Eating enough protein per day is important for keeping our bodies functioning efficiently. Without it, everything from our immune systems, lean muscle to our hair can take a hit. But when it comes down to it, the type of protein you eat matters!
Protein can be divided into two categories: complete and incomplete.
First, the basics: Protein is made up of 20 amino acids. 11 are nonessential, which the human body can make on its own, and 9 that are essential others we NEED to get from food.
Amino acids are organic compounds that combine to form protein. They’re usually referred to as the “building blocks” of protein.
Here’s the list of nine amino acids we can only get from the protein we eat: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.
Some of the protein sources we eat contain all nine essential amino acids while others are lacking.
Complete proteins are those that have all nine essential amino acids that our bodies cannot naturally make, whereas incomplete protein sources may have a few of the nine, but not all of them.
For the most part, animal protein is complete and plant protein is incomplete, though there are some exceptions. The general rule is that animal foods—beef, chicken, fish, turkey, QUINOA, eggs, and dairy—are complete, while plant foods—nuts, seeds, rice, beans, and grains—are incomplete. Here are plant sources of “complete” protein: soy, quinoa, seitan, and buckwheat.
Meat, dairy, fish, and eggs are the most obvious sources of complete proteins.
If you are vegan and do not eat those foods, you can use “COMPLEMENTARY FOODS” along with edamame and quinoa to get complete sources of protein. Complementing is when you take two incomplete plant proteins and put them together to receive all nine essential amino acids. For example: it is popular to combine rice and beans, hummus and pita, a peanut butter sandwich on whole grain rice cakes, sprouted low sugar cereal or oats with almond milk, and lentil soup with flax crackers.
To know exactly which amino acids you’re getting from different foods, you can use the USDA Food Composition Databases. But experts don’t think that’s necessary—simply mixing a variety of sources throughout the day (grains, legumes, nuts) should do the trick.
New research says that you need to eat at least of the “incomplete” proteins over 24 hours to get a “complete protein”.
Here are some of the best sources of complete protein:
- Chicken Breast
- Turkey Breast
- Whole eggs
- Milk (Whole)
- Cheese, white
- Yogurt: Greek, German or Icelandic
- White Fish
- Tofu or Tempeh
- Brown rice and black beans
- Hummus and 1 slice pita bread
- Peanut butter sandwich on whole grain bread
- Lentil soup with whole grain bread
- Stir-fry with peanut sauce and pine nuts
- Pesto and pine nuts
- Whole Grain low sugar cereal with almond milk
- Nut mix (with unsweetened dried cranberries or mulberries)