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10 High-Protein Vegetables To Incorporate Into Your Diet

Jillian Kubala, M.S., R.D.
Author:
March 18, 2024
Jillian Kubala, M.S., R.D.
Registered Dietitian
By Jillian Kubala, M.S., R.D.
Registered Dietitian
Jillian Kubala, MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian based in Westhampton, NY. She holds a master's degree in nutrition from Stony Brook University School of Medicine as well as an undergraduate degree in nutrition science.

Your body needs a steady supply of protein in order to perform functions like building muscles and producing hormones and neurotransmitters.

If you’re following a typically healthy diet that includes both animal and plant-based sources of protein, hitting your daily protein needs should be relatively easy.

But some people on plant-based diets have a hard time putting together protein-rich meals and snacks. This is because many plant-based foods are generally low in this important nutrient.

Fortunately, there are plenty of plant foods, including some vegetables, that are surprisingly high in protein.

Here are 10 high-protein vegetables you can incorporate into your diet, plus some helpful tips on how to bump up your protein intake when you're following a plant-based diet.

high protein vegetables graph
Image by mbg Creative
1.

Lentils 

There's a reason lentils are a favorite among dietitians and nutritionists. These little gems are packed with plant-based protein and are rich in vitamins and minerals like folate, iron, magnesium, and potassium. 

One cup of lentils provides 17.9 grams of protein, which is nearly 30% more protein than what's found in two large eggs.

  • Protein per serving: 17.9 grams per cooked cup
  • Primary amino acid: Lentils are high in the essential amino acids leucine, isoleucine, lysine, valine, and phenylalanine.
  • Goes well with: Lentils are a versatile ingredient that can add a punch of protein and fiber to recipes like soups, grain bowls, and salads.
  • Recipe: This Smoky Chickpea, Red Lentil & Vegetable Soup will hit the spot when you're craving something comforting and filling. 
2.

Kidney beans

Like lentils, kidney beans are rich in protein. They're also an excellent source of folate, a vitamin that's especially important during pregnancy as it plays important roles in fetal development. One cup of kidney beans covers 58% of your daily folate needs. 

  • Protein per serving: 15.3 grams per cooked cup 
  • Primary amino acid: Kidney beans are high in leucine, lysine, phenylalanine, and valine.  
  • Goes well with: With their soft texture and nutty flavor, kidney beans are a perfect choice for dishes like vegan chili. 
  • Recipe: This Spicy Three-Bean Chili is sure to be a hit with vegetarians and omnivores alike. 
3.

Green peas

Green peas are an underrated vegetable that deserve some room on your plate. Not only are peas rich in protein, but 1 cup covers over 20% of your needs for vitamins A, C, and K, plus the B vitamins folate and thiamine. 

  • Protein per serving: 8.58 grams per cooked cup
  • Primary amino acid: Peas are a good source of leucine, lysine, and phenylalanine.
  • Goes well with: Green peas add color, flavor, and protein to dishes like rice pilaf and pasta and also make a tasty side dish on their own. 
  • Recipe: Try this Shaved Asparagus Toasts With Spring Pea Spread & Radishes recipe when you're in the mood for something nutritious and fancy. 
4.

Black beans  

Black beans are a good choice if you're trying to increase your protein intake. They pair well with a number of foods and can add texture and flavor to your favorite recipes while boosting the nutritional value. Black beans are especially high in magnesium, a mineral that's crucial for stress regulation.

  • Protein per serving: 15.2 grams per cooked cup 
  • Primary amino acid: Black beans are a concentrated source of leucine, lysine, isoleucine, valine, and phenylalanine. 
  • Goes well with: Black beans star in recipes like tacos, burritos, and chili. They can also be used to make mouthwatering vegan-friendly burgers. 
  • Recipe: If you're looking for a veggie burger recipe that actually tastes good, try out this Vegan Black Bean Burger that's packed with flavor from spices like coriander and red chili. 
5.

Edamame 

Just 1 cup of edamame contains more protein than 2 cups of milk. The same serving covers over 100% of your daily folate needs and 52% of your needs for vitamin K, a nutrient that's necessary for bone health and blood clotting. 

  • Protein per serving: 18.4 grams per cooked cup 
  • Primary amino acid: Edamame is high in leucine, lysine, and phenylalanine. 
  • Goes well with: Edamame can be enjoyed on its own as a protein-packed snack and can also be added to plant-based recipes like peanut noodles and salads. 
  • Recipe: Add some extra protein to this Veggie-Packed Rainbow Bowl by sprinkling some cooked edamame on top. 
6.

Peanuts

Even though peanuts are commonly considered a nut, they're actually a legume. Peanuts and peanut butter are high in protein and, unlike most other vegetables, they pair well with both sweet and savory ingredients. In addition to protein, peanuts are a good source of magnesium, folate, and vitamin E, which functions as a powerful antioxidant in the body. 

  • Protein per serving: 7.43 grams per ounce 
  • Primary amino acid: Peanuts are high in leucine, phenylalanine, and valine. 
  • Goes well with: Use peanuts to add a satisfying, protein-packed crunch to salads, Asian noodle dishes, and trail mix.
  • Recipe: This Peanut Miso Stew is simple to prepare and will wow you with its creamy texture and unique taste. 
7.

Spinach  

Spinach doesn't contain a lot of protein, but it does contain an impressive amount compared to other nonstarchy vegetables. For example, 1 cup of spinach contains 260% more protein than a cup of cooked zucchini.

It's also an excellent source of a number of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, calcium, iron, and magnesium. 

  • Protein per serving: 5.35 grams per cooked cup
  • Primary amino acid: Spinach is a good source of leucine and lysine. 
  • Pair it with: Spinach is a mild-tasting green that pairs well with just about any savory ingredient. Try it in salads and soups, and add it to recipes like frittatas and bread. 
  • Recipe: Swap spinach into your favorite green smoothie recipes, like this Apple Cinnamon Green Smoothie recipe. 
8.

Fava beans 

You may have never tried fava beans, but you'll likely become a fan once you taste them. These protein-packed beans have a buttery taste and creamy texture. Plus, they're rich in minerals like magnesium, copper, potassium, and zinc. 

  • Protein per serving: 12.9 grams per cooked cup
  • Primary amino acid: Fava beans are rich in leucine, lysine, phenylalanine, and valine. 
  • Goes well with: Fava beans have a tender texture and are commonly used in recipes like salads and soups. You can also mash them and add them to hummus or spread them on toast. 
  • Recipe: This Fava Bean & Pea Salad recipe combines two excellent sources of plant-based protein to create a visually stunning salad that's almost too pretty to eat…almost. 
9.

Asparagus

This spring vegetable is surprisingly high in protein, packing in over 4 grams per cup. It's high in protective flavonoid antioxidants and is a rich source of vitamins A, C, K, and folate. 

  • Protein per serving: 4.32 per cooked cup 
  • Primary amino acid: Asparagus is high in leucine, lysine, and valine. 
  • Goes well with: Asparagus makes an excellent addition to grain bowls, pastas, and egg dishes. 
  • Recipe: Skip the boring green salad and try out this flavorful Asparagus Salad that also features radishes, olives, almonds, and other delicious and healthy ingredients. 
10.

Artichoke hearts 

Artichokes are known for their high fiber content, which is a nutrient that's lacking in most people's diets. One cup of artichoke hearts provides 9.69 grams of fiber, which covers 34% of the daily value (DV) for fiber. In addition to fiber, artichokes contain plant-based protein plus vitamins C and K, folate, and minerals like magnesium and potassium.  

  • Protein per serving: 4.9 grams per cooked cup 
  • Primary amino acid: Artichokes are a good source of leucine, phenylalanine, and valine. 
  • Pair it with: Canned artichoke hearts can be easily added to salads, pasta dishes, and baked goods like bread.
  • Recipe: This healthy twist on Spinach Artichoke Dip is dairy-free, so it's a great choice for those with lactose intolerance or people following dairy-free diets. 

Highest protein vegetables

When you think of high-protein foods, veggies don't usually come to mind. However, certain vegetables, especially beans, lentils, and peas—collectively known as legumes—are packed with plant-based protein. 

FYI, according to the USDA, beans, peas, and lentils are considered both a vegetable and protein. But unlike animal sources of protein, legumes are packed with nutrients that tend to be low in many American diets, like fiber and potassium.

Other veggies, like spinach and artichokes, also contain a relatively high concentration of protein and can help boost your overall protein intake.

Highest protein vegetables by food group

If you'd like to boost your plant-based protein intake, here are some of the highest protein vegetables you can eat:

Legumes:

  • Edamame: 18.4 grams per cup
  • Lentils: 17.9 grams per cup
  • Kidney beans: 15.3 grams per cup 
  • Black beans: 15.2 grams per cup
  • Navy beans: 15 grams per cup 

Nonstarchy vegetables:

  • Spinach: 5.35 grams per cup
  • Artichoke hearts: 4.9 grams per cup 
  • Asparagus: 4.23 grams per cup 
  • Brussels sprouts: 3.98 grams per cup
  • Broccoli: 3.72 grams per cup 

Root vegetables:

How to get enough protein from plants

It's entirely possible to meet your protein needs when following a plant-based diet, but you'll need to pay a little more attention to your meal and snack choices to ensure you're maintaining optimal protein intake

First, it's important to note that the current recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein, which is set at 0.8 gram per kg (g/kg) of body weight [0.36 gram of protein per pound (g/lb)], isn't what you should be aiming for when it comes to protein intake.

The RDA is the minimum amount of protein your body needs to meet amino acid requirements, prevent muscle loss, and maintain nitrogen balance.

Most experts argue that the optimal protein intake for active people is closer to 1.2 to 2.0 g/kg per day (0.54–0.9 g/lb), which is much higher than the RDA. 

Protein researcher and professor at McMaster University Stuart Phillips, Ph.D., agrees. He believes that most people should be taking in at least 1.2 g/kg (0.54 g/lb) of protein per day.

In order to meet those needs, he encourages those on plant-based diets to pay special attention to protein. "I like to try and encourage people to think about protein at all meals," Phillips tells mindbodygreen. 

Summary

If you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, adding plenty of plant-based protein to meals and snacks like legumes, seeds, nuts, tofu, high-protein vegetables, and plant-based protein powder can help you hit your protein goals. 

Protein pairing: Is it necessary?

When you eat protein, your body breaks it into amino acids—commonly known as the "building blocks" of proteins—then uses them to form new proteins. 

Complete proteins, like soy, fish, eggs, and whey products, are foods that contain all nine essential amino acids that your body needs in the correct ratios.

Many plant-based sources of protein like beans and nuts are considered "incomplete" sources of protein because they are low in one or more of the essential amino acids.

It used to be thought that people following plant-based diets needed to "pair" protein sources with complementary amino acid profiles, like rice and beans, at meals in order to make a "complete" protein.

However, protein pairing at the same meal isn't necessary as your body has an amino acid "pool" that contains a variety of amino acids that your body can use to build proteins, create hormones, and more. 

So, as long as you're consuming a varied diet that provides all of the amino acids your body needs on a daily basis, you're good to go! 

FAQ

Which vegetable has the highest protein?

Legumes, like lentils and edamame, are very high in protein. A cup of lentils provides more protein than two eggs!

What are the top 10 vegetables with protein?

Lentils, kidney beans, green peas, black beans, edamame, peanuts, spinach, fava beans, asparagus, and artichokes are all high-protein vegetables.

What vegetables have more protein than meat?

Gram-for-gram, most meat products are a much more concentrated source of protein than high-protein plant foods. For example, 100 grams of turkey breast contains 21 more grams of protein than 100 grams of cooked lentils. However, you can meet your daily protein needs on a plant-based diet by incorporating multiple plant proteins at every meal and snack. 

The takeaway

If you're looking for ways to bump up your protein intake on a plant-based diet, consider adding more protein-rich vegetables to your meals and snacks.

Lentils, black beans, green peas, peanuts, and spinach are just a few examples of vegetables that are high in protein.

Incorporating these and other plant-based protein sources into your meals and snacks can help you hit your protein goals and feel your best

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