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The Top 8 Vegetable Sources of Protein, According to a Dietitian

The word protein is derived from the Greek word proteios, which means ‘of prime importance’ – and they weren’t kidding around. While most associate protein with muscle building and strength, it’s critical for so many other parts of a healthy, functioning human.

Protein is also often associated with meat and dairy products as they’re rich, high-quality sources of the important macronutrient. However, plants can also pack a protein punch and can help make your meal a satiating one.

Here’s what you need to know about plant-based protein and the best veggie sources. 

How much protein do we need to eat per day?

The recommended amount of protein consumption is 0.84g/day for an adult male and 0.75g/day for an adult female. When we assess what makes a good source of protein, it’s important to assess not just the quantity of protein but also the ‘quality’.

What makes a protein ‘high-quality’ is one that matches the amino-acid needs of the body and is easily absorbed. Proteins are made from amino-acids and of the 20 amino-acids occurring in, there are nine that are deemed ‘essential amino-acids’. This means our bodies cannot create them and they need to be consumed in our diets.  

Plant-based protein sources

Plant-based sources of protein usually contain a limited number of the essential amino-acids, making them incomplete proteins. But that just means you need to pair up complementary proteins to get the right nutrients. For example, legumes are rich in amino acids called isoleucine and lysine, while grains are high in methionine and tryptophan. Eaten together, you are more likely to meet the body’s amino-acid needs.

Therefore, vegetarians can ensure sufficient protein intake by ensuring a diverse source of plant-based foods so the deficiency in one is compensated by excess of that amino-acid in another.

Top 8 vegetables highest in protein

1. Soybean sprouts

Protein per 100g: 13g

Soybean sprouts are a rich source of protein that can be added to plant-based salads for a crunchy texture.

2. Kidney beans and chickpeas

Protein per 100g: 9g

These legumes are the perfect addition to plant-based stews and salads. Plus, they’re a great source of fibre for your gut health.

3. Butter beans

Protein per 100g: 6.8g

Also known as Lima beans, they can be blended into dips or packed into stews. Cans of butter beans are a simple pantry staple to have on hand. 

4. Green peas

Protein per 100g: 5.4g

Whether you’re serving them alongside a cut of meat, or stirring them through risotto or wholegrain pasta, these little morsels pack a protein-heavy punch.

5. Seaweed spirulina

Protein per 100g: 4g

Seaweed is an increasingly popular source of protein and it isn’t reserved for savoury meals like sushi. Add a tablespoon of spirulina to plant-based smoothies with spinach, berries, kiwi, a banana, nut milk of your choice and Greek/coconut yoghurt for a morning protein boost.

6. Cooked greens – spinach, collard, Swiss chard

Protein per 100g: 3.5 – 5g

In addition to their protein content, greens are also a good source of folate and non-haem iron.

7. Mushrooms

Protein per 100g: 3.6g

Mushrooms are a good source of protein and they’re one of the few non-animal sources of vitamin D. Serve on toast for breakfast, or swap meat patties for grilled Portobello mushrooms in your burgers.  

8. Sweet corn

Protein per 100g: 3.3g

You might be surprised to learn that corn contains a decent amount of protein. The high fibre veg is best served with barbecue dishes and works well in Mexican meals. 

3 tips to increase protein intake from plant sources

With plant-based protein, diversity is key. Some quick tips to improve dietary intake of plant-based protein:

1. Increase diversity of amino acids by mixing different sources of plant foods. For example, add green-peas, a legume and mushrooms, a vegetable to rice or risotto.  

2. When making a lentil soup, add a cup of cooked quinoa, and stir through some greens like kale, baby-spinach thereby increasing the diversity of protein. 

3. Snack on a handful of nuts and seeds, which are a good source of protein.

Explore more content like this in our series, Ask a Dietitian

Health & Performance Collective is the brainchild of Sydney Dietitians Jessica Spendlove and Chloe McLeod. They use their 20 years of combined knowledge and skills as dietitians to work with motivated people to live and perform at their best.

You don't have to go vegan or vegetarian to reap the benefits of a plant-based diet. The Flexitarian diet is the easier approach - here's what it means and how to follow it. 

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