by Julie Christensen
In recent years, there’s been a lot of buzz about protein. Visit any health food store and you’ll find protein shakes, protein smoothies and even protein granola bars. So, what’s the big deal about protein? Protein in the body builds muscles and repairs tissue. It produces hormones and enzymes essential for regulating body processes. Adequate amounts of protein can prevent disease and provide energy for daily living. It can even improve brain function and focus.
So how much protein do you need daily? Most Americans are getting plenty of protein, and too much protein can lead to weight gain and kidney stones. How much you need depends on your sex, your age and your activity level, but in general, women need between 40 and 45 grams of protein daily, while men need 50 to 60 grams of protein.
The most common sources of protein in the American diet are those found in meat, poultry and dairy products. Most meat products contain around 7 grams of protein per ounce, while dairy products vary from 1 gram of protein per ounce for milk to 10 grams per ounce for hard cheeses like Parmesan.
Perhaps you want to reduce your meat and dairy consumption or eliminate these products altogether. Then what? Many vegetables contain protein in small amounts. If you eat a wide variety of vegetables, grains and seeds, you’ll likely get enough protein in your diet. Vegetable sources of protein are incomplete, meaning they don’t contain all the essential amino acids. To get a complete protein, combine vegetables with protein-containing grains, legumes or seeds. Beans and rice is the classic example.
Vegetables with Protein
Amaranth Leaves. Amaranth is more often known for its grain-like seeds which can be milled into a flour. Amaranth leaves have a spicy, pungent flavor and are best eaten steamed or sautéed. One serving has 2.79 grams of protein.
Asparagus. The season for fresh asparagus is fleeting, so indulge in early spring. Asparagus has 2.16 grams of protein and only 20 calories for 6 spears. Roast it, steam it or grill it lightly.
Bok Choy. Traditionally used in Asian stir-fries, Bok Choy has 2.65 grams of protein per 1 cup serving.
Broccoli. Steamed broccoli has a mild flavor most people enjoy. It also has almost 2 grams of protein per ½ cup serving.
Brussels sprouts. This cool-season vegetable has almost 4 grams of protein per 1 cup serving. Try roasting Brussels sprouts for a nutty, smoky flavor. Learn more about the health benefits of brussels sprouts.
Butternut squash. When you’ve had your fill of greens, try butternut squash as a protein source. One cup of butternut squash has 1.84 grams of protein.
Celery. Celery served raw, steamed or cooked, has 1.25 grams of protein.
Corn. Technically a grain, corn has over 4 grams of protein per ear. Corn is also a good source of potassium and phosphorus.
Eggplant. Exotic looking eggplant has almost 1 gram of protein per serving. Cube eggplant and salt it before cooking so excess moisture is wicked away.
French green beans. This legume is usually considered a vegetable and it’s a protein powerhouse. One cup of green beans contains 12.48 grams of protein and over 16 grams of fiber.
Green pepper. Green peppers add crispness and texture to salads and stir-fries. Sauté them, roast them or bake them, as well. One small pepper has 0.64 grams of protein.
Kale. Known for its cancer-fighting abilities, kale has 2.47 grams of protein and only 27 calories per 1 cup serving.
Lima bean. Mom was right — eat your lima beans. These legumes contain 14 grams of protein and 13 grams of fiber per 1 cup serving.
Okra. Gelatinous okra has 3 grams of protein per serving. Use it to thicken soups and stews. Learn the other health benefits of okra.
Parsnip. This humble root vegetable has over 2 grams of protein per 1 cup serving.
Potatoes. Potatoes get a bad rap as being a high-calorie, low-nutrient vegetable, but they contain over 4 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber.
Soy beans. Well-known as a non-meat source of protein, these legumes offer 14 grams of protein per 1/2 cup cooked. Tofu offers 20 grams of protein per 1/2 cup. Soy beans have other health benefits.
Sweet potatoes. One medium sweet potato is packed with disease-fighting antioxidants in addition to 2.29 grams of protein.
Did we leave any high protein vegetables out? Leave a comment and let us know!
Julie Christensen learned about gardening on her grandfather’s farm and mother’s vegetable garden in southern Idaho. Today, she lives and gardens on the high plains of Colorado. When she’s not digging in the dirt, Julie writes about food, education, parenting and gardening.