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Your Simple Guide to Getting Complete Protein in Your Diet

Have you been wondering how to get the proper intake of all amino acids? It's a common struggle with vegan or primarily vegetarian diets. The good news is that it is really quite easy to do! But before we dive into that, let's take a step back and explain why having all the essential amino acids is important!

What is a protein?

A protein is a macronutrient made up of amino acids. Amino acids are commonly referred to as the building blocks of proteins because they have a unique structure that determines their function in the body. Protein is essential to your health, in fact, it is a part of every cell in your body and therefore you can’t function without adequate intake of a variety of protein. The main responsibility of protein in the body is to:

  • build muscle

  • assist the immune system

  • help heal wounds

  • make collagen

Essential, Non-essential and conditionally essential

Some amino acids can be manufactured in the body, this makes them non-essential, meaning you don’t have to obtain them from your diet. Others can not be manufactured in the body and this makes them essential, which means that you must obtain them from your diet. Some amino acids are considered conditionally essential, which means that some non-essential amino acids don’t have the precursor already in the body to build the new amino acids. It’s like trying to build a house without a foundation, you need the foundation first. In order for the body to operate optimally and maintain good health it needs all 9 of the essential amino acids. Which brings us to complete and incomplete proteins.

Complete and Incomplete Proteins

Not all protein sources are created equally, in fact, many vegan and vegetarian proteins don’t contain all nine essential amino acids these protein sources are considered incomplete proteins. A complete protein is a single food source that contains all 9 essential amino acids. Most animal proteins do contain all 9 making them a complete protein. However the good news is that if you are eating vegan or vegetarian you can put together certain incomplete proteins to make a complete protein.

Complementary proteins

Since not all proteins are created equally in order to get adequate amounts of all 9 essential amino acids we combine two or more incomplete proteins that are complementary. These complementary proteins together make a complete protein. Some people used to suggest that in order for it to be a complete protein you needed to consume two complementary proteins at the same meal but now it is suggested that you eat a variety of protein options each day.

We have put together a little cheat sheet for you below. Simply pair legumes with grains, seeds and nuts or any of these three with legumes!

Oh and make sure to download our Plant Protein Handout which has 18 plant protein options!

Plant Protein Handout
Download PDF • 8.00MB