Below is a meme most of you have probably seen floating around the internet from vegan forums to Instagram and various social media platforms. It is basically telling people that there is more protein in broccoli than in beef. In this blog I am going to explain this farce, clarify the truth, and make sure our vegan community is no longer misled on legitimate sources of plant based whole food protein.
First I want to address the numbers from the meme above. Based on actual nutrition facts labels of actual broccoli and beef found in my local grocery store (which will be displayed further down this blog post), the numbers in this meme aren’t even accurate. Instead of Beef having 6.4 grams of protein per 100 calories, the real number is 13.3 grams of protein per 100 calories. Instead of Broccoli having 11.1 grams of protein per 100 calories, the real number is 10 grams of protein per 100 calories.
Now let me tell you why assessing protein content (or any other macro nutrient) in a food based off of calories is absolutely silly. I have been on the forums and seen tons of people talk about broccoli and other greens as a good source of dietary protein based on calories or as a “percentage of calories”. Broccoli and other greens are not calorie dense at all when you consider their overall mass. Which means to get a comparable number of calories to beef, you need a way bigger mass of broccoli than beef. A typical serving, 1 cup as you can see below, is 85 grams of broccoli. Of that 85 gram serving, it only has 30 calories. Since there are 3 grams of protein per serving, that means 12 of those calories are from protein (4 calories per 1 gram of protein). If you divide 12 by 30, you get 40%. Is broccoli 40% protein? ABSOLUTELY NOT!
To find out whether a food is a good source of dietary protein, you need to think in terms of grams. As you can see above, 85 grams of broccoli gets you 3 grams of protein. Divide 3 by 85 and you get 3.5%. Broccoli is only 3.5% protein by weight. Is food that is only 3.5% protein a good and efficient source of dietary protein? I would say no.
Below are pictures of lean beef strips that I took in my local grocery store. The nutrition facts are very typical and accurate when talking about lean beef (leanness of beef always varies).
As you can see above, for the same 85 gram serving size, you get 16 grams of protein in beef as opposed to the 3 grams of protein in the broccoli. When you divide 16 by 85, this beef is 18.8% protein by weight as opposed to broccoli at 3.5%.
I hope this cleared up for everyone that sees that “beef vs. broccoli” meme or is told that greens have more protein than beef (or other lean meats). I am of course not discounting broccoli one bit in regards to nutritional value.
Broccoli along with other greens are great sources of vital micro nutrients. Broccoli is a great source of Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Folate, and dietary fiber amongst many other things. You should eat green vegetables as much as possible. However, they are NOT an efficient way to get good dietary protein.
My favorite plant based whole food protein sources are black beans, lentils, split peas, and some of the imitation meats out there. There are a ton of great plant based protein sources out there, just make sure to always look at the nutrition facts on your food and do the math. I hope this helps. There will be more blogs to come that address whole food plant based protein sources, diets, and nutrition. Thank you for reading.