’s important not to overdo fats, even if you follow a keto or low-carb diet. Add just enough for flavor. Remember, fat loss happens when you burn stored body fat rather than the fat you eat.23

    Protein percentage range: 0% for all fats and oils

  • Starchy vegetables: Carrots, onions, beets, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and most other vegetables that grow below the ground are higher in carbs but lower in protein than non-starchy vegetables. Therefore, their protein percentages are much lower.

    If you’re on a keto or low-carb diet, you’re best off eating them in very small amounts, if at all. If you eat a vegan, vegetarian, or Mediterranean diet, you can enjoy starchy vegetables in modest amounts.

    Protein percentage range: 17% (beets) to 9% (parsnips)

  • Low-sugar fruits: Although they’re rich in certain vitamins, minerals, and fiber, fruits lack sufficient protein. This is also true for the low-carb fatty types often grouped with vegetables: avocado, olives, and coconut.

    You can enjoy berries and non-sweet fruits and still lose weight if you keep portions modest. Aim for about one cup of berries, 20 large olives, half a medium avocado, or 3 tablespoons of shredded unsweetened coconut.

    Protein percentage range: 15% (raspberries) to 3% (olives)

  • Whole grains: Whole grains are often praised for being nutritious, but they’re not particularly high in most nutrients — including protein. Still, some are higher in protein and therefore better than others for weight loss, such as quinoa, buckwheat, and wild rice.

    That said, these less-carby grains shouldn’t play a large role in your diet while losing weight. And if you’re a keto or low-carb eater, you may want to skip them altogether.

    Protein percentage range: 16% (quinoa, buckwheat, and wild rice)

  • Low-carb alcohol: Limit your alcohol intake when trying to lose weight. It provides pure energy (calories) but zero nutrition. Indulging in alcoholic beverages can sometimes interfere with weight loss.24

    If you want an occasional drink, choose dry wine or pure spirits such as whiskey, gin, vodka, or hard seltzer. Limit your alcohol intake to no more than one drink per day to maximize weight loss.

    Protein percentage range: 0% for all alcoholic beverages

  • Low-carb alcohol – the best and the worst drinks
  • Sweeteners: Sugar-free sweeteners are controversial. Some people may find that using them helps them lose weight. However, others may experience carb cravings when they consume sweeteners.25

    If you don’t already know which group you belong to, you can experiment with different types of sweeteners to see how they affect you. Symptoms to watch for include cravings, hunger, or digestive discomfort.

    When using sweeteners, choose types that are calorie-free or nearly calorie-free.

    Protein percentage range: N/A for non-caloric sweeteners

  • Keto sweeteners – the best and the worst

 

Foods and beverages to avoid

Breakfast with soft cheese bagel sandwich and a cup of orange juice

It’s clear that eating a low-carb diet can be extremely effective for losing weight. 26Similarly, cutting back on fat can also be a winning weight loss strategy.27 And, of course, eating more protein can help you feel full so you naturally eat less and lose weight.28

On the other hand, eating foods high in refined carbs and fats — rather than prioritizing protein — can promote weight gain.29

Highly-processed foods have protein percentages near zero, and they’re loaded with empty calories. When protein intake is low — due to being diluted by large amounts of fat, carbs, or both — people are driven to eat more in order to meet their protein needs.30

Steer clear of the foods on this list:

  • Ultra-processed high-carb, high-fat foods: These foods have three strikes against them: they’re high in refined carbs, high in refined fats, and low in protein and other essential nutrients. The high-carb plus high-fat combination is by far the worst for losing weight because it’s so tempting to overeat. Indeed, some researchers suggest that these foods can be addictive.31

    Among the most common offenders are donuts, candy bars, potato chips, fries, ice cream, and cookies. Avoid these and similar products entirely when trying to lose weight and improve your health.

  • Foods high in sugar and refined carbs: Ditch the sugar and anything made with it: jelly, syrup, candy, and others. Honey, maple syrup, and agave may seem more “natural,” but they are still sugars. Read labels for hidden sugars, especially in condiments, salad dressings, packaged foods, and “lite” treats such as nonfat frozen yogurt.

    Likewise, stay away from bread and pasta, refined grains like rice and corn, fat-free chips, crackers, and other snack foods. All of these provide little nutritional value and satiety per calorie. In fact, they may increase your hunger and cravings.32
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages and fruit juice: Soft drinks may be the most common high-sugar beverages, but many others exist, such as sweet tea, punch, lemonade, energy drinks, sports drinks, and flavored coffee creations. All are loaded with empty calories.
    Avoid all types of fruit juice as well. What about 100% unsweetened juice? That’s also packed with “natural” sugar and virtually no protein.
  • Beer and sweet alcoholic beverages: Beer is high in carbs. Sweet wines and liqueurs (Amaretto, Kahlua, and others) are high in sugar. Mixed drinks that combine alcohol with syrupy mixes are clearly not a good beverage choice.

 

High-protein weight loss meal plan

Are you looking for an easy way to save time when losing weight? Try our new high-protein weight loss meal plan, designed to help you lose weight without hunger.

Here’s a sampling of the meals you’ll enjoy:

Jill’s cheese-crusted omelet

Inside its crispy cheese crust, this omelet has turkey, cream cheese, spinach, and more, for a sensational flavor and texture combo.

Venezuelan keto chicken salad

This delicious salad is rich in protein yet creamy and satisfying thanks to a bit of mayo and avocado.

Keto garlic and sesame prawns

You’ll love this dish that features fresh seafood, tender vegetables, and a taste of the exotic.

Check out the complete meal plan, which provides 89 to 140 grams of protein and less than 20 grams of net carbs per day:

Keto: High protein for effective weight loss #1

This highly nutritious meal plan is designed to boost weight loss while enjoying delicious food that helps you feel full and satisfied.

These flavorful meals will provide your body with all the protein, fat, and other essential nutrients needed to be healthy.

You’ll get to enjoy some of our favorite keto feasts, such as Keto cheese tortilla beef burritos and Keto Caprese chicken while staying under 20 grams of net carbs every day.

Full meal plan →



High-protein weight loss recipes

Check out our simple, tasty, and filling high-protein recipes for weight loss:



 

The top 8 high-protein foods

Although protein is found in a wide variety of animal and plant foods, the amounts can differ quite a bit. Here are the top 8 high-protein foods to choose from, along with a few ways to include them in your diet.33

1. Meat

Meat is tasty, filling, and an excellent protein source. Contrary to criticisms that have been made about red meat (beef, pork and lamb), eating it on a regular basis may potentially be beneficial for weight loss, blood sugar control, and insulin resistance.34

Additionally, red meat intake has been shown to increase muscle mass and strength when combined with resistance training.35 And frequent poultry (“white meat”) consumption may also be helpful for losing weight.36

Of course, the rest of the diet matters as well, so it can often be a challenge to attribute a benefit to one particular food.

Here are the amounts of protein per 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of cooked meat (about the size of a deck of cards), unless otherwise noted:

  • Chicken breast: 30 grams
  • Lean steak (filet mignon, top sirloin): 30 grams
  • Lean pork (tenderloin, ham): 26 grams
  • Lamb shank: 26 grams
  • Chicken thigh: 22 grams
  • Lamb chops: 22-24 grams (serving size: 3 small lamb chops)
  • Fatty steak (ribeye): 20-23 grams
  • Bacon: 20-22 grams (serving size: 5 slices, or 60 grams)
  • Fatty pork (ribs, shoulder, butt):20-22 grams
  • Sausage: 18-20 grams

Cooking an extra portion of grilled or roasted meat for dinner and using the leftovers for lunch the next day can save time while helping you meet your protein requirements.

Popular Diet Doctor meat-based recipes:

2. Eggs

It’s tough to find a food more versatile than the egg. Whether used in omelets, quiches, baked goods, or served alone, eggs provide high-quality protein at an affordable price.37 And whole eggs seem to have the edge over egg whites for building muscle.38

Three large eggs provide about 19 grams of protein.

Although often viewed as a breakfast staple, eggs are a smart protein choice anytime. Keeping a supply of hard-boiled eggs in the fridge sets you up with a great grab-and-go protein option for busy days.

Popular Diet Doctor egg-based recipes:

3. Soy

Soy is the only plant protein source that provides adequate amounts of all nine essential amino acids your body can’t make on its own.39 In some studies, soy protein has been found to provide appetite control and weight loss benefits comparable to meat.40 And like eggs, soy is versatile and economical.

We realize that soy is a controversial topic. In our food policy on soy, we discuss why the benefits may outweigh the risks of soy, especially for vegetarians and vegans.

Several protein-rich soy products are low enough in net carbs to fit low-carb or keto lifestyles:

  • Canned black soybeans: 20 grams of protein and 2 grams of net carbs per cup (200 grams)
  • Tempeh: 18-20 grams of protein and 4-7 grams of net carbs per 2/3 cup (100 grams)
  • Nattō: 18-20 grams of protein and 9-12 grams of net carbs per 1/2 cup (100 grams)
  • Edamame beans: 17 grams of protein and 5-7 grams of net carbs per 1 cup (155 grams)
  • Tofu (extra firm): 18-20 grams of protein and 4 grams of net carbs per 1 cup (250 grams)

Buy a bag of frozen edamame beans and sprinkle some shelled ones into soups and salads, or steam them as a vegetable side dish. Fried firm tofu can make a great, crispy, high-protein alternative to salad croutons.

Popular Diet Doctor soy-based recipes:

4. Fish

Like meat and poultry, fish is an excellent source of protein. In addition, oily or fatty types are rich in essential omega-3 fatty acids, which may have some beneficial effects on health.41

What if you don’t like some types of fish, especially those that taste too “fishy”? Good news: all kinds of fish are rich in high-quality protein and other nutrients.

Here are the amounts of protein in 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of cooked fish (about the size of a deck of cards):

  • Non-oily fish (most types, including canned tuna): 24-28 grams
  • Oily or fatty fish (salmon, herring, sardines, mackerel, anchovies): 20-26 grams

Fresh fish is delicious when consumed the same day it’s prepared. However, smoked, frozen, and canned fish are also great options that have longer shelf lives, take less time to prepare, and are less expensive than fresh.

Popular Diet Doctor fish-based recipes:

5. Legumes

Beans and other legumes can be good protein options for vegetarians and vegans. They’re high in fiber, and a few trials suggest that a legume-rich diet may decrease insulin resistance and reduce heart disease risk factors in some people.42

However, the protein in legumes is less easily absorbed than protein from animals and doesn’t provide all the essential amino acids in the amounts your body needs.43 Additionally, most legumes are considerably higher in net carbs than the other protein sources in this guide.

Here are the protein and net carb counts for one serving of various cooked legumes:

  • Lupini beans: 25 grams of protein and 11 grams of net carbs per 1 cup (166 grams)
  • Lentils: 18 grams of protein and 24 grams of net carbs per 1 cup (200 grams)
  • Black beans: 16 grams of protein and 26 grams of net carbs per 1 cup (170 grams)
  • Pinto beans: 15 grams of protein and 25 grams of net carbs per 1 cup (170 grams)
  • Chickpeas/garbanzo beans: 11 grams of protein and 26 grams of net carbs per 1 cup (164 grams)
  • Green peas: 10 grams of protein and 20 grams of net carbs per 1 1/4 cups (200 grams)

6. Greek yogurt

When choosing yogurt, go for Greek. It’s made by straining the liquid whey from yogurt, resulting in a thicker product that’s higher in protein and lower in carbs than other types. In one study, a higher-protein yogurt snack reduced hunger and increased fullness more than a lower-protein yogurt snack.44

Most plain Greek yogurts contain about 15-18 grams of protein and 5 grams of carbs per 170-gram (3/4 cup) container. However, make sure to read nutrition labels, as protein and carb counts vary from brand to brand.

Try Greek yogurt as a sour cream substitute, topped with chopped nuts, or simply enjoy its creamy goodness alone.

Popular Diet Doctor recipes featuring Greek yogurt:

7. Shellfish

Various types of shellfish are popular because of their delicate flavor and texture. Most are rich in high-quality protein and other essential nutrients. One notable exception is oysters, which are relatively low in protein compared to other kinds of shellfish.45

Crustaceans like shrimp, lobster, and most crab are essentially carb-free. However, mollusks like clams, mussels, and scallops do contain some carbs —something to keep in mind if you’re on a strict keto diet.

Check out this list to see how much protein you’ll get from your favorite shellfish (values are per 100 grams/3.5 ounces of cooked shellfish, except where noted):

  • Shrimp: 24-26 grams protein per 10-15 large shrimp
  • Crab: 20-24 grams per 1 crab leg
  • Clams: 24-26 grams of protein and 5 grams of carbs per 10 small clams
  • Lobster: 20-24 grams per medium lobster tail (about 140 grams)
  • Mussels: 22-24 grams of protein and 7 grams of carbs per 20-25 mussels
  • Scallops: 20-22 grams of protein and 4-5 grams of carbs per 6 large sea scallops

While fresh shellfish is always a treat, canned varieties can be handy to keep in the pantry for a quick boost of protein.

Popular Diet Doctor shellfish recipes:

8. Protein powder

At Diet Doctor, we recommend consuming mainly minimally processed foods. So you may be surprised to see protein powder on this list.

We’ve included it because it may be helpful for some vegans and vegetarians who struggle to meet their protein needs on a keto or low-carb diet. This is especially true for vegans who don’t consume soy.

So while we will always recommend that you choose fewer processed foods, we feel that occasionally using protein powder might make sense for some people.

Plant-based protein powders include pea, pumpkin seed, and various grain and legume mixtures. Most provide about 20 grams of protein per serving, and many are low in carbs. For more information and suggestions, see our vegan essential nutrient needs guide.

Here are three Diet Doctor recipes featuring protein powder:

 

Summary

Knowing which foods are highest in protein can help you meet your protein needs. But don’t be concerned if you either don’t like or prefer to avoid some of the foods on the list. As you can see, there are many high-protein options. Choose the kinds you like, be sure to eat one or more protein serving at every meal, and try to mix it up a bit for variety.

 

Start your FREE 30-day trial!

Get instant access to healthy low-carb and keto meal plans, fast and easy recipes, weight loss advice from medical experts, and so much more. A healthier life starts now with your free trial!

Start FREE trial!

Weight loss

 

Meat and poultry


Best fresh meat & poultry for weight loss

  • beef
  • pork
  • chicken
  • lamb
  • veal
  • turkey
  • duck
  • other poultry (goose, pheasant, quail, cornish game hen, emu, ostrich, etc.)
  • organ meats
  • venison
  • buffalo
  • wild game

Best deli & prepared meats for weight loss

  • corned beef
  • ham
  • pastrami
  • prosciutto
  • sandwich meat: turkey, chicken, ham, and roast beef
  • sausage made from chicken or turkey