You’ve undoubtedly heard the idea that protein is an important part of your diet, but what amount of protein is necessary each day? The answer depends on your age and sex, but generally speaking (according to the USDA), women need 46 grams of protein and men need 56 grams of protein. The source of protein that usually comes to mind first is meat or poultry or some kind of seafood. Meat remains a good source of protein, but, perhaps surprisingly, there are a number of protein-rich vegetables that can supplement or even replace meat.
Why Do We Need Protein?
Along with fats and carbohydrates, protein is one of the main macronutrients that our body uses for its energy needs and a variety of other functions. As a molecule, protein is one of the building blocks of life and is a constituent part of every cell in the human body. Proteins are made up of amino acids, and during digestion the body breaks them down into components that can be used to make new cells, repair old cells, and synthesize enzymes that are behind countless chemical reactions.
While the body can synthesize some proteins (mostly in the liver), there are some that can only be found in food. Getting sufficient sources of dietary protein is therefore the only way to get the nine essential amino acids the body needs to maintain health and normal function. If we don’t get enough protein, it can lead to protein deficiency and a host of related medical conditions. Protein is especially important in the development of children from birth through adolescence, but it is also important for building muscle and reducing the cognitive and physical decline associated with aging.
Vegetables that Are a Good Source of Protein
One common misconception about plant-based proteins is that they’re somehow inferior to those found in animal flesh. It’s true that animal proteins are technically “complete” since they contain all of the essential amino acids but simply eating a variety of vegetables can get you all those same essential amino acids. Below are some examples of protein-packed veggies that can be part of any healthy eating habit:
- Brussels sprouts: Brussels sprouts are cruciferous vegetables that are a good source of both protein and fiber; one cup has about 4 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber. This combination of fiber and protein makes Brussels sprouts a very filling vegetable choice.
- Artichokes: The artichoke is actually the edible bud of the artichoke plant that is harvested before the flower blooms. One cup of artichoke contains nearly 5 grams of protein and various other nutrients.
- Green peas: The simple, unassuming green pea has a surprisingly high protein content. One cup of peas contains around 8 grams of protein. They also have about 35% of your daily recommended fiber content.
- Sweet corn: Because of some of the processed products made from corn (like corn syrup), corn gets a bad rap. But sweet corn as a vegetable is very nutritious and a good source of protein with about 4.7 grams per cup.
- Lentils: Lentils are technically legumes, but they are loaded with protein and fiber; one cup of cooked lentils has 18 grams of protein and 16 grams of fiber. Lentils are sometimes considered a superfood because they contain so much protein, fiber, and other nutrients like potassium, a mineral that is important for many body functions.
- Chickpeas: The chickpea, otherwise known as a garbanzo bean, is another type of legume that is popular in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines. One cup of cooked chickpeas has 14 grams of protein.
- Edamame: Edamame is a Japanese preparation of immature soybeans that are boiled and served inside the pod. Often associated with sushi restaurants, edamame is a highly nutritious food with 17 grams of protein per cup. It is also a good source of vitamin K and folate, one of the B vitamins that is important in cell division.
- Lima beans: The lima bean is so named because it originates in the South American country of Peru, and it has been a source of nutrition for thousands of years. One cup of cooked lima beans contains 15 grams of protein. Lima beans are also a good source of magnesium, a mineral that the body uses in the replication of DNA molecules.
- Spinach: Even though spinach only provides about 2 grams of protein per cup, the protein content is relatively dense since 57% of the calories contained in the vegetable come from protein. It is also similarly high in fiber and is therefore an overall very healthy choice.
- Collard greens: Like spinach, arugula, and other leafy green vegetables, collard greens don’t have a lot of protein content, but protein does account for nearly 50% of the calories. Collard greens are also rich in vitamin A and vitamin C, a vitamin that has many antioxidant properties that are known to be beneficial for the immune system.
- Avocado: Technically a fruit from a particular type of evergreen tree, the avocado has long been touted as a nutritious addition to a meal. In addition to having about 4.5 grams of protein per cup, the avocado is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat that has been associated with cardiovascular benefits.
How to Incorporate More Veggies into Your Diet
Even if you’re not ready to or interested in fully replacing meat in your diet with vegetables, there are many ways to get more vegetables into your daily meal planning. Beyond the protein content you can get from many vegetables, you can access the countless health benefits connected with eating more vegetables. Diets rich in vegetables have been connected to lower rates of heart disease, cancer, and digestive problems as well as a reduction in blood cholesterol and blood pressure. Below are some tips for getting more veggies into your life:
- increase the proportion of vegetables you’re already eating; if you previously only had one small portion, try doubling it
- add vegetables into soups or stews
- switch to eating a large salad for lunch or dinner
- make roast vegetables as a side dish
- add onions, tomatoes, spinach, or other veggies to an omelet
- add in kale or spinach to a fruit smoothie
- add vegetables to pasta dishes
- use raw vegetables as a snack rather than chips
- saute sweet corn to add into tacos
Vegetables and Protein for Weight Loss
Adding protein-rich vegetables to your diet is great for overall health, but it can also be a boon for your weight loss efforts. Protein takes longer to break down, so you feel full longer after eating; this can help you eat fewer calories overall. Also, because of the thermic effect of food, metabolizing protein actually requires extra energy, so you burn more calories by processing protein than through fats or carbs. Additionally, the fiber content of vegetables adds to feelings of fullness and can curb cravings for fats and sugars.
While making adjustments to your diet can point you in the direction of weight loss, however, for most people it requires more than just dieting. At True You Weight Loss, we understand all too well how frustrating it can be to try losing weight only to give up in frustration after seemingly not making any progress. That is why we offer a series of state-of-the-art non-surgical procedures that can help you find your way to long-term weight loss. If you’d like to learn more about how to find the freedom you’ve been looking for, please contact us today to request a consultation.