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High-Protein, Low-Carb Foods That Nutritionists Love

Why try a high-protein, low-carb diet?

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Prioritizing protein while cutting carbs is one of the most common diet approaches, since protein is associated with muscle growth and carbs with weight gain. (P.S. This is how much protein you should eat per day.) Even if you're not eating low-carb, high-protein all the time, you might opt to eat that way on occasion. For example, some athletes choose to adopt carb cycling, which typically involves cycling between low- and high-carb days depending on their training schedule.

While protein powders and bars take part of the effort out of hitting macro goals, it's totally doable to hit the same numbers without relying on protein-added foods (which don't tend to measure up in terms of other nutrients). Here are some high-protein, low-carb foods (that are nutritionist-approved!) to get you started.

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Tuna

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Any animal protein is going to be high-protein and low-carb—but seafood, in particular, has tons of associated health benefits. "I really find that some of the cultures in the world that eat greater amounts of fish have healthier bodies overall," says Ilana Muhlstein, R.D., co-creator of 2B Mindset. "For example, Japanese people who eat more fish tend to have lower instances of obesity and heart disease and greater longevity." If you're weirded out by canned tuna, consider raw sushi-grade ahi tuna, which is just as convenient. (If this sounds golden to you, consider the pescatarian diet.)

Nutrition (per 172g can): 40g protein, 0g carbs

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Salmon

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Another seafood option, salmon is not only high in protein but loaded with healthy fats, so it's a stellar choice for those on the keto diet. Opt for wild-caught when possible, which tends to be higher in heart-healthy omega-3s and lower in less-healthy omega-6s, says Muhlstein. "Really good wild-caught salmon also contains beta-carotene and vitamin A," she says.

Nutrition (per 3 oz): 23g protein, 0g carbs

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Cottage Cheese

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Cottage cheese is "one of the most underrated foods on earth," but the fitness community is on to its protein and carb stats, says Muhlstein. For a savory, high-protein dip, mix cottage cheese with Trader Joe's Everything but the Bagel Sesame Seasoning and chopped chives and scoop it up with sliced cucumber, she suggests.

Nutrition (per 4 oz, 1 percent fat): 14g protein, 3g carbs

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Sardines

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A single can of sardines is packed (pun intended) with 23 grams of protein. Plus, they're loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, says Monica Auslander Moreno, R.D., nutrition consultant for RSP Nutrition. Not to mention, "they're easy, cheap, and have a very long shelf life." Win, win, win.

Nutrition (per 92g can): 23g protein, 0g carbs

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Greek Yogurt

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When Greek yogurt is made, liquid whey (where a lot of the carbs are concentrated) is strained off. Plain is the lowest-carb option, but you don't have to eat it straight up. Muhlstein suggests blending plain Greek yogurt with powdered peanuts, stevia, and a splash of almond milk to create a "wonder whip."

Nutrition (per 7 oz, plain low-fat): 20g protein, 4g carbs

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Skyr

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Skyr is Greek yogurt's hip, Icelandic cousin that's even higher in protein. It's made by heating milk, adding live cultures, then draining the liquid. Though it's technically a cheese, you'll find it in the yogurt aisle—popular brands include siggi's and Icelandic Provisions. Like Greek yogurt, skyr contains probiotics and calcium.

Nutrition (per 100g, plain): 8g protein, 3g carbs

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Tofu

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Tofu is a solid source of calcium and iron, according to Auslander Moreno. And it has plenty of potential beyond stir-fries. If you don't like the sponginess factor, throw some into your smoothies or try out a tofu cheesecake recipe. (This tofu scramble makes the perfect vegan, keto breakfast.)

Nutrition (per 100g, extra firm): 7g protein, 2g carbs

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Egg Whites

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Whole eggs are a high-protein, low-carb choice with choline and vitamins D and B6. But if you want an even higher protein-to-carb ratio, skip the yolk. An egg white omelet is the obvious choice, but for a less breakfasty option, Muhlstein suggests using cooked egg whites as the base of an "egg white pizza."

Nutrition (per 1 cup): 26g protein, 2g carbs

Photo: Alexandralaw1977 / Shutterstock

Lean, Grass-Fed Beef

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Beef is one of the most efficient ways to eat high-protein and low-carb. "When it's organic and grass-fed, it's also typically going to be lower in saturated fat and also higher in omega-3s," says Muhlstein. In addition to protein, beef is really high in iron, which a lot of people are lacking in, she says.

Nutrition (per 4 oz): 26g protein, 0g carbs

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Lupini Beans

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You heard it here first: Muhlstein predicts lupini beans (aka lupin beans) will become the next big plant-based protein trend. Legumes won't fly if you're following an extremely low-carb diet like the keto diet. But if you do eat beans, go with lupinis, which have a surprisingly high protein-to-carb ratio. "They actually have more protein, less carbs, and less fiber than soybeans and edamame," she says.

Nutrition (per 1/2 cup): 13g protein, 8g carbs

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Shrimp

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Shrimp is kind of a big deal. It's high in iron, vitamin B12, choline, and selenium, says Auslander Moreno. Also worth noting: Shrimp tends to be lower in mercury than other seafood options. (These citrus and soy shrimp lettuce wraps are a great low-carb dinner option.)

Nutrition (per 3 oz): 20g protein, 0g carbs

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