When we think protein, we often go straight for animal-based foods like turkey, eggs, and even protein powder. Athletes often overlook plant-based sources of the macronutrient we need to build muscle, produce hormones, and more. However, plenty of plants pack more protein than we realize. Here, we break down high-protein vegetables to grab next time you hit the supermarket.
Getting Protein From Plants
While no single vegetable can provide all of the protein your body needs daily (unless you're willing to house an entire bucket of it), you can easily load up by incorporating a variety of protein-rich plants.
“Most vegetables are not complete sources of protein, meaning they don't contain all of the essential amino acids that our body needs to make proteins,” Maggie Michalczyk, RDN, creator of Once Upon a Pumpkin, explains. "So, pairing them with other sources of plant-based protein will ensure you meet your protein requirements.”
6 High-Protein Vegetables and How to Eat Them
Not sure where to start? Read on for the experts' go-to plant-based foods for protein.
1. Green Peas
Considered starchy vegetables (like corn and potatoes), green peas are perhaps the most impressive high-protein vegetables in the game.
“One cup of green peas provides 8 grams of protein," dietitian Allison Knott, MS, RDN, CSSD, says.
That’s about as much protein as a glass of cow’s milk, and they also pack a whopping 8 grams of fiber per cup.
2. Beans and Legumes
“According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, beans and legumes are grouped as a protein, but are also considered to be a part of the vegetable group,” Knott says.
Right up there with peas, beans and legumes also provide impressive amounts of protein per serving. Here's how much protein half a cup of a few popular types of beans and legumes provide:
- black beans: 7 grams
- pinto beans: 8 grams
- lentils: 9 grams
- edamame: 8 grams
“Soy is an especially good source of protein because it contains a balance of the essential amino acids,” Knott says.
This means that — unlike most vegetables — it's considered a "complete protein." Not feeling edamame? Try tempeh (a tofu-like product made from fermented soybean), which provides about 16 grams of protein per half cup.
Though non-starchy vegetables (leafy greens, squash, and cruciferous veggies) contain more modest amounts of protein, the few grams here and there really add up if you’re eating a plant-based meal.
One cup of kale contains 3 grams of protein, but since we often eat it a few cups at a time (like in giant salads), we end up taking in at least 6 grams.
Another perk of kale: The curly green contains off-the-charts amounts of vitamins A, C, and K.
Broccoli, which weighs in at about 2.5 grams of protein per cup, may not be able to hold its own as a protein source, but it does make a worthy contributor to any meal that contains other sources of plant-based protein, Knott says.
Throw some broccoli and tempeh over some heat for a stir-fry, and you're in business.
While asparagus packs just slightly over 2 grams of protein per cup, it's also a great source of fiber and vitamin K, and helps boost the protein content of any meal, Michalcyzk says.
Looking for an excuse to eat more potatoes? Here it is.
With about 3 grams of protein per cup (and 7.5 grams in a whole baked potato), spuds provide both the protein and carbohydrates active bodies need, especially for post-workout recovery. Michalcyzk recommends pairing them with beans or other high-protein vegetables for a well-balanced meal.