The 9 Best Protein Sources For a Ketogenic Diet

Are you trying to fit more protein into your diet?  Are you confused about how to optimise your protein intake whilst staying low carb?  Maybe you are bored of eating the same type of protein week in week out! In this article I’m going to help guide you through the information by sharing the Carb Dodging top 9 choices for Best Protein Sources, saving as always the best until last!

Table of Contents

What makes a good protein?

We all know that protein is an essential part of our diet, it is needed for building and maintaining muscle and bone strength and an endless number of other body functions. BUT what makes for a good protein source on a low carb/ ketogenic diet?

Here at Carb Dodging we believe that there are 5 key things that we need to consider;

1. Low in Carbohydrate

This is obvious isn’t it ? We are recommending a low carbohydrate, ketogenic way of eating so our protein source must have a low amount of carbohydrate so that it doesn’t raise our blood sugar levels.

2. Complete Protein

Amino Acids are the building blocks of proteins and different combinations make up different proteins. There are 20 different amino acids found within the human body and 9 of these are ESSENTIAL.

By the term essential we mean that they have to be consumed as we cannot make them. The other non-essential amino acids can be made from the 9 essential ones.

  • Phenylalanine
  • Valine
  • Tryptophan
  • Threonine
  • Isoleucine
  • Methionine
  • Histidine
  • Leucine
  • Lysine

Complete proteins are foods which contain all of these essential amino acids. If we don’t eat the full range of these amino acids in sufficient quantity we can become protein deficient and this will have poor health consequences over the long term for example;

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Muscle loss “sarcopenia’
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia

We recommend eating complete proteins as much as possible to ensure that we meet the needs for optimal health.

Complete proteins are almost entirely sourced from animal products with a few exceptions ( eg; Soy)

Vegan and vegetarian diets can obtain sufficient amounts of all essential proteins but need to pay particular attention to eating a variety of foods to achieve this. HOWEVER these combinations of non animal based proteins such as whole grains and legumes are often high in carbohydrate so NOT ideal on a low carbohydrate diet!

A side note about Broccoli… as it is often touted that you can meet all your protein needs from it

Broccoli does contain all 9 essential amino acids but very low amounts of 3 of them. To obtain enough protein to meet the daily needs of an average person you would have to consume a whopping 25 cups of the stuff!! (2263 grams).

Low Carb Broccoli Rice

3. Bio-availability

This refers to the amount of protein that is absorbed and used by the body as it is digested from within the gut. There are different scales used to define how ‘bio-available’ each protein source is , the most recent being the “PDCAAS’ the Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score which looks at not just the bio-availability of the protein but also its amino acid profile. We want to eat protein foods that have the highest bioavailability score… it’s no good if a food source has a high amount of protein that we are unable to actually digest!

4. Nutrient Density

The best food sources are those which are nutrient dense, containing a variety of protein, fats, vitamins and minerals. So whilst we are focusing today on protein, we like to pack as much nutrition as we can into our food choices. Nutrient dense foods will be Real, wholefood sources.

5. Fat content

We understand that a keto diet allows us to consume natural fats fairly freely, however it is not recommended to unnecessarily over consume fats and indeed if weight loss is a goal for you then you may want to limit your fat intake.

So our recommendation is not to just consume the higher fat protein sources, it is probably best to mix it up and eat a variety of different protein sources.

The List

In reverse order … saving the Carb dodging best until the end!

9. Nuts

Nuts contain moderate amounts of protein and are not complete proteins but really make the list because of their nutrient density.
Best Protein Sources

They are great to supplement other sources of protein in your diet and are packed full of Omega 3 fatty acids, Vitamin E, B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, potassium and of course fibre.

They vary in their carbohydrate content so opt for the lowest, and eat with the skin on to preserve their antioxidant properties;

Almonds, Walnuts, Brazil,  Hazelnuts, Pecans, Macadamia

In fact… I’ve covered this in another video which you can see by clicking the link.

8. Seeds

Like nuts these are powerhouses of nutrition but sit higher on the list as our lower carb options have more protein gram for gram. 

They are still an incomplete protein so need to be used to supplement other protein foods.

Best Protein Sources
seeds and nuts collection

Why not try adding some to your salads or having as a snack.

Hemp,
Pumpkin,
Sunflower,
Sesame,
Flax seeds.

7. Soy

Best Protein Sources

Soy makes the list because as a plant based source of protein it is equivalent  to animal proteins in terms of its completeness and bioavailability. 

It is the most widely used vegetable source of protein because of this and if you are Vegan or vegetarian then this can be a good source of protein for you to consume.

So why is this not higher on the list if it is a complete protein and has excellent bio-availability?

We know that Soybeans are used by the food industry to produce vegetable oil, to be used as meat substitute products, it is added to most processed foods, used in infant formula, protein shakes & bars for human consumption.

The heavy processing of this crop destroys  a lot of its natural goodness in the same way most industrial food production alters the natural structure of the original ingredient.

Commonly, it is a GMO crop with heavy pesticide use. However, food processing for humans actually only accounts for a small percentage of its global use.

The biggest driver for its exponential growth is the demand for animal feed. Mostly grown in the USA and South America, it has seen one of the largest expansions of any global crop particularly in the last 50years.

Soy is also used for the production of biodiesel, and as a replacement for petroleum based materials.

Unfortunately, this expansion has come at a cost. As demand increases, huge areas of natural land are converted into soy plantations, causing wide-scale deforestation and other devastating knock-on effects – the Amazon rainforest being of particular concern.

DEFORESTATION

It is this environmental impact that is our biggest concern.

So is it all bad?

If you choose carefully you can enjoy soy based foods as an alternative to or as a supplement to meat. And this will provide you with a good source of protein.

Soy has been enjoyed for hundreds of years, particularly across Asia, however this has been a far cry from the soy based products that are commonly available today.

Traditional soy products are minimally processed and usually slowly fermented to reduce the natural toxins that are present in the beans.

So if you wish to enjoy soy,  I’d strongly recommend you try to find certified (sustainable)products to protect the environment, choose organic whole food varieties where possible to minimise the chemical treatment and processing of the beans such as fermented real soy sauce, miso or tempeh.

6. Eggs

We love eggs and eat a lot of them at Carb Dodging! They are a bit of a superfood nutrition powerhouse with almost zero carbohydrates in them.

You get approx 12.6g protein per 100g, 9g of fat, with a rich package of Vitamins and minerals.

A,D, B2, B12, Folate, Biotin, Pantothenic acid and choline. 

Minerals Phosphorus, Iodine and Selenium.

Spanish Low Carb Baked Eggs
Spanish Low Carb Baked Eggs

5. Dairy Products

Dairy can be a great source of protein that can just about be incorporated into any meal.

Cheese

A great source of protein, low in carbohydrate and packed with calcium, fat, vitamins A and B12, zinc, phosphorus and riboflavin.
Best Protein Sources

Choose carefully if you need to watch your weight as the fat content can be a little too high for some. Cheese can also be a bit of a trigger food for some people, and is easy to over consume.

Cottage cheese comes in with the highest amount of protein and the lowest fat content and so is a great choice.

Yogurt

Another great source of protein that’s low in carbs and full of other nutritional benefits, but how confusing is the yogurt fridge in the supermarket?!
Best Protein Sources

Most commercially available yogurts are unfortunately full of added sugars and flavourings and are NOT so healthy.

The best option for a low carb/keto diet is Full fat Greek Yogurt or some of the newer brands of high protein yogurt.  This typically has 6-10g protein per 100g serving and only 3-5g carbs.

Best Protein Sources

Quark

The new kid on the block has a huge 14g/100g protein and only 3.3g/100g carb, 75kcal… but is this yogurt or actually cheese?? 

I’ve tried this and it tastes like a cross between blended cottage cheese and yogurt. 

I’m guessing it could be quite versatile… let me know if you’ve tried it.

Whey Protein

Whey protein from milk is made from the liquid separated from cheese production and you will have seen the liquid that floats on the top of yogurt…. That is whey! 

It is a complete protein and is absorbed super easily.

Best Protein Sources

As a powder supplement it is however just protein, it contains no additional nutritional benefits. It can have added sugars to enhance the flavour so if you do use it be careful to read the label and choose one that’s very low in sugar. 

Choose whey protein Isolate or concentrate as these have the highest amount of protein 70-90%

We don’t recommend this as a meal replacement but it can be useful as a means to consume additional protein, especially if you exercise regularly, particularly strength training.

4. Poultry

Not only is poultry a great source of protein, but it is plentiful in B vitamins, iron, zinc, copper and selenium.

Chicken

The most popular source of poultry is chicken, with breast meat having the highest protein content but for many the least flavoursome.

Chicken thighs are a great keto option as they are higher in fat and definately have more flavour, they are also much cheaper.

Low Carb Crispy Chicken Drumsticks with Smoky Slaw
Low Carb Crispy Chicken Drumsticks with Smoky Slaw

Unfortunately the majority of chicken production is intensively managed and grain fed, and plumped with water to increase its weight. You’ll see this with cooking when the excess watery fluid  is released.

So if you enjoy chicken, try to get the best quality you can afford.

Other great sources of poultry are; Turkey, duck, goose.

Turkey

With similar amounts of protein to chicken, Turkey is a great alternative. More plentiful in the darker meat which will provide more natural fat and again more flavour.
Best Protein Sources

Duck

Has a much higher fat content than other poultry and it is rich in B vitamins, selenium, phosphorus, and iron. 

Seemingly lower in protein than chicken or turkey but if you discount the skin, the protein content per weight of the meat increases significantly. 

Presuming we eat the whole duck including skin, then duck also offers a substantial amount of dietary glycine.

Low Carb Five Spice Duck Salad
Low Carb Five Spice Duck Salad

Glycine is an important but non essential amino acid that plays a wide range of roles within the body, and duck offers 1614 mg per 100 grams. There is some evidence that increasing our dietary intake can have various benefits, particularly off setting the often over consumed amino acid methionine.

3. Red Meat

Red meat comes in at number 3 for our best protein sources due to its nutritional density, being particularly rich in haem iron. This is the most bioavailable source of iron. 

Adequate intake of iron is essential for the production of red blood cells. Iron deficiency is a common cause of anaemia. 

Yes you can get iron from plant sources, however this is non-haem iron which is not as available to the body as haem iron. In fact haem iron from meat enables the body to absorb more of the non-haem iron from plant sources when consumed together.

Like with our other animal sources of protein, we consume what the animal consumes, so wherever possible try to buy grass fed meat from sources that are not intensively farmed.

Beef

So many cuts to choose from to suit any taste, preference and budget, and so many different ways to prepare and enjoy, and it really is a case of choose and cook any which way you want to!

Depending on the cut of beef the protein content is likely to be 25-30g per 100g with varying fat content. Choose your cut to suit your own dietary needs in terms of fat.

A mention here about the importance of B12 in your diet. B12 is an essential nutrient that is important for blood formation and your brain and nervous system. Animal-derived foods, such as meat, are the only good dietary sources of vitamin B12.

Beef as Best Protein Sources
Keto Beef Fajitas with Lime Guacamole

Pork

Pork is particularly rich in Thiamine (vitamine B1). Amongst other things, this is essential for the production of energy in our cells. It is also a great source of selenium, phosphorus, zinc, B6 and 12, and iron.

Choose carefully though as many pork products such as sausages are highly processed with added ingredients such as sugar and carbohydrates.

Italian Keto Pork Ribs
Italian Keto Pork Ribs

Lamb

Lamb is the oldest known domesticated meat species, going back approx 9000 years in the Middle East. 

It has a similar nutritional profile to beef and pork with a high protein content and a plentiful supply of other vitamins and minerals. 

A wonderful flavoursome meat that pairs well with many middle eastern spices and is equally delicious as a simple roast joint. 

If you can buy grass fed lamb then you get the added benefits of a richer supply of Conjugated Linoleic acid, an important source of fat in our diet.

Keto Lamb Kebabs with Cauliflower Couscous
Keto Lamb Kebabs with Cauliflower Couscous

2. Fish

This superfood comes in at number 2. Whilst being low carb and high in bioavailable protein it can also deliver a great amount of healthy Omega 3 fats.

These fats are super important for our health and most people do not consume anywhere near enough.

Please see my other video for a more detailed look at healthy fats.

It is vital that we try to balance our omega 3 to omega 6 ratio by reducing omega 6 intake and increasing that of omega 3.  This helps to reduce our risk of poor health with CVD, diabetes and other inflammatory conditions.  Like other animal sources of protein, fish is a nutrient dense food,  providing an array of vitamins and minerals such as calcium, iodine, potassium, Vitamin D.  Iodine and vit D intake is known to be low in populations such as in the UK so by eating more fish we can help to offset that problem. You’ve got a wide range of fish to choose from; You have  Oily fish, shellfish and white fish;

Oily fish

Salmon, sardines, mackerel, pilchards, herring, trout.

These contains the highest amount of omega 3, so try to have at least once a week.

Shellfish

Mussels, prawns, crab, oysters, squid, lobster.

Some of these still deliver omega 3 but not quite as much as oily fish. A great source of selenium, zinc, iodine and copper.

White fish

Cod, haddock, plaice, pollock, coley, dab, flounder, red mullet, Tilapia, sea bass, halibut.

A great low fat option if you prefer whilst still packing a protein punch.

If you can please buy sustainable fish to help preserve fish stocks and protect the environment.
Creamy Keto Friendly Fish Pie
Creamy Keto Friendly Fish Pie

So finally our number one choice for Best Protein Sources is...

1. ORGAN MEAT

Organ meat or Offal used to be a lot more popular, but not so much these days and yet it is probably THE MOST nutrient dense food you can consume.

It fits the keto/ low carb way of eating incredibly well given its typically higher fat content with a good amount of protein and minimal carbohydrate.

Liver for example, can provide more than 500% of the RDA for copper, Vitamin A and B12. Delicious as a pate… why not try our liver and bacon pate recipe.

Low Carb Chicken Liver and Bacon Pate
Low Carb Chicken Liver and Bacon Pate
Kidneys are very rich in B vitamins and selenium and make a great addition to beef or pork dishes.
Organ meat tends to be cheaper than other cuts of meat and can be used to bulk out other meat dishes such as bolognaise, or a beef stew, reducing the cost of your meal whilst increasing its nutrient density.
Cuban Keto Beef Stew
Cuban Keto Beef Stew
We also love the fact that when we get worried about the environmental impact of animal husbandry, what better way to reduce the over consumption than by eating so much more of the animal rather than wasting it!

Summary

So there you have it… the Carb Dodging top 9 protein superfoods.

If you include a variety of these in your meals each week you can easily obtain sufficient protein whilst boosting your intake of a wide range of essential fats, vitamins and minerals and of course remain low carb.