Proteins are one-third of the holy trinity of macronutrients. Along with fats and carbohydrates, they form the basic nutritive supplies of an organism. While we know meats and breads contain protein, we often forget vegetables can be a good, low-calorie source of this essential element, too.
Peas are easy to find year-round, and both fresh and frozen options provide plenty of health benefits. Just a half-cup serving of green peas offers four grams of protein, and the healthy components don’t stop there. In addition to 11 grams of carbohydrates, this serving size boasts four grams of fiber, a quarter of the daily recommended amount of vitamin A, and almost half of the daily recommended amount of Vitamin C.
Spinach is perhaps best known for its iron content, but it has many other benefits as well, including antioxidants and important minerals. Like many dark leafy greens, it’s a vital addition to a healthy diet aimed at boosting protein and other nutrients and reducing calories or empty carbs. One cup of raw spinach contains just one gram of protein, but since it shrinks when cooked, you can add multiple cups to soups and stews and add more protein to your meal.
Kale, another dark, leafy green, is a rich source of vitamins A, K, and C, but its health perks don’t stop there. Kale is an extremely nutrient-dense food, with one cup containing more than 200% the RDI of vitamin A, nine percent of your daily calcium and potassium, and two grams of protein. The minimal fat content is largely omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential to good health.
Broccoli is a fiber-rich cruciferous vegetable that can improve digestion and bowel health and will help you feel full for longer. A cup of raw broccoli contains 2.5 grams of protein, along with selenium, phosphorous, vitamin B9, and more. All that with just 0.3 grams of fat and a host of antioxidants.
Sprouts are popular these days, and they come in a vast array of options that can render sandwiches and salads delightfully peppery or spicy. The sprouting process increased the bioavailability of nutrients. Sprouts are high in vitamins C and K, and magnesium, and could help control blood sugar and aid digestion. The protein content of sprouts depends on the type of sprout you eat. One cup of lentil sprouts contains almost 7 grams of protein, whereas one cup of mung bean sprouts contains about 3 grams of protein.
Many vegetarians turn to mushrooms as a “meaty” base for hardy meals. This low-calorie fungus can help boost the immune system, may help fight cancer, and aid in weight loss. A cup of mushrooms offers 3 grams of protein, minimal calories, plenty of B vitamins, and are a rare plant source of natural (not fortified) vitamin D.
Brussels sprouts are another fiber and protein powerhouse. The veggie doesn’t have to be steamed or boiled, though — baking or sauteeing Brussels sprouts makes for a crisp, flavorful way to get your daily amounts of zinc, calcium, copper, choline, and vitamin K. A 100-gram serving delivers 3.4 grams of protein and almost 4 grams of fiber, too.
A Mediterranean staple, artichokes are recognized in other parts of the world for their medicinal benefits but are often overlooked in North America. In addition to their ability to lower blood sugar and improve heart and liver health, a single artichoke brings in more than 4 grams of protein, almost 7 grams of fiber, and a mere 0.2 grams of fat.
Cooked asparagus has 2.2 grams of protein in a 100-gram serving and tastes amazing. It contains folate, vitamin K and fiber. The low-calorie stalks boast antioxidants that can help fight free radicals and oxidative stress and can reduce inflammation, and lower blood pressure. Like many veggies on this list, asparagus is also a good choice for those looking to lose weight in a healthy, lasting way.
Let’s look at one more leafy green for good measure. This peppery cousin of cabbage is high in fiber and antioxidants. It also contains glucosinolates, which could reduce the risk of lung, prostate, breast and other cancers (though too many can be toxic). Raw arugula has lots of chlorophyll and can help reduce inflammation and protect the brain. One cup of arugula contains 0.5 grams of protein and almost a full day’s-worth of vitamin K.
Edamame contains a whopping 17 grams of protein per one-cup serving. It also contains compounds called isoflavones that help lower LDL cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol, which may help curb the onset of cardiovascular diseases. These tasty immature soybeans also provide 121% DV (daily value) of folate and 79% of manganese, along with just 18 calories. Edamame is a controversial legume as some claim that soybeans promote cancer growth. However, growing evidence suggests that this type of soybean can be a beneficial addition to a balanced diet. Look for non-GMO varieties.
Sweet corn is often treated more like a whole grain used to make flatbreads and hot cereals, but many experts consider it a vegetable. This starchy food supplies a decent amount — 3.9 grams of protein — per large ear. Corn protein has 22 bioactive peptides, which have the potential to help fight hypertension, obesity, and oxidative stress. The food is also a rich source of B vitamins like thiamine or vitamin B1, and offers 17% DV of folate (vitamin B9) and 14% DV, niacin (vitamin B3). Non-GMO corn also provides a bevy of antioxidants and dietary fiber along with complex carbohydrates.
Cut through the tough exterior of a winter squash to find a rich reward of bold color, texture, flavor, and health benefits. Acorn, spaghetti, chayote, Hubbard, kabocha, and butternut are just a sampling of countless varieties of these versatile vegetables. They, too, provide protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Hubbard squash contains 2.3 grams, and kabocha squash has 1.8 grams, of protein per serving.
Collard greens provide a bountiful four grams of protein per cooked cup. Like other cruciferous vegetables, they are a naturally generous source of the peptide glutathione. This compound consists of amino acids that help the liver detoxify, enhance immune function, and fight cancer. A cup of collards contains 1,045% DV of vitamin K, 308% DV of vitamin A, and 58% of vitamin C, in addition to a healthy dose of the B vitamins.
Although the avocado is technically a fruit, it enjoys popularity as a vegetable. It adds creaminess and rich flavor to savory delights such as guacamole and can stand in for fatty dressing in salads. A medium, seven-ounce fruit contains about four grams of protein with all the essential amino acids. Besides proteins, avocado is high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants as well.