What Does Protein Do?
Protein is an essential nutrient your body uses to build and repair tissues. It also plays and important role in immune function, acts as hormones and enzymes, and is involved with energy production and nearly every other process in the body.
A diet high in protein will help you build lean mass. Lean mass is more metabolically active than fat mass, so the more lean mass you have, the more calories and fat you will burn on a daily basis, making it easier to lose weight.
Why Plant Protein?
Although animal foods are usually highest in protein, some plants also contain decent amounts. Plants are an excellent choice for protein because they are lower in fat, higher in micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants), and usually have a lower environmental impact than raising meat.
10 High Protein Vegetables
Here are 10 healthy vegetables that contain a fair amount of protein.
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.
Moreover, watercress has been shown to offer antioxidant protection. It also contains phenolic compounds that may help prevent cancer.
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.
Protein Content: A 1-cup (34-gram) serving of watercress contains 0.8 grams of protein, while 100 grams of watercress contains 2.3 grams. Protein accounts for 50% of its calories.
2. Alfalfa Sprouts
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.
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.
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.
Alfalfa sprouts have also been shown to decrease inflammation, reduce symptoms of menopause and help treat and prevent osteoporosis.
Protein Content: A 1-cup (33-gram) serving of alfalfa sprouts contains 1.3 grams of protein, while 100 grams of alfalfa sprouts contains 4 grams. Protein accounts for 42% of its calories.
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.
It also contains high amounts of folate, manganese, magnesium, iron, potassium, calcium, vitamin A and vitamin C.
Besides its high protein content, spinach contains plant compounds that can increase antioxidant defense and reduce inflammation.
In one study, 20 athletes who took spinach supplements for 14 days experienced reduced oxidative stress and muscle damage.
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.
Lastly, regularly consuming spinach has been linked to as much as a 44% lower risk of breast cancer.
Protein Content: A 1-cup (30-gram) serving of raw spinach contains 0.9 grams of protein, while 100 grams of spinach contains 2.9 grams. Protein accounts for 30% of the calories in spinach.
4. Chinese Cabbage or Bok Choy
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.
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.
It seems like some studies agree that high intakes of Brassica vegetables, like Chinese cabbage, can decrease the risk of prostate cancer.
Additionally, an animal study showed that taking supplements of Chinese cabbage powder reduced the risk of liver cancer.
Chinese cabbage is used in many Asian recipes, such as stir-fries, kimchi, soups and spring rolls.
Protein Content: A 1-cup (70-gram) serving 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.
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.
Asparagus is thought to have anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties.
It also contains fructooligosaccharides (FOS), which provide prebiotic benefits, stimulating the growth of friendly intestinal bacteria.
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: A 1-cup (134-gram) serving of asparagus contains 2.9 grams of protein, while 100 grams of asparagus contains 2.2 grams. Protein accounts for 27% of the calories in asparagus.