When trying to cut back on sugar, many forget to replace processed foods with just the right amount of vegetables. But they provide so much more than vitamins — they’re important sources of macronutrients, too. Vegetables are loaded with healthy carbs, and many common veggies are also high in protein. This nutrient not only promotes muscle growth, but also serves as the foundation for many of your body’s basic functions. (Your mom wasn’t lying when she told you vegetables were good for you.) Here are 15 vegetables that are high in protein, and all the extra benefits they can provide.
Nutrition data courtesy of the USDA Food Composition Databases
1. Hubbard squash
Protein per cup (cooked): 5.08 grams
Hubbard squash provides approximately 10 grams of fiber per cup, almost half the amount of fiber you’re supposed to eat daily. Like other orange vegetables, it also carries a lot of vitamins A and C. And according to Organic Facts, squash can help you keep your blood sugar stable, reduce inflammation, and even promote a healthy heart. Just a serving or two of squash at dinner is plenty. With that much protein and fiber, you’ll feel full in no time.
Next: You put it in your salad, but you probably don’t know why it’s so good for you.
Protein per cup (raw): 0.86 grams
The average spinach salad uses at least 2 cups of this leafy vegetable per bowl, which means you’ll get a decent amount of protein even without adding chicken (and just think how much you could pack in if you wilt it first). The World’s Healthiest Foods says spinach is also an excellent source of iron. So, if you’re not a big red meat eater, adding spinach to your diet can increase your iron intake without much effort. Don’t like salad? Put spinach on your burger or sandwich. You can also add it to pasta, or blend it into your veggie-based smoothie.
Next: This starchy vegetable has more protein than the others you’ve seen so far.
3. Green peas
Protein per cup (cooked): 8.58 grams
Unless you have an inexplicable aversion to foods that roll, green peas should be a staple in your weekly meal plan. According to Livestrong.com, peas contain enough fiber, iron, and vitamin A to add significant value to whatever you pair them with. Peas have 25 grams of carbs per cup, so they aren’t the best choice if you’re trying to minimize your carb intake. However, their combined protein and fiber content will make you think twice before saying yes to an extra large portion of dessert.
Next: This vegetable can replicate a lot of your favorite starch-heavy sides.
Protein per cup (cooked): 1.14 grams
There are about 2 grams of fiber per cup of cauliflower, which can easily contribute to your recommended 25 grams per day (women over 50 should aim for 21). Cauliflower, according to Authority Nutrition, also provides plenty of antioxidants to help reduce inflammation and reduce your cancer risk. Plus, it’s a healthy, versatile vegetable many people use instead of grains. Even if you’re not on a low-carb diet, making rice, a mashed side (instead of mashed potatoes), and pizza crust out of cauliflower can cut your carb intake significantly.
Next: Did you know you can eat multiple parts of this root vegetable?
5. Beet greens
Protein per cup (raw): 0.84 grams
Eating green, leafy vegetables is one of the best things you can do to make sure you’re getting all the vitamins and minerals you need to stay healthy. Beet greens are often forgotten, but they’re great for eating, too. Livestrong.com notes beet greens are a plentiful source of vitamins A, C, and K. Even better, their bitter taste makes them easy to pair with some of your favorite flavors, like garlic, olive oil, and cheese. Once you separate beets from their greens, you can sauté the greens while roasting the root ends to create a colorful, flavor-filled salad.
Next: You’ll have to get creative when flavoring these guys.
6. Brussels sprouts
Protein per cup (cooked): 2.97 grams
At almost 3 grams of protein per cup, this vegetable could help you reach your daily intake goal by dinnertime. According to The World’s Healthiest Foods, steamed Brussels sprouts are actually healthier than raw ones because steaming enhances their cholesterol-lowering benefits. This means they could help to reduce the amount of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol in your blood. Instead of sautéing the sprouts in butter to add flavor, stick to some healthier flavorings. A little garlic and olive oil can go a long way.
Next: This popular superfood didn’t find its fame by accident.
Protein per cup (raw): 0.68 grams
Kale is the superfood of the early 2010s — and that goes beyond its protein and fiber content. One cup of raw kale, only 8 calories, provides zero fat — so you can eat a lot of it without consequence. And maybe you should. According to Time, it has more iron per serving than beef, and more than enough vitamin K. Most importantly, the list of recipes you can make using kale may be endless. Is it possible to eat kale several times a week and never get bored? You decide.
Next: These veggies get a bad rap, but their outer “shells” are worth it.
8. White or red potatoes (medium, with skin)
Protein per cup (cooked): 3.63 grams (white), 3.98 grams (red)
White and red potatoes are extremely healthy, despite worries about their carb content. According to Livestrong.com, the only real nutritional difference between white and red potatoes is their level of antioxidants (red potatoes have at least twice the amount). Both are low in calories and fat, and high in fiber and other carbs. Any potato you choose is going to provide plenty of essential vitamins and minerals — as long as you eat the skin! You’re missing out on many benefits if you throw it out.
Next: Who knew a fungi could be so good for you?
9. Portabello mushrooms
Protein per cup (grilled): 3.97 grams
It’s not just calcium that keeps your bones in shape. Phosphorus is also an essential mineral for this purpose. Portabello mushrooms are surprisingly beneficial for bone health, since they contain a small amount of the bone-strengthening mineral. Add these mushrooms to a pasta or stir-fry for added flavor. You can also grill and stuff them with other veggies to add even more protein and other nutrients to your meal.
Next: There’s a lot of nutrition packed into such a slim veggie.
Protein per cup (cooked): 2.16 grams
You don’t have to stick solely to blueberries and dark chocolate to add more antioxidants into your diet. EatingWell praises asparagus for the small role it can play in ridding your body of harmful free radicals. Protein and cancer-fighting powers? Sounds good to us. Roasting asparagus with olive oil and breadcrumbs on top is a tasty, slightly crunchy way to enjoy this veggie.
Next: Technically, this vegetable belongs in the same family as squash.
Protein per cup (cooked): 2.05 grams
Zucchini is a close relative to the squash — and it’s just as good for you. According to Health, zucchini is a heart-healthy vegetable that’s low in calories, high in protein, and extremely versatile in the kitchen. Many don’t like the taste of it raw, yet have never tried grilling, baking, or even frying zucchini. (Frying isn’t the healthiest way to eat zucchini, but it’s a start.) And of course, you can replace even the healthiest pastas with something from your handy-dandy Spiralizer. Zoodles, anyone?
Next: Here’s a new way to add even more protein and variety to your favorite salad.
12. Collard greens
Protein per cup (raw): 2 grams
Collard greens belong to the same vegetable family as kale, broccoli, cabbage, and turnips. They’re high in both fiber and protein, which makes them a good food to incorporate into your meals to discourage overeating. Medical News Today suggests using them the same way you’d use kale or spinach. Add them to a salad, sandwich, or soup. You can also sauté them and add herbs and spices to create a more appealing texture and taste.
Next: It kind of looks like a tomato, but it’s even sweeter.
13. Red bell pepper
Protein per cup (raw): 0.9 grams
Red, orange, and yellow foods are known for their high amounts of vitamins C and A, both essential for your health. In addition to nearly 1 gram of protein per cup, red bell pepper supplies your body with iron, essential for blood circulation. According to Authority Nutrition, bell peppers can supply your blood with the oxygen it needs to do its job. There’s a lot you can do with a bell pepper once it’s on your kitchen counter, too. You can stuff it, grill it, add it to a salad, put it on your pizza, or create a flavorful sauce.
Next: Bake this kind of potato for a little extra vitamin A boost.
14. Sweet potatoes (medium, with skin)
Protein per cup: 2.29 grams
Sweet potatoes are great sources of protein, but they’re also full of essential vitamins and minerals. They might even help you manage your stress. Live Science says sweet potatoes are great sources of magnesium, a mineral that can help keep you calm while anxious. A baked sweet potato instead of a white potato also provides beta-carotene, in addition to its 2 grams of protein per cup. Beta-carotene helps keep your immune system strong, decreasing your risk of disease.
Next: It may not be your favorite vegetable, but it has a lot to offer you.
Protein per cup (cooked): 1.86 grams
These tiny tree-like plants pack plenty of protein, fiber, and vitamin C. And according to Organic Facts, broccoli is also a valuable defense against heart disease. At almost 3 grams of fiber per cup, it can help decrease your LDL cholesterol, reducing plaque buildup in your arteries. You don’t have to eat it plain to reap its many benefits, though. After you steam your broccoli, season it with a variety of herbs and spices to give it some flavor.