Your calorie requirements
Protein is a vital part of your diet. Your body needs protein to build muscle mass and maintain various tissues. Protein is crucial. If you’re trying to lose weight or stay at a healthy weight, you mustn’t reduce your protein intake. What foods are high in protein but low in calories? Including them in your diet is necessary to meet your protein requirements without consuming too many calories.
Your body needs energy for all the activities of daily life. Calories are a measure of the energy in your food. If you eat more calories than you need, you’ll gain weight. If you eat less than you need, you’ll lose weight. When trying to lose weight, don’t reduce your calorie intake below your body’s needs. Your energy needs depend on your age, gender, and activity level.
Adult women (over 19 years) need 1,600 to 2,000 calories a day. Men over 19 require 2,000 to 2,400 calories a day. Calorie requirement varies with age — you’ll need more calories in your twenties than in your fifties. Lifestyle also matters. Athletes and people with active lifestyles need more calories.
When you’re cutting down on calories, try reducing fats to about 10% of your diet. Each gram of fat carries 9 calories, compared to 4 calories per gram of protein or carbohydrate. All fat has the same amount of calories, but polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are better for your blood cholesterol levels.
Your protein requirements
Your body needs protein to build lean muscle mass and for various functions of the body. The protein you eat is broken down into amino acids. Various organs combine the amino acids into proteins they need. These include enzymes, hormones, and other essential molecules.
The protein requirement for adult men is about 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight a day. A 60 kilogram person, for example, would need 48 grams of protein every day. Higher amounts are not harmful. If you eat more protein than you need, your body breaks it down to provide energy. A gram of protein generates 4 calories. In general, adult women need 46 grams of protein a day, and adult men 56 grams.
These amounts seem like a lot, but several foods are rich in protein. A daily protein requirement of 60 grams can be met by having two eggs, a glass of milk, a 3-ounce portion of baked fish, and a cup of cottage cheese. Even athletes with a greater protein requirement can get it from food. Supplements are rarely necessary.
What foods are high in protein but low in calories?
Proteins and carbohydrates both provide 4 calories per gram. Fats are energy-dense — they give you 9 calories for every gram consumed. Increasing your protein consumption without adding many calories needs knowledge and care.
Foods useful for increasing your protein intake include eggs, red meat, poultry, seafood, dairy products, legumes, nuts, seeds, and soy products. However, within these classes of foods, some are more protein-packed than others. Some provide protein combined with lots of fats. You should get into the habit of reading labels carefully and choosing wisely. Of course, how you cook your food makes a huge difference to its protein-calorie balance.
Protein rich dairy products
Milk is a marvelous food, rich in protein, calcium, and vitamins. But it is also rich in fat. You should choose skim milk or 1% fat milk.
Cheeses are tasty and add significant protein to your diet. But most cheeses (like brie, cheddar, and stilton) contain 20 to 40 grams of fat per 100 grams. Look for reduced-fat hard cheeses, which usually have 10 to 16 grams of fat per 100 grams. Also, make sure the salt content is less than 1.5 grams per 100 grams. If you’re using cheese to add flavor to a dish, use those with a stronger flavor, such as mature cheddar or blue cheese. You’ll need less of it.
Butter, cream, and yogurt
Butter is high in both saturated fat and salt. It’s best to have only small amounts. Low-fat spreads are a suitable, healthier alternative. Cream is similarly high in fat.
Low-fat yogurts are a healthy option, but make sure there’s not a lot of sugar added.
Dairy alternatives like soy milk, yogurt, and cheeses provide protein. But they’re rich in saturated fats. Always read the labels and choose unsweetened products with low fat and salt content.
Meat is good for adding protein, vitamins, and minerals to your diet. But some meat is rich in fats, so you should choose carefully. In general, ask for lean cuts of meat. If buying packed meat, look at the label for the fat content.
Processed meats like sausages, salami, and pate are high in fat and salt. Turkey and chicken without the skin and back bacon have less fat.
Fish are good sources of protein and also provide essential fatty acids. But oily fish like sardines and herrings are high in fats, too. You should limit eating these fish to once a week. Baking, grilling, or steaming fish is better than frying it.
An egg contains 80 calories and 6 grams of protein. Try to eat the whites only, as they have the protein. Discarding the yolk avoids the fat and most of the calories.
Plant protein sources
Nuts, nut butters, dried beans, and peas are also rich in protein and don’t have excessive calories.
You should get some of your protein from plant sources. An all-meat diet increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers like colon cancer. Some plant sources like quinoa, soy protein, and Quorn have proteins with all the amino acids needed by humans. But it’s not compulsory to eat these if you don’t like them. Eating a variety of plant source proteins like lentils, beans, pulses, soy, and whole grains will provide all the amino acids you need.
If you’re trying to lose weight, you should control the total calories you eat. Gram for gram, protein has only half the calories of fat. You can increase your protein intake without calories by choosing high-protein foods and cooking them with minimal or low amounts of fat. Knowing what foods are high in protein but low in calories will help you.
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Medically Reviewed on 5/5/2022
British Heart Foundation: “Protein: What you need to know.”
National Health Service: “Dairy and alternatives in your diet,” “Fish and shellfish,” “Meat in your diet,” “Starchy foods and carbohydrates.”
Stanford Children’s Health: “Components of Food.”
University of Rochester Medical Center: “Components of Food,” “Nutrition and Cancer: High-Protein Foods.”
U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025.”