Protein is one of the most important nutrients our bodies need. It’s the foundational element that many of our body’s systems and structures are made from. While protein is usually associated with meat, a large part of the world’s population actually gets the majority of its protein intake from vegetables. Whether you eat meat or not, you should have plenty of protein rich veggies in your diet.
An adult only needs 45-55 grams of protein per day and deficiency is not usually a problem except in areas of the world where there are food shortages. Most people who eat meat are likely get enough protein from one serving to last them the day. Those who consume dairy are probably also getting enough. Egg eaters can also be confident that their egg consumption and vegetable intake is covering their protein needs. Even vegans who eat plenty of mixed vegetables in variety are likely getting all of the protein they need as well.
Benefits of Protein Rich Vegetables
The term “protein” refers to any of about 20 amino acid chains connected by peptide bonds. These are used by the body to accomplish a variety of structural building and maintenance activities. Of these 20, 9 are considered essential nutrients because they cannot be synthesized (created) by our bodies and must be ingested from another source.
Meats contain the complete list of 9 essentials, but only soybeans and quinoa are complete in the vegetable kingdom. Otherwise, most vegetables and fruits provide only some, but not all of those 9 essential proteins. This is why it is especially important for vegetarians to eat a variety of different protein rich foods each day. Many traditional dishes (such as beans and rice or corn and beans) create a near complete or complete suites of essential proteins.
Probably the best source of non-animal-based proteins are legumes. Almost all peas, nuts, and beans are high in protein.
Growing High Protein Vegetables in the Garden
In addition to legumes, vegetables which are high in protein and relatively easy to grow include spinach, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower and potatoes (with skins). Celery, carrots, and kale also contain relatively high amounts of protein. Protein rich garden vegetables are nearly always nitrogen-hungry. They will need plenty of bioavailable nitrogen to produce good amounts of nutrition. If the soil is healthy, then the plants growing in it will produce the right amount of nutrients, including protein. This reinforces the need for gardeners to be sure to put all of the effort they can into proper soil maintenance and care.
Those who grow fruit bearing trees may want to consider growing apricots, prunes, or cherries, as they also contain protein. In tropical climates, bananas and avocados are also good protein sources.
Want to learn more about protein rich vegetables?
Check out these helpful resources:
What Should I Eat: Protein Sources and Information from Harvard University
National Nutrient Database from United States Department of Agriculture