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The Dish on Proteins: Part II October 6, 2010

Complete vs. Incomplete Proteins

Of the 20 amino acids that our body needs to fuction, 9 of them are essential. This means that they are not produced by our bodies and therefore must be consumed in the diet. A complete protein is one that contains all 9 essential amino acids in sufficient amounts. An incomplete protein is one that either lacks one or more of the 9 essential amino acids or doesn’t make enough of one to be completely functional on its own.

In general, all animal sources of protein, including meats, dairy, fish and eggs are complete proteins (except gelatin). The egg white is considered the golden standard for a complete protein.
Plant sources of proteins, including fruits, veggies, grains, nuts, and legumes provide incomplete proteins. Soy is an exception to this rule and is actually a complete plant protein.

Not a meat eater? Don’t despair! While each plant protein on its own is incomplete, when they are paired with a complementary protein, the proteins make up for what each other lacks. It is good to eat complementary proteins together but if you can’t it is generally considered effective to eat them within 2 meal periods of each other.

Here is a general guide to creating complete proteins from plant sources:

  • Grains + Legumes = Complete Protein  (e.g. peanut butter on whole grain toast)
  • Grains + Veggies= Complete Protein (e.g. brown rice and broccoli)
  • Veggies + Nuts= Complete Protein (e.g. green beans with almond slices)
  • Legumes + Nuts = Complete Protein (e.g. vegetarian chili with cashews)

3 Responses to “The Dish on Proteins: Part II”

  1. Rose Says:

    Thanks so much for posting this!!! Being vegan, I am always asked, “how do you get enough protein?” and I usually explain that you don’t actually need as much as people commonly think you do. It’s easy to get enough protein from plant based, whole foods!

    • You are welcome! So glad that you enjoyed the post. I think that everyone, vegetarian, vegan or meat-eater, would benefit a lot from including meals with complementary plant proteins. While animal products are an easy source of protein they are also the major sources of saturated fat and cholesterol in the diet. As the U.S. suffers from high rates of heart disease, finding ways to reduce saturated fat and cholesterol intake, by integrating vegetarian meals into the diet, would be a very good thing.

  2. […] those of you who love it, you’ll be happy to know that this popular spread packs in protein, healthy fats (monounsaturated fats make up most of the fat content), fiber, vitamin E, niacin, and […]

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