After sneaking in a much-needed post holiday workout, my friend Sarah and I hit up a restaurant in town for lunch. “I’ll have the lean chicken breast,” she told the waiter, “Gotta up my protein.” Smart choice: A solid serving of protein after a sweat sesh is crucial for building lean muscle mass and blasting away belly fat.
“As for me,” I said, glancing past the meats, “I’ll have….the roasted veggie salad.”
Surprised? So was Sarah. “I’m going to let you in on a little secret,” I told her. “Protein-packed chicken isn’t the only food that helps you get toned. Veggies also pack a punch.”
In fact, some have as much as 8 grams per cup. That may pale in comparison to a chicken breast (34 grams per 4 ounces) or burger (26 grams per quarter pounder), but vegetables are also high fiber foods and contain antioxidants and vitamins. They’re not only more affordable sources of the nutrient than fish and beef, but they can be healthier, too: People who consume higher amounts of vegetable protein are significantly less susceptible to excess belly fat, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol than those who skimp on produce, according to a study published in the journal Diabetes Investigation.
That’s not all. Another Food and Nutrition Research study found that plant protein could help dieters feel fuller and less hungry than the same amount of animal protein.
Looking to reap the slimming benefits? We’ve gathered up the most popular veggies on your plate and ranked them according to their protein content. So whether you’re a vegetarian or an omnivore just looking to pack on the protein without having to scarf down another baked chicken breast, bookmark this handy guide to always have your go-to plant-based sources on hand. Adding these veggies along with the 25 Best Foods for a Toned Body to your diet will help you reach your body goals in no time.
From Worst… To Best
Yes, we included some botanically-classified fruits like eggplant and pepper, but we put them on the list because people typically eat them like veggies. All protein content information was collected from the USDA’s National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference.
Protein, per 1 cup: 0.82 grams
While eating eggplant won’t be listed as one of the 25 Weight Loss Tips From The World’s Fittest Men as it’s fairly low in the protein department, it’s still a great addition to your diet. The purple plant is packed with powerful antioxidants called anthocyanins that provide neuroprotective benefits like bolstering short-term memory.
Protein, per 1 cup chopped (raw or boiled): 1.19 grams
What’s up, doc? Unfortunately, it’s not the protein content of carrots. That being said, munching on these veggies either raw or steamed will still serve up a healthy dose of inflammation-fighting vitamin A.
Red Bell Pepper
Protein, per 1 cup chopped (raw): 1.48 grams
Although bell pepper won’t directly increase your lean muscle mass, the vitamin-C-rich veggie will still help you turn off the stress hormone that’s causing you to put on belly fat.
Protein, per 1 cup (cooked): 2.47 grams
Protein, per 1 cup (raw): 0.68 grams
You’ll soon see that kale has more protein than the next veggie, but we docked it a spot because the majority of dieters eats this leafy green raw. In which case, you’ll only get a measly half a gram of protein out of a cup. To up your muscle-building power, we’d recommend adding some chickpeas to your next kale salad.
Protein, per 1 cup sliced (cooked): 2.05 grams
It may be low, but 2 grams of protein for only 27 calories and an additional 2 grams of fiber isn’t all that bad for zucchini. Saute it up in some olive oil for a side dish, or throw diced zucchini into one of these soup recipes.
Protein, per 1 cup: 2.28 grams
It’s one of our favorite cruciferous veggies to roast, but pick it up to make a low-carb pizza crust rather than a replacement for your roast pork.
Protein, per 1 cup (cubes): 3.00 grams
To get those three grams of protein, you’ll also have to scarf down 240 calories, so don’t go too crazy. Rather, a more reasonable serving size is ½ an avocado, which will still give you 2 grams of protein. Slice some of this healthy fat to serve on a slice of sprouted grain bread, on a side salad, or throw it into a smoothie!
Protein, per 1 cup (cooked): 3.26 grams
If you can get passed the bitter taste, broccoli rabe is a great addition to your diet. If not for it’s protein content, do it for the calcium: A cup of the steamed veggies has a whopping 301 milligrams of bone-protecting calcium—that’s 30 percent of your recommended daily intake! Calcium doesn’t just help protect your bones, it also plays a role in maintaining proper muscle function and boosting endurance.
Protein, per 1 cup (sauteed): 3.70 grams
Protein, per 1 cup (raw): 0.84 grams
Commonly found in mixed greens, seek out a package of exclusively beet greens to reap their satiating properties. A sauteed cup of the leaves will serve up close to four grams of protein along with an additional four grams of belly-filling fiber.
Protein, per 1 cup: 3.7 grams
This cruciferous veggie packs a whole lot of protein. We like it steamed (to preserve most of it’s water-soluble nutrients!) until al dente and topped with low-sodium soy sauce and sesame seeds. Yum! As an added bonus, chomping on steamed broccoli just a few times a week is clinically proven to lower rates of breast, lung, and skin cancers—that’s why it’s one of the 50 Best Foods for Women!
Protein, per 1 cup (Portabella, grilled): 3.97 grams
Protein, per 1 cup (Shiitake, stir-fried): 3.35 grams
Protein, per 1 cup (White, boiled): 3.39 grams
Mushrooms are a favorite of vegetarians thank’s to their unctuous umami flavor that’s also found in meat and cheese (and what makes each taste so good!). Not only do these fungi offer up a decent serving of protein, but they also are one of the few non-animal-based sources of vitamin D—a vitamin that boosts immunity and is essential for bone health.
Protein, per 1 cup (cooked): 3.98 grams
These crucifers shouldn’t be reserved for your Thanksgiving table. Add brussels sprouts to your diet to supplement your protein intake as well as help decrease bad cholesterol levels due to their high fiber content.
Protein, per 1 cup (baked with skin): 4.02 grams
Sweet potato? More like sweet protein! Add this tuber as a side dish to your typical chicken breast meal to up your protein content even more and you’ll also reap the benefits of their carotenoids: disease-fighting compounds which helped this spud earn a place on the list of 25 Healthy Foods That Give You Glowing Skin.
Protein, per 1 cup: 4.21 grams
This sweet veggie is also packed with an equal amount of fiber. The only problem is it’s higher than other veggie-based protein sources, coming in at 134 calories. At least you’ll be ingesting loads of free-radical fighting antioxidants! Sweet yellow corn is full of lutein and zeaxanthin—two phytochemicals that work in tandem to promote healthy vision.
Protein, per 1 cup (cooked): 4.32 grams
Who knew that so much protein could be stuffed into a 32-calorie cup of these skinny spears? Besides the protein, we also love that asparagus is jam-packed with inulin (a type of prebiotic fiber that promotes the growth of healthy bacteria in your gut) and potassium, which can help you look slimmer by keep bloating at bay.
Protein, per 1 cup (cooked): 5.35 grams
Protein, per 1 cup (raw): 0.86 grams
Now we know why Popeye had such large muscles! Baby spinach might be small, but it packs a powerful protein punch. We’d recommend eating it sauteed for the most hunger-quelling benefits: while one cup of cooked spinach is over five grams of fiber, the same cup of raw spinach doesn’t even make it to one.
Protein, per 1 cup (cooked): 5.08 grams
You’ll start squashing your workout routine when you add hubbard squash to your diet. With five grams of protein per cup, this roasted squash makes a great, filling addition to your favorite veggie-filled soup recipe or tossed with pine nuts, arugula, and bow tie pasta.
Protein, per 1 cup: 5.15 grams
You won’t reserve this southern staple to solely be served with barbecue anymore. Collard greens are also a great source of folate (serving up 75 percent of your recommended daily intake). The B vitamin helps with the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that keeps us happy, as well as aids with focus, energy, and alertness—all things that make folate-rich foods one of the 20 Foods That Increase Sexual Stamina.
Protein, per large potato with skin (baked): 7.86 grams
All hail the humble potato! Still “clothed” in its skin, the tuber provides almost 8 grams of protein and plenty of slow digesting carbs to help your muscles rebuild and recover after an intense workout. We like serving our baked potato with a sprinkling of cheddar cheese, a dollop of Greek yogurt, some chopped scallions, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.
And the most protein-packed veggie is…
Protein, per 1 cup (frozen then cooked): 8.24 grams
Although, yes, technically peas are part of the legume family, many people eat them as they would veggies: steamed with carrots, thrown into a veggie fried rice, or added to a chicken pot pie. And we’re all for it. These tiny green beans will not only tone your muscles with over eight grams of protein, but they’ll also provide seven grams of satiating fiber—all for a mere 125 calories. Adding non-starchy veggies like peas to your diet is one of the 42 Ways to Lose 5 Inches of Belly Fat.