First, it’s important to note that plant proteins are often classed as ‘incomplete’ proteins, meaning they are low in one or more of the nine essential amino acids required for our bodies to build protein with. However, this doesn’t mean that they’re not beneficial – during the digestion process, amino acid chains from all sources are broken down and made ready for our bodies to use. So, if you’re eating a good mix of fruits, veggies, grains and legumes, then your body simply collects what it needs from the amino soup that your digestion system has already absorbed.
Even better, unlike their animal based counterparts, plant-based foods are practically free from cholesteroland tend to be high in fibre. So, contrary to popular opinion, meeting your protein needs on a plant-based diet can be both simple and successful.
To find out exactly which veggies pack a healthy punch we got in touch with expert naturopath and nutritionist Rhian Stephenson for her edit of the top 10 protein powerhouses.
Baked potatoes are one of the top sources of potassium (if you eat the skin!), a good source of vitamin B6, which build cells, and helps break down glycogen, the sugar stored in our muscle cells, and although they are starchy they are very low in calories. Potatoes have been demonised since Atkins and other low carb trends, but they’re actually a good source of nutrition in moderation. It’s usually the topping or preparation method that nudges the calorie count up. Find out more about why potatoes are good for you here.
Although this is technically a starch, corn is also a good source of protein and fibre. It also contains lutein and zeaxanthin, two phytochemicals that promote healthy vision. Surprisingly, an ear of corn contains about the same number of calories as an apple and about a quarter of the sugar. Blue corn contains anthocyanin, a fantastic antioxidant. Unfortunately, most corn is GMO and not organic, so I would always avoid tinned corn and go for fresh cobs at farmers markets & organic stores.
4 grams of protein per cup
Broccoli of course makes the list, and has a whole host of benefits on top of being rich in protein. In particular, it’s infamous for its cholesterol-lowering ability as it contains a trio of phytonutrients that support the body’s detox process, which helps rid the body of waste. There is a strong combination of both vitamins K and vitamin A, which work together to help keep our vitamin D metabolism in check. Broccoli also contains anti-inflammatory flavonoids and is a great source of chromium and folate.
4 grams of protein per medium artichoke
On top of being rich in protein, artichokes can relieve pain and discomfort associated with indigestion. In herbal medicine, they are used as a digestive tonic for the gallbladder and liver, and consequently many people swear by them as a natural treatment for hangovers! They are also a good source of fibre and vitamin C. The ORAC rating is 9 times higher than other sources of vitamin C such as oranges and red peppers.
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4 grams protein per half cup
Peas are a great source of protein, and are fast becoming the base for a lot of dairy free protein powders. They are one of the most bioavailable sources of proteins and are also rich in phyto-nutrients which help lower cholesterol levels. They contain vitamins A, C and K as well as folates and anti-inflammatory properties. Their iron helps prevent anaemia and fatigue and because they contain so much fibre, they can make you feel fuller longer, thus aiding in weight-loss.
4 grams of protein for 1 cup, cooked
Collards can be harder to find in mainstream markets but are easy to get at most organic shops or farmers markets. These greens are low in calories and their high fibre content helps control LDL cholesterol levels. Collard’s phytonutrients have anti-cancer properties and they are a good source of folates and vitamin A, C and K.
4 grams of protein for 1 cup
Mushrooms are one of the most well known protein rich vegetables, and in many Eastern cultures they are used as one of the main protein staples. Of course, they have numerous other benefits as well! These spectacular mushrooms contain ergothioneine, a unique antioxidant that protect cells in the body and reduces inflammation. They have been used medicinally for thousands of years due to their antibacterial effects. They also contain significant levels of zinc, iron, potassium.
3 grams of protein per half a cup, cooked
Note – this number drops to only 1g protein available from raw spinach. One of my favourite things to do when I need a boost is to get an entire bag of organic spinach and steam it for dinner as a major health boosting side. It wilts down to about an eighth of its size and that’s when the protein count starts to go up. It is also a good source of iron, folates, calcium and vitamin A. In addition to nourishing the eyes and building bones spinach is good for digestion.
4 grams of protein per cup
Brussel Sprouts are a nutritional powerhouse and are unfairly given a hard time. As well as being a good source of protein, they have heaps of potassium and vitamin K, A, C iron and fibre, they are low glycaemic, low calorie, and packed with flavonoid anti-oxidants which offer protection from prostate, colon and endometrial cancers. Their sulphur content also makes them a great detoxification aid.
3 grams of protein per medium potato
The more popular potato, this has more nutrients than white potatoes but a little less protein. It’s one of the best sources of beta carotene, as well as full of vitamin C, copper and manganese and a host of B vitamins. Its amylose raises blood sugar levels slowly compared to simple fruit sugars and is therefore recommended as a healthy food supplement, even in diabetes. The combination of beta-carotene, E and C make the sweet potato a “beauty food”, all contributing to glowing skin and healthy hair.