May 20, 2024

Protein is a key component of a healthy diet, and while you can certainly get protein from meats, cheeses, and other food items, some of the best protein sources are vegetables. In addition to being easier on your wallet, these veggies (many of which can actually be grown at home, if you’re feeling ambitious) tend to be loaded with other nutrients which some of those other foods may lack.

The Dietary Reference Intake for protein amounts to 56 grams per day for the average sedentary man, and 46 grams per day for the average sedentary woman. If you suspect you’re not getting quite enough protein each day, adding veggies to your diet is a nutritious and easy way to boost your protein intake.

“Protein is a crucial part of a healthy, balanced diet. It’s needed to keep cells in the body healthy—it builds and repairs them, as well as tissues, muscles, skin, hair, and bones. Protein is also needed to make enzymes and hormones, maintain proper fluid balance, and the body’s acid-base balance—which is critical to the body’s survival,” say sisters Tammy Lakatos Shames, R.D., CDN, CFT, and Lyssie Lakatos, R.D., CDN, CFT—aka The Nutrition Twins. “Foods with protein help you to feel satisfied and to prevent overeating. If you don’t get enough protein, you’ll have trouble maintaining lean muscle mass and you may find yourself hungry often.”

High Protein Vegetables

Given the importance of protein, we consulted the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and decided to profile some of the most protein-dense vegetables around. Additionally, alongside each veggie you’ll find a recipe that uses it, making it even easier for you to get your fill of this critical nutrient. Keep reading to find out which veggies you should stock up on!

Broccoli rabe

Protein, per 1 cup (cooked): 6.5 grams

One bunch of broccoli rabe (approximately 437 grams) packs more than a third of the recommended daily amount of protein for the average woman. To incorporate this cruciferous vegetable into your diet, try this savory pasta dish, which is also made with protein-packed sweet Italian sausage. Need another reason to chow down on broccoli rabe? The veggie is also packed with several vital minerals and vitamins, such as folate, and bone-building vitamin K. Try our recipe for Broccoli Rabe and Sausage Pasta:

Green peas

Protein, per 1 cup (frozen then cooked): 8.24 grams

In addition to being packed with protein, green peas are easy to add to just about any dish. This meal pairs the tiny, colorful veggies with half a dozen eggs and bacon, which really takes the protein content to the next level. If you’re on a quest to get more protein, keep a package of frozen peas in your freezer and thaw them whenever you need a little boost. Try our recipe for Creamy Peas With Eggs and Bacon:

Russet potatoes

Protein, per large potato with skin (baked): 7.86 grams

Listen, we don’t need an excuse to eat a baked potato, but if we did, we’d call out this tuber’s stellar protein content. These loaded Russets are great solo, but also go well with a lean piece of chicken, steak, or fish. And for the record, Russet potatoes are a good source of vitamins C and B6, which helps keep your immune system in tip-top shape. Try our recipe for Baked Potatoes:

Spinach

Protein, per 1 cup (cooked): 5.35 grams

“Nutrient-packed and boasting powerful antioxidant protection, spinach contains a range of phytonutrients like carotenoids, as well as flavonoids, and is an excellent source of other antioxidant nutrients including vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, manganese, zinc, and selenium,” note The Nutrition Twins. “It’s excellent for boosting bone health with vitamin K, magnesium, manganese, and calcium, and is also a fabulous source of fiber.”

This healthy side is made with more than a pound of spinach, which makes it an easy and flavorful way to add more protein to your diet. Here, the nutritious green is paired with tamari and sesame seeds—another solid protein source. Try our recipe for Wilted Sesame Spinach:

Collard greens

Protein, per 1 cup (cooked): 5.15 grams

If you’d rather drink your greens, give this nutritious smoothie a try. It’s packed with an impressive two cups of collards, and is also made with fresh lime juice, frozen mango, and green grapes. So drink up!

And in case you’re wondering, collard greens are lauded for more than their protein content. According to a 2018 study, individuals who have a high intake of collards and other cruciferous vegetables have a reduced risk of developing certain types of cancers, including prostate, breast, ovarian, lung, bladder, and colon cancer. Try our recipe for a Good Morning Green Smoothie:

Sweet yellow corn 

Protein, per 1 cup (boiled): 5.08 grams

Use fresh or frozen corn here to make this Thai-inspired noodle dish that also includes rice noodles and tender tofu cubes in a rich coconut curry sauce. Aside from getting a protein boost, your body will thank you because sweet yellow corn is a good source of vitamin B6 and potassium, which is important for blood pressure control and may improve heart health. Try our recipe for Golden Corn and Tofu Curry:

Artichoke hearts

Protein, per 1 cup (boiled): 4.86 grams

Artichokes in general are a particularly good sources of folate and antioxidants, and the veggies may help promote friendly gut bacteria. This, in turn, may reduce your risk of certain bowel cancers, and alleviate constipation and diarrhea. To up your artichoke intake, try our recipe for Crispy Chicken Cutlets With Artichoke Dressing:

Asparagus

Protein, per 1 cup (boiled): 4.32 grams

Serve this asparagus-centric side with your next dinner, be it a piece of grilled fish or a roast chicken. Here, fresh asparagus spears are dressed with a flaxseed walnut crumble. In addition to being packed with protein, this nutritious dish boasts tons of omega-3s, courtesy of the flaxseeds and walnuts.

Just a half cup of cooked asparagus contains around 37 percent of the recommended daily intake for vitamin K. According to the Lakatos sisters, this vitamin is a critical nutrient for bone health that tends to get overlooked. “That half cup serving also provides 34 percent of the RDI for folate, a nutrient which is essential for cell growth and DNA formation, and one that’s critical for a healthy pregnancy,” the Lakatos sisters share. “And if you’re looking to improve your digestive health, asparagus is your ticket. It contains inulin, a prebiotic fiber that feeds healthy gut bacteria and positively impacts gut health.” Try our recipe for Roasted Asparagus With Flax Seed-Walnut Crumble:

Brussels sprouts

Protein, per 1 cup (cooked): 3.98 grams

“Brussels sprouts are one of the most potent cancer fighters out there. That’s because they play a major role in the body’s three systems that are involved with cancer and provide nutrients that support them—the body’s antioxidant system, detoxification system, and the inflammatory/anti-inflammatory system,” the sisters state. “Brussels sprouts are a great source of heart-protective folate and fiber.”

Interested in adding more Brussels sprouts to your diet? Try this sprouts-packed salad, which you can eat on its own for lunch or pair with just about anything for a satiating dinner. Since this salad, which also features toasted pecans, dried cranberries, and shaved provolone cheese, can be made in a big batch, it’s a great holiday dish as well. Try our recipe for Brussels Sprouts Salad:

Portobello mushrooms

Protein, per 1 cup (grilled): 3.97 grams

Next burger or sandwich night, consider swapping out the meat for some grilled Portobello mushrooms instead. These hearty ‘shrooms pack plenty of protein, which is part of the reason why this vegetarian meal keeps you feeling full long after you’ve finished.

“A great source of fiber and immune-boosting vitamin D, zinc and selenium, Portobello mushrooms are the ultimate MLV (Meat Lover’s Vegetable) because of their thick and juicy meaty texture and high protein content,” explain Tammy and Lyssie. “Plus, Portobellos are packed with potent phytonutrients like L-ergothioneine, which prevents inflammation.” Try our recipe for Portobello Patty Melts:

Broccoli 

Protein, per 1 cup (chopped and cooked): 3.72 grams

This dish features broccoli two ways—cooked florets mixed with pasta, as well as roasted broccoli that’s used as the base for a nutritious protein-packed pesto. And that’s a good thing, because aside from being a source of protein, broccoli has myriad of other noteworthy health benefits. As another cruciferous veggie, it may reduce your risk of developing certain cancers. Additionally, according to a study that appeared in the journal Nutrition Research, broccoli can be very useful for lowering cholesterol levels. Try our recipe for Roasted Broccoli Pesto Pasta:

Beet greens

Protein, per 1 cup (cooked): 3.70 grams

In addition to being a source of protein, beet greens are also loaded with tons of important nutrients, including vitamin C, potassium, phosphorus, and zinc. In fact, beet greens are so nutrient-dense that they’ve been shown to reduce liver damage in mice. For a beet boost, try our recipe for Beet-Radicchio Salad:

Sweet potato

Protein, per large potato with skin (baked): 3.62 grams

Though not as high in protein as Russet potatoes, sweet potatoes still pack an impressive protein punch. Enjoy them as a side or solo, but remember to eat the skin if you want to soak up all that protein. This recipe also includes feta cheese, which is another solid source of the muscle-building nutrient.

“Sweet potatoes are one of the best mood-boosting foods there are, as they produce endorphins like mood-boosting serotonin. Sweet potatoes also have fiber, so the energy from the carbs enters your bloodstream more gradually, helping to keep your energy levels stable and preventing mood swings that come with energy highs and lows,” the Lakatos sisters explain. “They’re a rich source of vitamin B6, which is also important to create serotonin. Packed with disease-preventing phytonutrients, sweet potatoes are an excellent source of carotenoids, which fight everything from the negative consequences that come with aging to almost all types of disease.” Try our recipe for Baked Sweet Potatoes With Feta Butter:

Kale

Protein, per 1 cup (cooked): 3.47 grams

Kale and sweet potato join forces in this salad which, despite being meat-free, is filled with protein. Eat it alongside a piece of grilled chicken or fish to add even more protein to your eating regimen. 

“Kale is an ultimate nutrition all-star. It’s packed with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant nutrients, and has been linked to a reduction in oxidative stress and the health problems related to it, like cancer, cataracts, atherosclerosis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,” note The Nutrition Twins. “Kale has a slew of defense tactics to keep your body free from damage. It is 85 percent water and potassium-packed—a brilliant combo to help restore normal fluid balance while rinsing out bloating salt. Kale is an excellent source of bone-healthy vitamin K, as well as vitamins A and C, and the veggie is a very good source of fiber, potassium, B6, and calcium.” Try our recipe for Mustardy Kale Salad With Roasted Sweet Potato and Apple:

Shiitake mushrooms

Protein, per 1 cup (stir-fried): 3.35 grams

“In addition to being a great source of fiber and B vitamins, shiitake mushrooms are superheroes for the immune system,” note Tammy and Lyssie. “They are packed with anti-inflammatory compounds that seem to be largely responsible for helping to strengthen the body’s defenses.” Aside from boasting multiple nutrition benefits, shiitake mushrooms are impressively versatile and can be added to a wide variety of dishes. Here, the healthy fungi are joined by tofu, red cabbage, and salted cashews. Try our recipe for Tofu and Mushroom Larb:

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