Does Broccoli Actually Contain More Protein Than Steak?

Broccoli is considered one of the most nutritious foods, and some say it has more protein than steak. That's not entirely false, but it's not entirely true, either. First, you should know that both foods are excellent sources of protein. However, their nutritional profiles differ in several ways — and not all protein is created equal.

Meat, dairy, fish, eggs, and some plant-based foods are complete protein sources because they contain all nine essential amino acids, including lysine, leucine, valine, and others. Your body cannot produce these nutrients by itself, so they must be obtained from food. Most vegetables, including broccoli, lack one or more essential amino acids and, therefore, are considered incomplete proteins. But even so, they're by no means inferior to meat and other sources of complete protein.

One aspect to consider is your total protein intake. Hair loss, brittle nails, fatigue, and insomnia are all subtle signs you need more protein in your diet. This brings up the question, should you eat more broccoli or steak? Let's see what the research says.

How much protein is in broccoli vs steak?

The amount of protein in steak depends on the cut, but regardless, it's still higher than that of broccoli and other veggies. For example, ribeye steak has over 29 grams of protein per 3.5 ounces, whereas prime rib steak boasts 22.5 grams. By comparison, a 3.5-ounce serving of cooked broccoli has roughly 2.4 grams of protein. Technically speaking, you would need to eat about 2.5 pounds of broccoli to get the same amount of protein as in 3.5 ounces of ribeye steak.

However, broccoli does contain more protein per calorie than steak. This cruciferous veggie has only 35 calories per 3.5 ounces, whereas the same amount of prime rib steak delivers 341 calories. Protein has 4 calories per gram, meaning that about one-third of the calories in broccoli come from this nutrient.

Consider the serving size, too. A serving of steak is 3 ounces, providing around 20 grams of protein. A serving of broccoli, whether cooked or raw, is 1 cup (5.5 ounces) and offers 3.7 grams of plant-based protein. Based on these numbers, steak is hands-down the winner. 

Broccoli might be a more nutritious option

Steak is higher in protein than broccoli, but this doesn't make it more nutritious. There are plenty of reasons you shouldn't eat red meat, including a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. For example, a 2020 study published in the BMJ found that replacing red meat with nuts, legumes, and veggies could significantly reduce cardiovascular disease risk.

From a nutritional standpoint, both steak and broccoli offer large amounts of vitamins and minerals. Broccoli is lower in calories and higher in fiber, calcium, vitamin A, vitamin C, and folate than ribeye steak, but the meat boasts larger amounts of iron, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, and selenium. However, steak is also high in saturated fatty acids, whereas broccoli has virtually no fat. As far as their protein content goes, a 2017 study featured in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition says it's possible to gain lean mass and strength, regardless of where you get your protein from.

Meat does contain all nine essential amino acids, but you can obtain these nutrients from vegetables, too. Some legumes and grains, such as quinoa, buckwheat, and soy, are complete protein sources. Plus, you can incorporate beans, mushrooms, and other protein-packed vegetables into your diet to make sure you're not missing out on any nutrients. "Don't get hung up on having to have a complete protein with every single meal," dietician Shayna Komar tells Piedmont Healthcare. "Instead, aim for variety in your whole day," she adds.