Chicken, fish, eggs, Greek yogurt—oh, and beans and nut butter. If someone asked you to make a list of high-protein foods, these are probably the ones you’d mention. But there are plenty of other contenders.
Many whole grains, cheeses, and vegetables serve up a surprising amount of the muscle-builder, and adding them to your plate can bump up the protein content considerably. Some even have enough protein to stand as your meal or snack’s main source.
Here are 12 picks that fit the bill. Plus, some unexpected ways to get more of them in your diet.
1. Sweet Potatoes
Wait, are they a starch or a protein? Turns out, sweet potatoes have both. There are 4 grams of protein in a cup of baked sweet potatoes, which is about as much as a half cup of low-fat milk.
Use them in:Sweet potato smoothie, anyone? Blend 1/2 cup cooled sweet potato flesh with 3/4 cup dairy or plant milk, 1 medium frozen banana, 1 tablespoon cashew butter, and 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice.
2. Artichoke Hearts
No joke, a cup of ‘choke hearts contains 4 grams of protein. To save yourself the trouble of all that trimming and peeling, choose frozen, jarred, or canned artichoke hearts.
Use them in:Pasta, duh! Toss an 8-ounce package of thawed or drained and rinsed artichoke hearts into whole-wheat pasta or risotto and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Or purée them into a creamy dip with 1/2 cup Greek yogurt, 2 cloves garlic, 2 tablespoons olive oil, and the juice of half a lemon.
3. Boca Veggie Burgers
In Partnership with Boca
Boca’s all-American flame-grilled veggie burgers are packed with protein—15 grams, to be exact. That’s more than a 3-ounce serving of extra-firm tofu. And they’re a breeze to make: Simply pull a patty out of the freezer and grill, sauté, or throw in the oven for a quick lunch or dinner. Find them at amazon.com or your local grocery store.
Use it in: Bored with the usual bun? Try Boca’s veggie ground crumbles as a filling for tacos or omelets. With 0 grams of fat and 13 grams of protein per serving, they can be swapped in for ground beef in pretty much any recipe.
4. Leafy Greens
Popeye was right: Spinach is muscle food, serving up 5 grams protein per cooked cup. And other greens aren’t far behind. You’ll get 4 grams protein from a cup of cooked collard greens and 3 grams from a cup of cooked Swiss chard.
Use them in: Purée 1 cup steamed greens with 1/4 cup fresh parsley, 2 cloves garlic, 1/4 cup olive oil, and the juice of half a lemon until smooth to make a pesto-like sauce. Use it as a topping for grilled chicken or fish (more protein!) or stir it into soups.
5. Goat Cheese
Goat cheese isn’t just a tasty way to get your calcium. It’s also a surprisingly good source of protein, with 6 grams per ounce of semisoft cheese. That’s as much as a large egg, guys.
Use it in: A grown-up version of PB&J. Instead of peanut butter and grape jelly, spread 1/4 cup goat cheese on whole-wheat bread with 2 tablespoons strawberry preserves.
6. Whole-wheat Pasta
You’ll never look at your noodles as just a big bowl o’ carbs again. Why? Because a cup of cooked whole-wheat pasta also has 7.5 grams protein.
Use it in: Pasta doesn’t just pair well with tomato sauce. Add 2 cups cooked, cooled whole-wheat pasta into frittatas or crustless quiches along with the usual veggies. Now you don’t even need toast.
You might not think of them as a nutrient powerhouse. But a cup of green peas packs a whopping 8 grams of protein—more than any other vegetable. Unless you come across freshly picked ones at the farmers market (usually in the spring), buy frozen. They’re just as nutritious, and they often taste sweeter, since they’re flash-frozen at the peak of freshness.
Use them in: There’s a new hummus in town. Puree 2 cups steamed peas with 1/4 cup tahini, 2 cloves garlic, and the juice of half a lemon to make a sweet green hummus.
Whole grains can give your meal a protein boost—especially quinoa. It delivers 8 grams of protein per cooked cup, along with hard-to-get minerals such as iron and magnesium.
Use it in: Quinoa makes a nutty, satisfying base for grain and veggie bowls. But you can also cook it in milk and eat it like oatmeal, topped with fresh fruit, nuts, and a drizzle of honey. Got leftover cooked quinoa in the fridge? Try folding 1/4 to 1/2 cup into pancakes, muffins, or quick bread batters.
9. Pumpkin Seeds
These green seeds aren’t just crunchy and delicious. They’re also loaded with protein—around 9 grams per 1/4-cup serving.
Use them in: Fold 1/3 cup toasted pumpkin seeds and 1/3 cup dried cherries into 2 cups cooked wild rice, and use as a filling for stuffed acorn squash or stuffed peppers.
10. Parmesan Cheese
Everyone’s favorite hard cheese isn’t just packed with flavor. It’s also packed with protein—10 grams per ounce, to be exact.
Use it in: Make a snack plate with an ounce of Parm and fresh fruit like apricots or grapes. The salty-sweet combo is delicious, and the cheese serves up enough protein to keep you satisfied until your next meal (or just your second course).
If you’ve never tried this chewy ancient grain, consider adding it to your menu. It tastes nutty and sweet, like farro. And it’s loaded with protein—11 grams per cooked cup.
Use it in: For a fresh take on your favorite risotto recipe, try swapping the usual Arborio rice for an equal amount of kamut. The light, nutty flavor works with any combination of veggies and herbs.
12. Hemp Seeds
They’re small but mighty, people. You’ll get nearly 13 grams of protein in a 1/4-cup serving of hemp seeds.
Use them in: Instead of sprinkling hemp seeds on your salad (been there, done that), try adding them to your dressing instead. Add 1/4 cup hemp seeds to your favorite vinaigrette recipe and blend the dressing in the blender until emulsified. The blender will help crush up some of the hemp seeds and make the dressing creamy.
Note: All nutrition info is from Self Nutrition Data, except for artichoke hearts and hemp seeds, which come from the USDA.