Protein: Broccoli vs. Meat #facepalm

The fact that I still hear people going on about how broccoli is an excellent source of protein – it has more protein that meat #!&@($^@*!)(#))#))#(@@&@%#^#% aghhhh. The fact that I still hear this out of some nutritionists and dietitians is just disheartening.

Classic true fact: broccoli has 11 grams of protein per 100 calories while beef only has 10 grams of protein per 100 calories. Okay, yes. But, broccoli is extremely low in calories – it’s mostly fiber. You’d have to eat 4 cups of chopped broccoli to get 10 grams of protein… or you could eat a few small pieces of steak.

It’s a fair point that we get protein from foods other than animal products. Beans are quite high in protein, and whole grains have some protein as well… though these are primarily good sources of carbohydrates. Nuts and seeds are mostly sources of healthy fats, but they have some protein, too. And if you’re eating these foods throughout the day, the protein adds up. While there are some concerns with getting sufficient leucine to maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis on a low-animal product diet, getting sufficient protein this way can be done… though, unless you’re a growing student-athlete or an endurance athlete burning tons of calories each day, it can be challenging to get sufficient protein on a vegan/vegetarian diet without drastically exceeding calorie needs (and gaining unwanted pounds).

If your protein needs are low because you’re a total couch-potato and have no weight/strength/performance goals, then maybe getting 3 grams of protein from broccoli is something. But, do we really only need 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram bodyweight per day (~50 grams protein)? Those are the minimum needs for health maintenance in adults as recommended by the Institute of Medicine. Most of us actually benefit from far more protein.

Sure, overeating fatty proteins like beef, bacon, or fried chicken is part of the reason so many people have excess weight, high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, etc. But, regular exercise can double your protein needs to between 1.6 and 1.8 grams per kilo per day (Lemon, 2000) as muscle protein is damaged and also oxidized for energy. People trying to lose weight benefit from needs in the 2 grams per kilogram (1 gram per pound) neighborhood to maintain muscle mass in a caloric deficit. Vegetarians/vegans have increased needs, as do both younger and older individuals.

Have fun consuming 150 grams of protein per day in broccoli – that’d be around 39 cups of chopped, raw broccoli.

Broccoli: more like an excellent source of my daily facepalms.

So next time you see stuff like this…

Know that you’re smarter. There’s enough terrible nutrition misinformation out there today… we don’t need people thinking that broccoli is a good source of protein or that “women should get 46g [protein] per day and men [should get] 56g”… most of us need far more for optimizing health/performance, and broccoli ain’t gonna count for much.



Lemon. Beyond the zone: protein needs of active individuals. J Am Coll Nutr. 2000 Oct;19(5 Suppl):513S-521S.

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