Yes, You Can Get the Protein You Need from a Plant-Based Diet
There’s a long list of vegetables that contain ample amounts of protein, though only a handful are “complete,” meaning that they contain all nine of the essential amino acids found in animal proteins. But if you eat a well-balanced, vegetable-centric diet, you can in fact enjoy meals that pack a solid punch of protein.
These foods can help you meet your protein needs while delivering plenty of flavor, variety, and other nutrients necessary to a healthy diet.
Broccoli: A cup of cooked broccoli contains 2 grams of protein (and just 20 calories). It’s also loaded with good-for-you nutrients like fiber, B vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids. Don’t skip the stalks. Peel them lightly, cut into thin slices, then add them to salads or toss them in olive oil and roast them alongside the florets. Try it this week in our Spicy Thai-Style Beef with Broccoli and Basmati Rice.
Buckwheat: Don’t be confused by the name, this gluten-free seed is not a type of wheat. It’s one of an elite group of vegetables that qualify as a complete protein, meaning that it contains all nine essential amino acids. It’s also an excellent source of manganese and dietary fiber. Eat it as an alternative to rice, swap buckwheat flour for all-purpose in your pancakes, or enjoy a bowl of Japanese soba noodles made from buckwheat.
Legumes: Arguably among the best meat substitutes, beans and lentils are packed with protein—a whopping 12 grams in a cup of cooked pinto beans. That’s more than what you’ll find in an ounce of beef. Try them this week in our vegetarian Pinto Bean and Hominy Pozole Rojo with Warm Tortillas and our vegan White Bean and Mushroom Cassoulet with Parsley–Red Onion Salad.
Nuts: We like almonds, cashews, and pistachios for their combination of high protein, high fiber, and healthy fat—a triple threat for satiety, blood sugar regulation, and long-lasting energy. Grab a handful for a snack or sprinkle some cashews onto dishes like our Shrimp Pad Thai, where 2 tablespoons of the nuts deliver 3 grams of protein.
Quinoa: Like buckwheat, quinoa is another complete-protein pseudocereal; ½ cup cooked quinoa boasts 8 grams of protein. Though it’s used like a grain, its protein content surpasses most grain competitors. It’s like throwing a steak in your grain bowl.
Seeds: Tiny but mighty, seeds like flax, pumpkin, and chia are the eggs of the vegetable world. These storehouses of energy are loaded with protein—5 grams in a single ounce of chia seed—and are good sources of heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids and essential minerals. Sprinkle pumpkin seeds on tacos, sesame seeds over a rice bowl, or chia seeds in a smoothie.
Soy: This complete protein comes in many forms, from seed (edamame) to milk to tofu and more, and is many a vegetarian’s favorite protein source. And for good reason: its delicious, subtle flavor plays well with others, and a single ounce of tofu has 6 grams of high-quality protein.
Spinach: Popeye had the right idea when he binged on this leafy green. Nutrient-packed spinach is full of protein (5 grams in 1 cup of the cooked greens), iron, and vitamin K and can easily be added to salads, soups, stews, and even smoothies.