Not very many vegetables can be counted as a good source of protein, which means that they contain about 5–9 grams of the macronutrient per serving. But there are definitely some. Most high-protein vegetables fall in the legume category, which includes beans and lentils.
Whether you’re vegan and trying to get enough protein, or you’re really pushing protein to maximize your fitness gains, including protein-rich vegetables in your diet can be really helpful in reaching your goals.
Seven Vegetables Highest in Protein
This list of seven higher-protein vegetables might surprise you.
Protein: 18 g per 1 cup, cooked
Lentils are among the richest sources of plant protein in their whole form, and are an excellent source of iron. Eat them with sautéed onion, tomato, or other source of vitamin C to help you absorb their iron content.
Protein: 18 g per 1 cup shelled, cooked
A popular starter dish at Japanese restaurants, edamame is really just soy beans, and has more protein than almost any whole vegetable. It’s also an excellent source of fiber; that’ll help to fill you up and control blood sugar levels.
Try it in: Enjoy steamed edamame as a snack with a bit of sea salt, or toss edamame beans into this teriyaki chicken stir-fry for some extra protein.
3. Green peas
Protein: 9 g per 1 cup, cooked
Green peas are a classic side dish, but are a pretty good source of protein, too. They also deliver some calcium and beta carotene, are a good source of magnesium, and are rich in vitamin A.
Try them in: Toss steamed green peas into your favorite whole grain or bean-based pasta with fresh pesto sauce.
4. Cooked spinach
Protein: 5 g per 1 cup, cooked
Popeye made spinach a famous health food for good reason. Cooked spinach is a good source of protein, and also is packed with iron, calcium, and vitamin A.
Try it in: Greek Spinach Pie (Spanikopita)
5. Yellow sweet corn
Protein: 5 g per 1 cup, cooked
There’s really nothing like sweet corn in the summer. In addition to some protein, corn provides both starch and fiber, making it a great idea for the carb option on your plate. Corn also provides some potassium, phosphorus, niacin, and magnesium.
Try it in: When you can get fresh sweet corn, boil stalks for 10 minutes, cut off the kernels, and toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Any time of year, do the same by steaming a package of frozen sweet corn according to the directions.
6. Russet potato
Protein: 5 g in 1 medium baked potato
Regular potatoes have become embattled in recent years, but did you know they contain fiber like a sweet potato, and offer other nutrients like potassium, vitamin C, and iron too? They’re a great option for the carb part of your meal.
Try it in: Greek yogurt and scallion mashed potatoes
Protein: 4 g per 1 medium artichoke, raw
Artichokes are pretty large, and despite the small amount of delicious flesh you actually get from the leaves, they’re higher in protein than most other veggies. The Greeks and Romans hailed artichokes as an aphrodisiac, and they also contain potassium, magnesium and vitamin C.
Try it in: Steam 1 whole artichoke for 20–25 minutes, and enjoy dipping the leaves into this healthier Hollandaise sauce.
The Importance of Getting Different Types of Protein
For those who don’t eat food derived from animals, consuming a variety of protein types from varying sources is critical. Protein consists of 20 amino acids, nine of which aren’t synthesized by the body, and therefore must come from food. Animal protein — eggs, fish, poultry, dairy, meat — contains all nine of those essential amino acids, making it a complete protein.
Plant proteins, however, are typically incomplete. So those following a strict vegan diet should consider the quality of the protein they’re consuming, and pair foods accordingly.
Vegetarian diets can be much more flexible than vegan diets with respect to sources of protein. For example, eggs and dairy are both high biological-value protein (meaning easily absorbed and used by the body) foods that are lacto-ovo vegetarian. Regularly including eggs or dairy in addition to higher-protein plant foods like beans and lentils can help ensure that you’re getting enough essential amino acids.
A vegetarian breakfast scramble would look something like the following, and would contain a whopping 26 grams of protein as well as all of the essential amino acids that your body needs: 2 whole eggs, 2 oz. shredded cheddar cheese, and ½ cup cooked spinach.