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Plant Power: The 10 Veggies With the Most Protein

Protein is an essential nutrient your body uses to build and
repair tissues.

Although animal foods are usually highest in protein, some
plants also contain decent amounts.

Here are 10 healthy vegetables that contain a fair amount of
protein.

1. Watercress

Watercress on a Table

Watercress is a cruciferous plant that grows in water and has a
high protein
content.

One cup (34 grams) of chopped watercress contains 0.8 grams of
protein and 100% of your RDI of vitamin K. It also has good
amounts of B vitamins, calcium, manganese, potassium, vitamin A
and vitamin C (1).

Moreover, watercress has been shown to offer antioxidant
protection. It also contains phenolic compounds that may help
prevent cancer (2, 3, 4, 5, 6).

Avoid boiling watercress in water, since this will decrease the
antioxidant content. Instead, try eating raw watercress in
salads, stuff it in sandwiches or blend it in smoothies
(7).

Protein Content: One cup (34 grams) of
watercress contains 0.8 grams of protein, while 100 grams of
watercress contain 2.3 grams. Protein accounts for 50% of its
calories.

2. Alfalfa Sprouts

Alfalfa Sprouts in a Bowl

Alfalfa sprouts are very low in calories,
but rich in nutrients.

One cup (33 grams) of alfalfa sprouts provides 1.3 grams of
protein. This vegetable also has decent amounts of folate,
B vitamins, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, and
vitamins K and C (8).

A couple of studies performed in animals demonstrated that
alfalfa sprouts can
reduce cholesterol levels
. This was thought to be due to
their high content of saponins, a group of compounds that can
lower cholesterol (9, 10).

One study treated 15 people who had high blood lipid levels
with 40 grams of alfalfa seeds, three times daily, for eight
weeks. These people had a 17% reduction in total cholesterol
and an 18% reduction in “bad” LDL cholesterol (11).

Alfalfa sprouts have also been shown to decrease inflammation,
reduce symptoms of menopause and help treat and prevent
osteoporosis (12, 13, 14, 15).

Protein Content: One cup (33 grams) of
alfalfa sprouts contains 1.3 grams of protein, while 100
grams of sprouts contain 4 grams of protein. Protein accounts
for 42% of its calories.

3. Spinach

White Bowl With Fresh Spinach Leaves

Spinach is
one of the most nutrient-dense leafy green vegetables you can
eat.

Protein accounts for 30% of its calories and it contains all
the essential amino acids. A 1-cup (30-gram) serving provides 1
gram of protein and 181% of the RDI for vitamin K (16).

It also contains high amounts of folate, manganese, magnesium,
iron, potassium, calcium, vitamin A and vitamin C (16).

Besides its high protein content, spinach contains plant
compounds that can increase antioxidant defense and reduce
inflammation (17).

In one study, 20 athletes who took spinach supplements for 14
days experienced reduced oxidative stress and less muscle
damage (18).

Another study gave nitrate-rich spinach to healthy participants
and measured its effects on their levels of nitric oxide, a
signaling molecule normally used in the body to widen the blood
vessels.

The study also measured endothelial function and blood
pressure. Nitrate-rich spinach was found to increase nitric
oxide, improve endothelial function and lower blood pressure,
all of which can improve heart health (19).

Lastly, regularly consuming spinach has been linked to as much
as a 44% lower risk of breast cancer (20).

Protein Content: One cup (30 grams) of raw
spinach contains 0.9 grams of protein, while 100 grams of
spinach contain 2.9 grams. Protein accounts for 30% of the
calories in spinach.

4. Chinese Cabbage or Bok Choy

Bok Choy on Wooden Table

Chinese cabbage, also known as bok choy, is a good source of
vegetable protein.

One cup (70 grams) of Chinese cabbage contains 1 gram of
protein. It’s also an excellent source of folate, calcium,
potassium, manganese, iron and vitamins A, C and K (21).

A number of cell studies showed that Chinese cabbage is rich in
compounds with antioxidant activity. Its outer leaves appear to
contain the most antioxidants. Plus, it has been shown to have
anti-inflammatory properties (22, 23, 24).

It seems like some studies agree that high intakes of
Brassica vegetables, like Chinese cabbage, can
decrease the risk of prostate cancer (25).

Additionally, an animal study showed that taking supplements of
Chinese cabbage powder reduced the risk of liver cancer
(26).

Chinese cabbage is used in many Asian recipes, such as
stir-fries, kimchi, soups and spring rolls.

Protein Content: One cup (70 grams) of
shredded Chinese cabbage contains 1 gram of protein, while
100 grams of Chinese cabbage contain 1.5 grams. Protein
accounts for 28% of its calories.

5. Asparagus

asparagus-on-chalkboard

Asparagus is a very popular vegetable with a high nutrient
content.

A 1-cup (134-gram) serving contains 2.9 grams of protein. It is
also an excellent source of B vitamins, folate, copper,
manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, and vitamins A and K
(27).

Asparagus is thought to have anti-inflammatory and anticancer
properties (28).

It also contains fructooligosaccharides (FOS), which provide
prebiotic
benefits
, stimulating the growth of friendly intestinal
bacteria (29, 30).

Asparagus can be cooked in the oven, grilled, boiled, steamed
or pan-fried and it is wonderful in salads or as a side dish.

Protein Content: One cup (134 grams) of
asparagus contains 2.9 grams of protein, while 100 grams of
asparagus contain 2.2 grams. Protein accounts for 27% of the
calories in asparagus.

6. Mustard Greens

Mustard Greens on Wooden Table

Mustard greens belong to the Brassica family and are
very similar to kale but with a distinct mustard flavor.

A 1-cup (56-gram) serving of mustard greens provides 1.5 grams
of protein, as well as 348% of the RDI for vitamin K and 118%
of the RDI for vitamin A. It is also high in manganese,
calcium, potassium, B vitamins, vitamin C and vitamin E
(31).

Mustard greens, like other plants, contain phenolic compounds
that give them antioxidant
properties
(24, 32).

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A test-tube study demonstrated that steaming mustard greens
increases their ability to bind to bile acids. This may help
them reduce cholesterol levels (33).

The same study found that steaming may have similar positive
effects on collard greens, kale, cabbage, green peppers and
broccoli.

This veggie can be steamed, boiled, sautéed or simply eaten raw
in salads.

Protein Content: One cup (56 grams) of
chopped mustard greens contains 1.5 grams of protein, while
100 grams of mustard greens contain 2.7 grams. Protein
accounts for 25% of the calories in mustard greens.

7. Broccoli

Holding Broccoli on a Plate

Broccoli
is a very popular vegetable that also happens to be high in
protein. It can be enjoyed raw or cooked.

A 1-cup (91-gram) serving of raw chopped broccoli can provide
2.6 grams of protein, including all the essential amino acids.
It also contains plenty of folate, manganese, potassium,
phosphorus and vitamins C and K (34).

For all these nutrients, a 1-cup serving of broccoli contains
only 31 calories.

Broccoli also provides high amounts of plant compounds and
flavonoids, like kaempferol. These can provide antioxidant and
anti-inflammatory benefits (35, 36).

Similar to all other cruciferous vegetables, broccoli has a
high content of glucosinolates, compounds that may help reduce the
risk of cancer (37, 38, 39).

Like mustard greens, broccoli has a higher capacity to bind to
bile acids when it’s steamed than when it’s raw, so eating
steamed broccoli may help reduce cholesterol levels in your
blood (33).

Additionally, broccoli can help improve liver health by
stimulating detoxification and the production of antioxidant
compounds in the liver (40).

Broccoli can be steamed, roasted, baked or sautéed. You can use
it to make tasty side dishes, soups and sauces.

Protein Content: One cup (91 grams) of
chopped broccoli contains 2.6 grams of protein, while 100
grams of broccoli contain 2.8 grams. Protein accounts for 20%
of the calories in broccoli.

8. Collard Greens

Bundled Collard Greens

Collard greens are a dark green, loose-leafed vegetable from
the same family as kale, broccoli and cauliflower.

A 1-cup (36-gram) serving contains 0.9 grams of protein with
only about 11 calories. The vitamin K content is particularly
remarkable, with 230% of the RDI in a 1-cup serving (41).

Additionally, collard greens are an excellent source of
calcium, potassium and manganese (41).

As another member of the Brassica family, collard
greens are a good source of phenolic compounds and antioxidants
(32, 42).

The high levels of antioxidants in collard greens have been
linked to a decreased risk of developing prostate cancer
(25).

One study reported that people who eat cruciferous vegetables
like collard greens are less likely to be diagnosed with breast
cancer (43).

Collard greens can also bind to bile acids in your gut, helping
to reduce your cholesterol levels. One study showed that steam
cooking boosts this benefit (33).

You can enjoy collard greens steamed or sautéed. They’re
particularly tasty mixed with other veggies like onions and
mushrooms.

Protein Content: One cup (36 grams) of
chopped collard greens contains 0.9 grams of protein, while
100 grams of collard greens contain 2.5 grams. Protein
accounts for 20% of the calories in collard greens.

9. Brussels Sprouts

Brussels Sprouts in Bowl

Brussels sprouts can be a great addition to your diet. They’re
a good source of protein, fiber and vitamins.

A 1-cup (88-gram) serving contains 3 grams of protein and up to
3.3 grams of fiber.
Brussels sprouts are also rich in folate, manganese, magnesium,
potassium, iron, calcium and vitamins K, C, A and B6 (44).

A study in animals showed that Brussels sprouts can promote the
growth and health of intestinal
bacteria
and stimulate the production of short-chain
fatty acids
in the gut (45).

People usually cook Brussels sprouts by boiling, steaming,
grilling or roasting. They are an ideal side dish.

Protein Content: One cup (88 grams) of
Brussels sprouts contains 3 grams of protein, while 100 grams
of Brussels sprouts contain 3.4 grams. Protein accounts for
19% of the calories in this food.

10. Cauliflower

Cauliflower on Table

Like broccoli, cauliflower provides a high amount of protein
for the number of calories it delivers.

One cup (100 grams) of cauliflower has 2 grams of protein and
25 calories. It is also a great source of vitamins C and K and
minerals like potassium, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus,
calcium and iron (46).

Cauliflower also contains a high amount of a particular
glucosinolate compound called sinigrin. This is thought to have anticancer,
antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties (38, 47, 48).

The glucosinolate content of cauliflower may drop significantly
when it’s cooked. Therefore, cauliflower may be better eaten
raw (48).

However, cauliflower is also high in other antioxidants that
are preserved during cooking and may even increase after
cauliflower is steamed or microwaved (49).

Like several other vegetables on this list, cauliflower has the
potential to reduce cholesterol levels because of its capacity
to bind bile acids. Steaming cauliflower increases this
capacity (50).

Cauliflower is a versatile vegetable that can be adapted to a
variety of recipes. In many cases, it can be used as a
substitute for starchy carbs.

Protein Content: One cup of cauliflower
weighs 100 grams and contains 2 grams of protein. Protein
accounts for 19% of its calories.

Take Home Message

Even though vegetables are not very high in protein compared to
some other foods, many of them contain good amounts of protein
relative to their calorie content.

Plus, these vegetables are high in many other nutrients and
have been linked to all sorts of health benefits.

These protein-rich vegetables are a great way to increase the
protein and nutrient content of your diet without adding many
calories.

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