High-Protein Vegetables To Help Your Body Repair Cells and Make New Ones

high-protein vegetables

Struggling to get enough protein in your diet? Whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, or simply want to swap out your meat with some eco-friendly options instead, these high-protein vegetables got you covered.

One of the main questions I get as a vegan (especially since I eat mostly raw) is how I get enough protein. While initially challenging, I came to realize that so many plant foods contain protein! I simply wasn’t eating enough of them.

Why Do We Need Protein?

Protein is an essential nutrient that plays a key role in how our bodies function. Every cell in the human body contains protein, and it is needed to help your body repair cells and make new ones. Your body also uses protein to make enzymes, hormones, and other body chemicals. It is an important building block of bones, muscle cartilage, skin and blood (1).

Your hair and nails are mostly made out of protein, so if your hair and nails are brittle, or your hair is falling out, it might be the case that you aren’t getting enough protein in your diet.

Protein is essential for satiety, meaning it keeps us full for longer. This means that it is great for those wanting to lose a few extra pounds, and helps regulate our blood glucose levels.

Protein is also needed for muscle repair and health, and for improving moods.

Amino Acids and Protein

Protein is essentially made out of small molecules called amino acids. Since the cells in your intestine can’t absorb whole proteins, digestive enzymes help break down the proteins into their component amino acids. These amino acids are then absorbed into the bloodstream and safely delivered at different parts around the body where they are required (2).

It was once believed that essential amino acids only exist within animal-based foods. As we now know, this is false, and essential amino acids are found abundantly in plant-based foods.

Essential amino acids are amino acids there are the building blocks of protein that our body can’t produce by itself. So if we don’t eat them, we won’t get enough of them.

There are nine essential amino acids that we need from food:
– histidine
– isoleucine
– leucine
– lysine
– methionine
– phenylalanine
– threonine
– tryptophan
– valine

Eating a wide variety of fruit and vegetables every day will ensure you’re getting the appropriate amino acids. Plant-based protein is also much easier for the body to assimilate and digest than protein that comes from animal products. For example, if you eat a bunch of sprouts, or kale for instance, all your body has to do is digest the fibre from the plant, while utilizing all the rest. With animal products, the waste that is left behind after picking out the certain amino acids sits in our colon as there is no fibre to push it out.

Too Much Protein A Bad Thing?

Too much protein is associated with several diseases. And I’m not talking about plant protein, I’m talking about animal protein (aka. meat, eggs and dairy). One study found that animal proteins increase participants’ risk of death by up to 74% (compared to their low-protein counterparts), even when controlling for a high amount of fat and carbs in their diet. These individuals were also several times more likely to die of diabetes (3).

Consuming too much animal protein may contribute to:
– Lighter brain weight (neurodegeneration)
– Higher risk of coronary heart disease, diabetes and stroke
– Cancer
– Kidney disease
– Liver disease
– Sluggish lymphatic system
– Osteoporosis
– Stomach pain and acid reflux
– Constipation and colon cancer

Not surprisingly enough, these same conditions are hallmark of those following a Standard American Diet.

15 High-Protein Vegetables

These high-protein vegetables will be sure to satisfy and ensure your body is infused with the proper amino-acid building blocks to support protein synthesis in the body.

1. Sprouts

Protein Content: ~3 grams per cup

All sprouts, whether it’s alfalfa, broccoli, sunflower, or clover, contain a high concentration of amino acids. In fact, sprouts are one of the highest protein containing plant foods on the planet (they’re also one of the most nutritionally dense foods on the planet!).

What is the protein content of different sprout varieties? See below!

• Alfalfa: 3 grams per cup
• Broccoli: 2 grams per cup
• Clover: 3 grams per cup
• Sunflower: 2 grams per cup

I can easily eat over 3 cups of sprouts, which would provide me with close to 10 grams of protein – not bad, hey?

Sprouts are also an excellent source of vitamin’s A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12, C, D, E and K, as well as minerals like calcium, iodine, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, potassium, selenium, silicon, sodium, sulphur and zinc.

2. Bok Choy

Protein Content: ~1 gram per cup

Bok choy is a delicious tender green, which when eaten in abundance, provides a hefty amount of protein. Bok choy contains around 1 gram of protein per cup, and is also an excellent source of calcium, folate, potassium, manganese, iron, and vitamins A, C and K.

3. Watercress

Protein Content: ~1 gram per cup

Watercress, a member of the cruciferous family, is high in vitamin K, B vitamins, calcium, manganese, potassium, as well as vitamins A and C. It is an excellent lung-cleansing herb and contains strong cancer-fighting properties (4).

4. Potatoes

Protein Content: ~4 grams for 1 medium white potato

This stealthy source of protein also happens to be one of the most popular vegetables on the planet. Not to mention, potatoes are also an excellent source of potassium, meaning they nourish the heart and help balance sodium levels in the body.

5. Spinach

Protein Content: ~3 grams for 3 cups

Spinach is one of my favourite leafy green to include in smoothies, juices and salads. You could easily make a spinach salad with 6 cups of spinach, which would provide you with over 6 grams of protein! Add a few chickpeas and avocado in there, and you have a salad with a whopping 25 grams of protein!

Spinach also contains plenty of iron to help prevent iron-deficiency anemia, and is high in vitamin C to help boost the immune system and fight cancer.

6. Organic Corn

Protein Content: ~2.5 grams for 1/2 cup

This protein-packed plant has been around for centuries (that is, before Monsanto started creating GMO varieties). Corn contains a healthy amount of thiamine, vitamin B6, vitamin C, folate, potassium, magnesium and phosphorous.

When choosing corn, always make sure it is non-GMO organic.

7. Asparagus

Protein Content: ~3 grams of protein per cup

Asparagus is another high-protein vegetable, packing in over 3 grams for just 1 cup! It is also an excellent source of B vitamins, folate, copper, manganese, phosphorous, magnesium, as well as vitamins A and K.

Asparagus is a rich source of the master antioxidant glutathione, which is a detoxifying compound that helps break down carcinogens. It also contains fructooligosaccharides (FOS), which provide prebiotic benefits, stimulating the growth of friendly intestinal bacteria.

8. Broccoli

Protein Content: ~2.6 grams per cup

This not-so-popular vegetable contains all of the essential amino acids, as well as folate, manganese, potassium, phosphorous, as well as vitamins C and K. Broccoli is a nutritional powerhouse, and is well known for its cancer-fighting glucosinolates (5). It also contains strong anti-inflammatory properties.

Just one cup of broccoli contains around 2.6 grams of protein. Eat it raw, roasted, baked, steamed, or sautéed.

9. Mustard Greens

Protein Content: ~1.5 grams per cup

While mustard greens can take a little time to get used to (they’re super spicy!), they definitely should not be avoided. These greens contain over 1.5 grams of plant-based protein per cup, and also provide the body with vitamin A, C, E and B-complex, as well as manganese, calcium and potassium.

10. Kale

Protein Content: ~3 grams per cup

By now you’ve probably heard more than your fair share about kale. It ranks pretty high in the protein department (about 3 grams per cup!), and contains necessary vitamins and minerals like vitamin K, C, A, and B6, as well as magnesium, calcium, potassium and manganese.

Kale contains a healthy ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, making it an excellent anti-inflammatory food. It is also high in lutein and zeaxanthin, two nutrients that are linked to a reduced risk of macular degeneration and cataracts (6).

Best of all, kale can be made into salads, smoothie, juices, and even wraps!

11. Collard Greens

Protein Content: ~1 gram per cup

This hearty green contains around 1 gram of protein per cup. While this seems small, if you think about it, that’s like 1 gram of protein per collard leaf. Make a few collard wraps, and bam, you’ve got nearly 4-5 grams of protein!

Similar to kale, collard greens are an excellent source of calcium, potassium, and manganese. They contain high levels of antioxidants that have been linked to a decreased risk of developing prostate cancer and breast cancer (7, 8). Collard greens also contain compounds that bind to bile acids in your gut, helping to reduce your cholesterol levels (9).

12. Brussels Sprouts

Protein Content: ~3 grams per cup

These tiny little cabbages (as I like to call them), pack a hefty dose of protein at 3 grams per cup. They’re also loaded with potassium, folate, manganese, magnesium, iron, calcium and vitamins K, C, A and B6. They’ve been found to promote the growth and health of intestinal bacteria, and stimulate the production of short-chain fatty acids in the gut (10)!

Roasting brussels sprouts really help bring out their flavour, but if you’d rather benefit from the nutrients available in their raw form, you can finely chop them up in salads!

13. Cauliflower

Protein Content: ~2 grams per cup

Cauliflower, another high-protein vegetable, comes in at 2 grams per cup. It is also a great source of potassium, manganese, magnesium, phosphorous, calcium, iron, and vitamins C and K.

Cauliflower is particularly high in one glucosinolate compound called sinigrin. Sinigrin is thought to possess strong anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties (11).

This cruciferous veggie is also rich in choline to help improve learning and memory and combat age-related memory decline.

Cauliflower makes a great meat substitute to cut down on animal protein, and makes a wonderful hummus base!

14. Avocado

Protein Content: ~4 grams for 1 avocado

This creamy, dreamy, super filling fruit contains over 4 grams of protein! Aside from their healthy monounsaturated fats, avocados are loaded with vitamins A, E, C, B and K, as well as minerals like potassium and calcium. This makes avocados not only great for building muscle, but an excellent choice for bone support, too!

Avocado is packed with the nutrient biotin, which helps protect our cells from damage, and support healthy hair, skin and nails. It is also incredibly beneficial to the health of our heart, all thanks to a compound called beta-sitosterol, which lowers LDL cholesterol, while raising good, HDL cholesterol.

15. Green Peas

Protein Content: ~8 grams per cup

While green peas are technically a legume, I still classify them as a vegetable. They’re incredibly high in protein (over 8 grams per cup), and also contain a unique assortment of health-protective phytonutrients like coumestrol, which protects against stomach cancer (12).

Green peas are also a great source of vitamin K, vitamin B1, B6, B3 and B2, as well as manganese, copper, phosphorous, folate, zinc, iron and magnesium.


Filed Under: Food Education, Health Tagged With: foods high in protein, high protein vegetables, plant-based protein, vegan protein sources

Carly Fraser

About the Author

Carly Fraser has her BSc (Hons.) Degree in Neuroscience, and is the owner and founder at Live Love Fruit. She currently lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, with a determined life mission to help inspire and motivate individuals to critically think about what they put in their bodies and to find balance through nutrition and lifestyle. She has helped hundreds of thousands of individuals to re-connect with their bodies and learn self-love through proper eating habits and natural living. She loves to do yoga, dance, and immerse herself in nature.