Protein is an essential nutrient. Our bodies need it to form and repair tissues. Although animal foods are usually high in protein, some plants are also high in protein.
The best plant-based sources of protein include tofu, gram, and peanuts, which are classified as beans. That said, some vegetables can boost a good protein per calorie intake.
Here are 14 vegetables that are rich in protein.
A watercress is a crucified plant that grows in water. It is abundant in protein per calorie.
Watercress has the following protein content:
- One cup (34 grams) of watercress provides 0.8 grams of protein.
- 100 grams of watercress provides 2.3 g of protein and 11 calories.
- Protein makes up 84% of its calories.
One cup of watercress provides 85 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin K, which is about 100% of the recommended daily dose for adults. It is an important vitamin for blood and bone health. Watercress is a rich source of vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant, and also contains B vitamins, calcium, potassium, and vitamin A.
In addition, watercress provides antioxidant protection. It also contains phenolic compounds that can help prevent cancer. Avoid boiling watercress in water, as it will reduce the antioxidant content in it. Instead, eat raw watercress in salads, fill it with sandwiches, or mix it into smoothies.
Spinach is one of the most nutritious leafy green vegetables a person can eat. Spinach contains the following amount of protein.
- One cup (25 grams) of raw spinach provides 0.7 grams of protein.
- 100 grams of spinach provides 2.9 g of protein and 23 calories.
- Protein makes up 50% of its calories.
Spinach protein contains all the essential amino acids. One cup of spinach provides 121 mcg of vitamin K, which is only 100% of a person’s daily needs.
Spinach is also an excellent source of folate, vitamin A, vitamin C, magnesium, iron, potassium, and calcium. Spinach contains plant compounds that can boost antioxidant defenses and reduce inflammation.
In an observational study, researchers gave nitrate-rich spinach to healthy people and observed its effects on nitric oxide levels, which is a molecule that widens blood vessels. They also observed cell function and blood pressure. They showed that nitrate-rich spinach promotes nitric oxide, upgrades endothelial cell function, and lowers blood pressure that can improve heart health. Research has also shown that eating spinach reduces the risk of some cancers, including breast cancer.
Alfalfa sprouts are low in calories but abundant in nutrients.
Alfalfa sprouts contain the following protein content.
- (33 grams) Alfalfa sprouts contain 1.3 g of protein.
- 100 grams of alfalfa sprouts offers 4 g of protein and 23 calories.
- Protein makes up 69% of their calories.
This vegetable is a rich source of Vitamin K and a good source of Folate, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Zinc, Copper, and Vitamin C. Animal studies show that alfalfa sprouts can lower cholesterol levels. This may be due to the high content of saponins in them. Saponins are a group of compounds that can lower cholesterol.
In an earlier study, researchers found that 15 people were given 40 grams of alfalfa seeds three times daily for 8 weeks to upgrade their blood lipid levels. They had a 17% reduction in total cholesterol and an 18% reduction in low-density lipoprotein, or “bad” cholesterol. Research has also shown that alfalfa sprouts can reduce inflammation, menopausal symptoms, and their high vitamin K content helps prevent osteoporosis.
Chinese Cabbage, or Bok Choy
Chinese cabbage, also known as napa cabbage and bok choy, has a high protein content per calorie.
Chinese cabbage contains the following proteins:
- One cup (70 grams) of chopped cabbage contains 1.1 grams of protein.
- 100 g of cabbage contains 1.5 g of protein and 13 calories.
- Protein makes up 46% of its calories.
Cabbage is an amazing source of vitamins A, C, and K. It is also a good source of folate and a good source of calcium, and potassium. Numerous cell studies found that Chinese cabbage is high in compounds that have antioxidant properties. Its outer leaves are high in antioxidants and also have inflammatory properties.
Some studies suggest that brassica vegetables including cabbage may have compounds that lower the risks of prostate cancer. In addition, animal studies show that taking cabbage powder supplements reduces the risk of liver cancer.
Asparagus is a very popular vegetable that is rich in nutrients.
Asparagus has the following protein content.
- One cup (134 grams) of asparagus contains 3 g of protein.
- 100 grams of asparagus contains 2.2 grams and 20 calories.
- Protein makes up 44% of its calories.
Asparagus is also an excellent source of vitamin K, folate, and riboflavin. It also contains some magnesium, phosphorus, and vitamin A. Asparagus may also have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. It also contains fructooligosaccharides. These provide antibiotic benefits, stimulating the growth of friendly intestinal bacteria. People can grill, boil, steam, or fry asparagus, and it serves as a salad and side dish.
Mustard greens belong to the Brassica family. They are very similar to bananas but have a different taste of mustard.
Mustard greens contain the following proteins.
- One cup (56 grams) of chopped mustard greens contains 1.6 grams of protein.
- 100 grams of mustard greens contain 2.9 g of protein and 27 calories.
- Protein makes up 42% of their calories.
One cup of 144 mcg also provides vitamin K, which is more than 100% of a person’s daily requirement. They are an excellent source of vitamin C and also contain calcium, potassium, and B vitamins. They are also a good source of vitamin E.
Mustard greens also contain phenolic compounds that give them antioxidant properties. A test-tube study has shown that boiling mustard greens increase the ability to bind to bile acids. This can help them lower their cholesterol levels. You can steam, boil or fry mustard greens, or can eat them raw.
Collard greens are dark green, loose leafy vegetables from the same family as bananas, broccoli, and cabbage.
Collard greens contain the following amount of protein.
- One cup (36 grams) of chopped collard greens contains 1.1 grams of protein.
- 100 grams of collard greens contain 3 g protein and 32 calories.
- Protein makes up 38% of their calories.
Their vitamin K content is particularly noteworthy, with 157 mcg in a cup. That’s about 131% of a person’s daily needs. They are also rich in vitamin C and folate, a good source of calcium and some potassium. Being another member of the Brassica family, Collard greens are an amazing source of phenolic compounds and antioxidants.
Research has linked high levels of antioxidants in collard greens to a reduced risk of prostate cancer. One study found that people who ate crucified vegetables, such as collard greens, were less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer.
Collard greens can also be linked to bile acids in the gut, which helps lower cholesterol levels. Research has shown that steam cooking increases this benefit. People can enjoy steamed or steamed collard greens. They are especially delicious when combined with other vegetables, including onions and mushrooms.
Broccoli is a very popular vegetable that contains protein along with all the essential amino acids. People can enjoy it raw or cooked.
Broccoli has the following protein content.
- One cup (88 grams) of chopped broccoli provides 2.5 grams of protein.
- 100 grams of broccoli contains 2.8 g of protein and 34 calories.
- Protein makes up 33% of its calories.
Broccoli is a very rich source of vitamins C and K, a good source of folate, and a reasonable source of phosphorus and potassium. It also contains some calcium. Broccoli also provides high levels of plant compounds and flavonoids, such as camphor. They can have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer effects.
Like other cruciferous vegetables, broccoli is also high in glucosinolates, compounds that can help reduce the risk of cancer. Like mustard greens, broccoli has also a greater ability to bind bile acids when boiled, so eating boiled broccoli can help lower blood cholesterol levels. Broccoli is also beneficial for liver health because it stimulates the production of detoxification and antioxidant compounds in the liver.
Brussels sprouts are a great addition to most diets. They are a good source of protein, fiber, and vitamins.
Brussels sprouts have the following protein content:
- One cup (88 grams) of Brussels sprouts provides 3 g of protein.
- 100 g of Brussels sprouts provides 3.4 g of protein and 43 calories.
- Protein makes up 31% of their calories.
One cup contains 3.3 g of fiber. Brussels sprouts are also rich in vitamins C and K and are a good source of folate and vitamin B-6. They are also an amazing source of iron and potassium.
According to an animal study, eating Brussels sprouts promotes the growth and health of intestinal bacteria and stimulates the production of short-chain fatty acids in the intestines.
Like broccoli, cauliflower provides a large amount of protein for the number of calories it provides.
Cabbage has the following amount of protein.
- One cup (107 grams) of cabbage contains 2 g of protein.
- 100 grams of cabbage contains 1.9 g of protein and 25 calories.
- Protein makes up 31% of its calories.
Cauliflower is a great source of vitamin C and a good source of vitamin K. It also contains some calcium, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus. Cabbage also contains high levels of a special glucosinolate compound called synergine, which may have anti-cancer, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties.
The glucosinolate content of cabbage can be significantly r0educed when one cooks it. Therefore, cabbage can be better raw. However, cabbage is also high in other antioxidants that are preserved during cooking and can be added to vegetables after steaming or microwaving. Like the other vegetables on this list, cabbage has the potential to lower cholesterol levels because of its ability to bind to bile acids. Boiling cabbage increases this capacity.
Cabbage is a versatile vegetable that is suitable for a variety of varieties. In many cases, it can serve as a substitute for starchy carbohydrates, such as pasta or bread.
Green peas are seeds that come from legumes but are eaten as starchy vegetables. Green peas are low in calories and contain many vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. They are also high in fiber and protein.
- A 1/2-cup (170-gram) serving of peas contain 4 grams of protein
- 100 gram serving of peas contains 5.4 grams of protein and 84 calories
The high protein content of peas makes them unique from other vegetables.
For example, a 1/2 cup (170 grams) of cooked carrots contains only 1 gram of protein, while a 1/2 cup (170 grams) of peas is four times that amount. They are also rich in polyphenol antioxidants, which may be responsible for many of their health benefits. Greens peas have many properties that can help prevent chronic diseases like diabetes, heart diseases, and cancer.
Potato is a versatile root vegetable and important food in many families. Potatoes are a secret powerhouse of protein.
- One medium baked potato (6.1 ounces or 173 grams) provide 4.3 grams of protein
- 100 gram serving of potatoes provide 2.5g protein and 93 calories
Potatoes are also an excellent source of carbs and fiber as well as vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium, and manganese. Studies found that potatoes and their nutrients provide many health benefits, including better blood sugar control, reduced risk of heart disease, and increased immunity. They can also improve digestive health and fight the symptoms of aging.
Potatoes are also very filling, which means they can help you lose weight by reducing hunger and cravings.
Snow peas belong to the legume family and are also known as pea pods. They are an excellent source of protein.
- One cup (160g) of snow peas contain 5.2 grams of protein
- 100 grams serving of snow peas contain 3.3g protein and 42 calories
Snow peas are also an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin K, and fiber. They provide various health benefits including reduced heart disease risk, improved blood pressure control, gut health, and weight loss.
Edamame is immature soybeans that are commonly referred to as vegetable-type soybeans. They are naturally gluten-free and low in calories, have no cholesterol, and are an excellent source of protein, iron, and calcium.
- 100 grams serving of cooked edamame offers 9 grams of protein.
- A cup (155 grams) of cooked edamame offers around 18.5 grams of protein
The research showed that edamame protein has properties to reduce the low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol levels, in a person’s blood. Consuming more protein and iron from plant sources can promote fertility or lower the risk of ovulatory disorders.
About the Author
Lori Bogedin is a health and wellness writer and editor of TwigsCafe.com. She is in the restaurant business since 1999. In 2016 she was named one of the "Top Women in Business" by Northeastern Pennsylvania Business Journal.