Looking for the best sources of protein and healthy carbohydrates? Jennifer Ventrelle, MS, RD, a dietitian and lifestyle program director for the Rush University Prevention Center, recommends the following:
- Eggs. According to Ventrelle, eggs are hands-down the best protein you can eat. "Egg whites are albumin, which is literally the storage form of protein in your body," she says. “Make egg whites a dietary staple — and throw in one yolk a day so you get nutrients found only in yolks without adding too much cholesterol."
- Lean meats, like fish, skinless turkey and chicken, and lean pork (avoid fatty pork products like bacon).
- Dairy products, including low fat milk, cottage cheese, yogurt and 0 percent Greek yogurt. If you don’t drink cow's milk or you want dairy products that are slightly lower in carbs than cow, soy or goat milk products, try unsweetened almond milk products.
- Beans and lentils. Beans and lentils are good sources of protein, but because they're also sources of carbs, limit the amounts you eat. Consider using them for your 1/4 plate of carbs and add a separate protein to your plate. For instance, if you’re a vegetarian, add low fat cheese or 0 percent Greek yogurt to your meal to supplement the protein.
- Nuts and nut butters. "Moderation is the key here, too, because nuts and nut butters contain a lot of fat (even though it's the good type of fat) and calories," Ventrelle says. "I really like the 100-calorie packs of nuts because they're pre-portioned so you don't have to worry about overindulging."
- Soy. Soy is a great source of protein, but stay within the recommended daily allowance of 25 grams per day. And get your soy naturally from foods like edamame, tofu and miso instead of foods (such as protein bars) that contain processed and potentially harmful soy protein isolates.
- Protein powders. If you want to add protein to your diet without adding lots of other stuff, whey or vegan protein powders (available at grocery or health food stores) can help. "Try mixing a scoop of protein powder into your morning oatmeal, or blend it into a smoothie with a cup of fresh berries and a cup of fat-free milk," Ventrelle suggests.
- High-protein granola bars, which are packed with protein but not as high in calories as many protein bars. "Some of those protein bars contain 280 or 300 calories, and that's too much for a snack,” Ventrelle says. "Look for a granola bar with 5 grams of protein and around 150 calories."
- Protein shakes. These are a good option for a meal replacement or snack. “But choose shakes that are lighter in calories — around 150 calories — when you're using them as snacks," Ventrelle cautions.
- Low fat milk, yogurt and 0 percent Greek yogurt (Greek yogurt is also high in protein)
- Whole grain breads, pastas and cereals
- Beans and lentils
- Brown rice, barley, bulgur and quinoa
- Starchy vegetables, including corn, acorn squash, sweet potatoes and green peas
Updated October 2013