6 Quick, Easy, & Affordable High-Protein Foods

Article By: Whittany Gibson, RDN

Whittany is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who specializes in bariatric nutrition counseling, providing education and support prior to and following weight loss surgery.

In case you haven’t heard already, protein is a pretty big deal following weight loss surgery. In fact, if you did a quick Google search with the words, “protein + bariatric surgery”, you'd find a million different protein-related products: protein water, protein bars, protein chips, protein gelatin, protein soups, and many more. Protein plays a variety of different roles in the body and is crucial to weight loss success. Without protein, you would not only struggle with your weight loss but would also struggle to meet basic nutrient requirements in general. It is vital to be aware of what foods are high in protein to ensure you meet your goals daily. You can easily meet your protein needs with just a little bit of planning.

These days, there’s no doubt we want easy, convenient, and affordable food options. Consequently, we get takeout, go through drive-thrus, and choose foods that may not be the best for us. These choices may also be void of quality nutrients. Oftentimes, my patients are left struggling to find good go-to foods that support their protein goals. My patients also want choices that don’t require a lot of work in the kitchen. I aim to recommend products that patients can keep in their purses or bags, in their desks at work, or take while traveling. Below are my top recommendations you can incorporate into meals or snacks to help you succeed with staying healthy and meeting your goals:

1) Protein shakes. Ready-to-drink protein shakes are a great way to increase your protein intake, especially in your immediate post-op months. Many shakes will provide at least 15g of protein but try to aim for one closer to 30g to get more value. The main idea with protein shakes is to get adequate protein but also choose one with less than 15g carbohydrates, less than 5g added sugars, and less than 5g of fat per serving. The calorie amount shouldn’t be much more than 200 calories per serving but this is based upon the assumption you will be having five or six small meals per day, around 200 calories each. There are endless brand and flavor options but it is important to get variety. I encourage my patients to try both whey-based and plant-based to get variety in the nutrition they offer, and try to find one that has at least 3g fiber. This will help increase your fiber intake for the day and will keep you feeling more full.

2) Protein waters. Protein waters are popular in the fitness industry but also play an important role in the bariatric world. Almost every one of my patients will find some type of protein water they like following surgery and it becomes a staple item for them. This is due to the fact that protein water can be counted as both a clear liquid for hydration in addition to protein, helping you to meet both of these daily goals! If you can’t find one that you like, I recommend making your own with a flavored water or no added sugar clear liquid mixed with a tasteless protein powder.

3) Roasted edamame. Many people only think about meats, cheese, and eggs as a protein source. But we can also get quality protein from plants. Edamame is a protein-rich snack that has quickly become one of my favorite recommendations due to its nutritional value. In addition to quality protein, it is rich in fiber as well as other vitamins and minerals not found in animal-based proteins. Edamame is one of the only complete plant-based proteins meaning it contains all nine of the essential amino acids to support your protein needs. One convenient form of edamame is roasted edamame. It is sold in a variety of flavor options, both salty and spicy. Opt for the snack sized, pre-portioned bags or portion your own out from full size bags. Other than being great as a standalone snack, they make great additions to salads if you’re looking for a little crunch.

4) Tuna & salmon packets. This option is such a time saver when it comes to lunches or even dinners. Tear it open and eat it straight from the pouch or add to greens to make a quick and easy salad. Fish is very high in protein but tuna and salmon offer a source of healthy fats and are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. The tuna packets come in many interesting and tasty flavors such as ranch, Thai inspired flavored, teriyaki, and many more. This one is a win!

5) Protein bars. Other than protein shakes, protein bars are undoubtedly one of the most popular choices for my bariatric patients. Quick, easy, super packable, and of course, rich in protein. Be careful though, you could end up choosing something too high in either fat or added sugars which might interfere with your daily limits or goals or even cause an upset stomach. When choosing a bar, ensure you get adequate protein from it. Aim for more than 10g per serving. Most typically offer more than 15g protein. Also, you can apply the same guidelines for carbs, fats and calories as you would for protein shakes. Ensure the added sugars and fats are less than 5g per serving, and aim for less than 200 calories.

6) Beef jerky. For all you jerky lovers, this one can be a great option for you. If you choose the right one, it can be a quality protein choice. When purchasing a jerky, you want minimal ingredients other than spices. Ensure you get one that says "no nitrates added". Avoid too high of added sugars by limiting to 5g per serving. Most jerky will be low in carbohydrates and low in fat and most offer at least 9g protein per serving. This might be the salty or savory snack you’ve been craving!

As with anything else in life, moderation is key. Following bariatric surgery, it is important that you don’t rely solely on protein supplements and packaged products with a long list of crazy ingredients. However, you can get the best quality of these products and feel good about it. Plan all you can prior to your busy week and have your protein-rich food and drink options ready and waiting for you so you can succeed long term. Make food fun. Try new things and experiment while also making your nutrition a priority!

BariMelts provides general recommendations, not to be construed as medical advice. Please consult your doctor.

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