Protein is the building blocks of muscles as well as bone, skin, hair, and nearly every other part of your body. You need to eat protein every day to make sure your body can build and repair tissue (1). In fact, proteins make up enzymes that energize life-supporting chemical reactions. Hemoglobin, for example, is the protein present in red blood cells that transports oxygen throughout the body (2). When you don’t eat enough protein, your body begins to break down muscles and organs to make up for the deficiency.
Why Plant Protein?
Animal protein may seem like the best way to get your macronutrients, but that’s not truly the case. Plants are great protein sources since they’re incredibly high in micronutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. They’re also high in fiber and low in bad fats.
10 High Protein Vegetables
Here’s what you need to eat to build your muscles on a plant-based diet. Even if you eat meat, they’re still worth checking out.
Watercress is a member of the cruciferous family, like cabbage and cauliflower.
The vegetable is high in vitamin K, B vitamins, calcium, manganese, potassium, vitamin A and vitamin C. Best of all, the veggie contains cancer-fighting antioxidants phenolic compounds (3, 4, 5, 6,7).
Watercress is best eaten raw in salads, smoothies, and sandwiches. While you can boil it, doing so kills off most of its nutrients. (8).
Protein Content (9):
- 1 cup (34-gram) =0.8 grams of protein
- 100 grams = 2.3 grams protein
2. Alfalfa Sprouts
This low-calorie food contains plenty of folate, B vitamins, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, and vitamins K and C. Plus, these sprouts fight inflammation, menopause symptoms, and osteoporosis (10, 11, 12).
What’s more, animal studies have confirmed that alfalfa sprouts reduce cholesterol thanks to their high content of saponins (13). In one human study,15 people with high blood pressure who ate 40 grams of alfalfa seeds three times a day for 8 weeks had a 17% reduction in total cholesterol and an 18% reduction in “bad” LDL cholesterol (14).
Alfalfa sprouts can be grown at home and make a great addition to salads, sandwiches, and even pasta dishes.
Protein Content (15):
- 1 cup (33-gram) = 1.3 grams of protein
- 100 grams = 4 grams of protein
Spinach is one of the most nutrient-dense leafy greens in nature. Not only does it contain all the essential amino acids, a cup has nearly double your daily dose of vitamin K. It’s also high in folate, manganese, magnesium, iron, potassium, calcium, vitamin A and vitamin C (16).
In one study that followed 20 athletes, participants were given spinach supplements for 14 days. They experienced reduced oxidative stress and muscle damage thanks to the natural antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds in the vegetable. (17,18).
Another study on vascular function followed healthy volunteers and examined their levels of nitric oxide after eating spinach. They found that spinach improved heart health by having a positive effect on endothelial function and lowering blood pressure (19).
If that wasn’t enough, eating spinach regularly can lower breast cancer risk by 44% (20).
Eat spinach raw in salads or smoothies or steam it.
Protein Content (21):
- 1 cup (30-gram) =0.9 grams of protein
- 100 grams = 2.9 grams protein
4. Bok Choy
Bok choy contains folate, calcium, potassium, manganese, iron and vitamins A, C and K. Its antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties that help decrease the risk of prostate and liver cancers (22, 23, 24,25,26).
Use bok choy in Chinese stir-fries, dumplings, soups and spring rolls.
Protein Content (27):
- 1 cup (70-gram) = 1 gram of protein
- 100 grams 1.5 grams of protein
Try this veggie grilled, baked or even steamed.
Protein Content (31):
- 1 cup (134-gram) = 2.9 grams of protein
- 100 grams = 2.2 grams of protein
6. Mustard Greens
Like other Brassica vegetables, mustard greens contain phenolic compounds with antioxidant properties (32).
Plus, studies show that steaming mustard greens boosts their cholesterol-lowering properties (33). This also works for collard greens, kale, cabbage, green peppers and broccoli too. You can also eat mustard greens boiled, sautéed, or raw.
Protein Content (34):
- 1 cup (56-gram) = 1.5 grams of protein
- 100 grams = 2.7 grams of protein
This popular vegetable contains all the essential amino acids as well as plenty of folate, manganese, potassium, phosphorus, and vitamins C and K. Like other vegetables on this list, broccoli contains anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds (35, 36).
Eat it raw, roasted, baked, steamed, or sautéed.
Protein Content (42):
- 1 cup (91-gram) = 2.6 grams of protein
- 100 grams = 2.8 grams of protein
8. Collard Greens
This classic veggie is high in Vitamin K, calcium, potassium and manganese.
Surprisingly, the antioxidants in collard greens have the ability to help prevent prostate and breast cancer (43).
Eat collard greens steamed or sautéed and combine them with other veggies like onions and mushrooms.
Protein Content (44):
- 1 cup (36-gram) = 0.9 grams of protein
- 100 grams = 2.5 grams of protein
9. Brussels Sprouts
These great veggies are rich in folate, manganese, magnesium, potassium, iron, calcium and vitamins K, C, A, and B6. They even stimulate the production of beneficial short-chain fatty acids in the gut (45).
Raw Brussel sprouts are bitter, so make sure to grill, roast, or steam them.
Protein Content (46):
- 1-cup (88-gram) = 3 grams of protein
- 100 grams = 3.4 grams of protein
Like broccoli, cauliflower is a low-calorie protein option.
High in vitamins C and K and minerals like potassium, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, and iron, cauliflower packs a nutritional punch.
Some compounds in cauliflower are killed after cooking, although you can eat it both raw and cooked. The vegetable even acts as a substitute for starchy carbs such as rice and pizza crust.
Protein Content (49):
- 1 cup (100 grams) = 2 grams of protein.
The Bottom Line
Vegetables may not be as high in protein as animal products, but they have the benefit of being lower in calories.
They also contain healing compounds that improve your health with every bite. For a well-balanced plant-based diet, make sure to eat plenty of high-protein pulses like peas, lentils, and beans, as well as nuts, grains (such as hemp), and fermented soy.