Protein is an essential nutrient. The body needs it to build and repair tissues.

Although animal foods are usually highest in protein, some plants also contain high amounts.

The best plant-based sources of protein include tofu, chickpeas, and peanuts, which are legumes. However, some vegetables can offer a good protein boost per calorie.

Here are 10 nutritious vegetables that contain a fair amount of protein.

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Watercress is a cruciferous plant that grows in water. It is high in protein per calorie.

Watercress has the following protein content:

  • One cup (34 grams [g]) of watercress contains 0.8 g of protein.
  • A 100-g serving of watercress contains 2.3 g of protein and 11 calories.
  • Protein accounts for 84% of its calories.

One cup of watercress contains 85 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin K, which is 71% of the daily recommended intake for adults. This is an important vitamin for blood and bone health.

Watercress is a rich source of vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant, and it also contains B vitamins, calcium, potassium, and vitamin A.

Moreover, watercress provides antioxidant protection and contains phenolic compounds that may help prevent cancer.

How to eat watercress

Avoid boiling watercress in water, as this will decrease its antioxidant content. Instead, eat raw watercress in salads, stuff it into sandwiches, or blend it into smoothies.

Learn how to make watercress sauce to serve with salmon here.

Alfalfa sprouts are very low in calories but rich in nutrients.

Alfalfa sprouts have the following protein content:

  • One cup (33 g) of alfalfa sprouts contains 1.3 g of protein.
  • A 100-g serving of alfalfa sprouts contains 4 g of protein and 23 calories.
  • Protein accounts for 69% of their calories.

This vegetable is a rich source of vitamin K and a decent source of folate, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, and vitamin C.

Animal studies have suggested that alfalfa sprouts can reduce cholesterol levels. This may be due to their high saponin content. Saponins are a group of compounds that can lower cholesterol.

Research also suggests that alfalfa sprouts may decrease inflammation, reduce symptoms of menopause, and — as a result of their high vitamin K content — help prevent osteoporosis.

How to eat alfalfa sprouts

Enjoy alfalfa sprouts raw in a sandwich or salad or cooked lightly in a stir-fry or soup.

Learn how to make creamy alfalfa sprouts and apple on toast here.

Spinach is one of the most nutrient-dense leafy green vegetables a person can eat.

Spinach has the following protein content:

  • One cup (25 g) of raw spinach contains 0.7 g of protein.
  • A 100-g serving of spinach contains 2.9 g of protein and 23 calories.
  • Protein accounts for 50% of its calories.

The protein in spinach contains all essential amino acids. One cup of spinach contains 121 mcg of vitamin K, which is just over 100% of a person’s daily needs.

Spinach is also a rich source of folate, vitamin A, and vitamin C; a good source of magnesium and potassium; and a decent source of calcium.

Spinach contains plant compounds that can increase antioxidant defense and reduce inflammation.

In one small study, 10 athletes who took spinach supplements for 14 days showed reduced oxidative stress and reduced muscle damage after running a half-marathon, compared with those who took a placebo.

Research has also linked eating spinach with a lower risk of some cancers, including breast cancer.

How to eat spinach

Try adding raw spinach to salads or smoothies. A person can also blend it into soups, add whole spinach leaves to curries and stews, or saute it as a side dish.

Learn how to make a vegan spanakopita here.

Chinese cabbage, a category that includes napa cabbage and bok choy, also has a high protein content per calorie.

Chinese cabbage has the following protein content:

  • One cup (70 g) of shredded Chinese cabbage contains 1.1 g of protein.
  • A 100-g serving of Chinese cabbage contains 1.5 g of protein and 13 calories.
  • Protein accounts for 46% of its calories.

Chinese cabbage is a rich source of vitamins A, C, and K. It is also a good source of folate and a decent source of calcium and potassium.

Several cell studies have shown that Chinese cabbage is rich in compounds with antioxidant activity. Its outer leaves appear to contain the most antioxidants. It may also have anti-inflammatory properties.

Some studies suggest that Brassica vegetables, a group that includes Chinese cabbage, could contain compounds that reduce the risk of prostate cancer.

Additionally, an animal study showed that taking supplements of Chinese cabbage powder reduced the risk of liver cancer.

How to eat Chinese cabbage

People use Chinese cabbage in many Asian dishes, such as stir-fries, kimchi, soups, and spring rolls.

Learn how to make Chinese cabbage stir-fry here.

Asparagus is a very popular vegetable with high nutrient content.

Asparagus has the following protein content:

  • One cup (134 g) of asparagus contains 3 g of protein.
  • A 100-g serving of asparagus contains 2.2 g of protein and 20 calories.
  • Protein accounts for 44% of its calories.

Asparagus is a rich source of vitamin K and a good source of folate and riboflavin. It also contains some magnesium, phosphorus, and vitamin A.

Asparagus may also have anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties.

Additionally, it contains fructooligosaccharides, which provide prebiotic benefits, stimulating the growth of friendly intestinal bacteria.

How to eat asparagus

People can grill, boil, steam, or pan-fry asparagus and eat it in salads or as a side dish.

Learn how to make perfectly roasted asparagus here.

Mustard greens belong to the Brassica family. They are very similar to kale but have a distinct mustard flavor.

Mustard greens have the following protein content:

  • One cup (56 g) of chopped mustard greens contains 1.6 g of protein.
  • A 100-g serving of mustard greens contains 2.9 g of protein and 27 calories.
  • Protein accounts for 42% of their calories.

One cup also provides 144 mcg of vitamin K, which is more than 100% of a person’s daily needs.

They are a rich source of vitamin C and contain calcium, potassium, and B vitamins. They are also a good source of vitamin E.

Like many other plants, mustard greens contain phenolic compounds that give them antioxidant properties.

How to eat mustard greens

People can steam, boil, or saute mustard greens or simply eat them raw.

Learn how to make Asian pickled mustard greens here.

Collard greens are dark green, loose-leafed vegetables from the same family as kale, broccoli, and cauliflower.

Collard greens have the following protein content:

  • One cup (36 g) of chopped collard greens contains 1.1 g of protein.
  • A 100-g serving of collard greens contains 3 g of protein and 32 calories.
  • Protein accounts for 38% of their calories.

Their vitamin K content is particularly remarkable, with 157 mcg in a single cup. This is around 131% of a person’s daily needs.

They are also rich in vitamin C and folate, are a good source of calcium, and contain some potassium.

As another member of the Brassica family, collard greens are a good source of phenolic compounds and antioxidants.

Research has linked the high levels of antioxidants in collard greens with a decreased risk of developing prostate cancer.

How to eat collard greens

People can enjoy collard greens steamed or sauteed. They are particularly tasty when mixed with other vegetables, including onions and mushrooms.

Learn how to make Southern collard greens here.

Broccoli is a very popular vegetable that also happens to contain protein with all the essential amino acids. People can enjoy it either raw or cooked.

Broccoli has the following protein content:

  • One cup (88 g) of chopped broccoli contains 2.5 g of protein.
  • A 100-g serving of broccoli contains 2.8 g of protein and 34 calories.
  • Protein accounts for 33% of its calories.

Broccoli is a very rich source of vitamins C and K, a good source of folate, and a decent source of phosphorus and potassium. It also contains some calcium.

Broccoli also provides high amounts of plant compounds and flavonoids, such as kaempferol. These may have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticancer effects.

Like all other cruciferous vegetables, broccoli is high in glucosinolates — compounds that may help reduce the risk of cancer.

Additionally, broccoli can help improve liver health by stimulating detoxification and the production of antioxidant compounds in the liver.

How to eat broccoli

People can steam, roast, bake, or saute broccoli. It also works well in soups and sauces or as a side dish.

Learn how to make roasted broccoli with garlic, lemon, and Parmesan cheese here.

Brussels sprouts are a great addition to most diets.

Brussels sprouts have the following protein content:

  • One cup (88 g) of Brussels sprouts contains 3 g of protein.
  • A 100-g serving of Brussels sprouts contains 3.4 g of protein and 43 calories.
  • Protein accounts for 31% of their calories.

One cup contains 3.3 g of fiber. Brussels sprouts are very rich in vitamins C and K and are a good source of folate and vitamin B6. They are also a decent source of iron and potassium.

How to eat Brussels sprouts

People can cook Brussels sprouts by boiling, steaming, grilling, or roasting them. They work well as a side dish.

Learn how to make bacon balsamic glazed Brussels sprouts here.

Like broccoli, cauliflower provides a high amount of protein for the number of calories it delivers.

Cauliflower has the following protein content:

  • One cup (107 g) of cauliflower contains 2 g of protein.
  • A 100-g serving of cauliflower contains 1.9 g of protein and 25 calories.
  • Protein accounts for 31% of its calories.

Cauliflower is a very rich source of vitamin C and a good source of vitamin K. It also contains some calcium, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus.

Cauliflower contains a high amount of a particular glucosinolate compound called sinigrin, which may have anticancer, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties.

The glucosinolate content of cauliflower may drop significantly when a person cooks it. Therefore, it may be better to eat cauliflower raw.

However, cauliflower is high in other antioxidants that are preserved during cooking and may even increase after a person steams or microwaves the vegetable.

How to eat cauliflower

Cauliflower is a versatile vegetable suited to a variety of recipes. In many cases, it can act as a substitute for starchy high carbohydrate foods such as pasta and bread.

Learn how to make Spanish garlic cauliflower here.

Even though vegetables are not very high in protein compared with some other foods, many contain good amounts of protein relative to their calorie content.

Also, the vegetables on this list are high in many other nutrients that have proven health benefits.

Consuming these protein-rich vegetables is a great way to increase the protein and nutrient content of any diet without adding many calories.