Complete Protein Combinations for Vegans

Shereen Lehman wrote . . . . . . . . . .

If you’re a vegan, or “strict vegetarian,” you may want to pay closer attention to the types of protein sources you consume because most plant-based foods are incomplete proteins. Being incomplete doesn’t mean plant-based foods are low in protein, you can get plenty of protein from plants, but almost every plant-based food is low in one or more essential amino acids that your body needs to thrive.

How much of a problem is this and what can a vegan do?

It may sound bad, but as long as you eat a variety of protein sources every day you’ll be just fine. The combination of different protein sources will ultimately ensure you get an ample supply of all the amino acids every day.

First, A Little Amino Acid Chemistry

Let’s talk about amino acids for a minute. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Your body needs them to make the protein structures that build and maintain the tissues in your body.

There are many different amino acids; they all have similar structures but are differentiated by their side chains. All proteins, no matter what food they come from, are made up of amino acids. But the number and order of the amino acids that make up a cow’s rump or a navy bean are different from the ones that make up your body parts.

When you eat round steak or baked beans (or anything that contains any protein at all, even a tiny amount), your digestive system breaks it down into amino acids that are absorbed into your bloodstream. From there, the amino acids are used to build the proteins that make up your muscles, organs and lots of other tissues.

Back to Essential Amino Acids

Not all amino acids are essential. Your body can make many amino acids from the leftover bits of old amino acids and a few other raw materials found in the body, but there are some amino acids that the human body can’t manufacture. These amino acids are called the essential amino acids because you have to consume them.

These are the essential amino acids:

  • Histidine
  • Isoleucine
  • Leucine
  • Lysine
  • Methionine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Threonine
  • Tryptophan
  • Valine

Animal proteins all contain every single one of these essential amino acids, so they’re called complete proteins. If you’re an ovo-lacto-vegetarian (only eggs or dairy products), you can get complete proteins when you eat the eggs or dairy products.

Plant proteins are a little different. Each plant that you eat has a different amino acid profile. For example, grains and cereals are extremely low in lysine. So low that they can’t even be considered a source of lysine. If you only eat grains and cereals, you won’t get enough lysine, and that’s bad.

However, legumes such as peanuts, peas, dry beans and lentils contain a lot of lysine. On the flip side, legumes aren’t good sources of tryptophan, methionine, and cystine, but those amino acids are found in grains and cereals. As long as you eat some grains and some legumes, you’ll get some of each essential amino acid.

Grains and legumes are called complementary proteins because when you combine them, you get all of the essential amino acids. Nuts and seeds are also complementary to legumes because they contain tryptophan, methionine, and cystine.

You don’t need to eat complementary proteins together at every meal. As long as you get a variety of proteins throughout the day, you’ll get ample amounts of each amino acid. But, just in case you’re interested, here are some ways to combine your complementary proteins.

Grains and legumes:

  • Black beans and rice
  • Pasta and peas
  • Whole wheat bread and peanut butter
  • Bean soup and crackers

Nuts and seeds plus legumes:

  • Roasted nuts, seeds, and peanuts
  • Hummus (chickpeas and tahini)
  • Lentils and almonds

Soy is one plant protein that contains all the essential amino acids. It’s also a good source of healthy fats and phytochemicals (plant chemicals that may be good for you). It’s usually served as tempeh or tofu, and soy milk is a popular replacement for milk. Amaranth, quinoa, hempseed, and chia are also complete proteins, so adding any of these foods, along with combining your other protein sources, will help you get all your essential amino acids met every day.

Source: Very Well Fit

Pasta with Long-simmered Meat Sauce from Bologna


6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 thick slice rindless pancetta, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
8 oz ground sirloin
8 oz ground veal
3/4 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup low-fat milk
2 cups canned Italian tomatoes and juice, strained
1 tablespoon tomato puree
a bundle of herbs (sprigs of parsley tied with 1 bay leaf and 1 sprig rosemary)
1-2/3 lb fusilli
4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra to serve
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


  1. Heat 4 tablespoons of the oil in a skillet, add the pancetta, and saute until the fat starts to run.
  2. Add the onion, carrot, and celery and cook over medium heat, stirring, until the onion is soft and golden, about 25-30 minutes.
  3. Add the ground meats and cook only until they lose their color.
  4. Add the wine and cook until it evaporates.
  5. Add the milk and cook until it evaporates.
  6. Add the tomatoes, tomato puree, and bundle of herbs and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer very, very slowly, partly covered with a lid, for 4-5 hours (the longer the better), stirring occasionally.
  7. Add a little extra water toward the end of the cooking time to prevent the sauce from sticking, then season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  8. Cook the pasta until al dente. Drain and toss with the remaining olive oil and 1 tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
  9. Add 1 ladle of sauce per person and toss well. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan.

Makes 8 servings.

Source: Noodles and Pasta

In Pictures: Character Food of Pompompurin Cafe in Nagoya, Japan

Vegetarian Protein Is Just As ‘Complete’ As Meat, Despite What We’ve Been Taught

Kristen Aiken wrote . . . . . . . . .

“If you eat a dish with black beans, you’re not getting complete protein. You have to add another kind of bean to get the same kind of protein you’d get from meat.”

This suggestion came from a generally well-informed acquaintance of mine while we were on a long car ride, making me wonder if the fumes had gone to her head.

Simmering with skepticism, I asked, “Adding any kind of beans will make it complete?”

“Yes, any kind of beans,” she replied with supreme confidence. “White beans, kidney beans, lima beans, lentils. When you combine any two beans, it’s just as good as eating animal-based protein.”

My instinct was to tell her she was wrong. But our drive through a countryside without cell towers or access to Google prevented me from doing so with absolute certainty. Now, however, I’m armed and ready to bust this myth.

It turns out my acquaintance was referring to a diet fad called “protein combining” that became popular in the 1970s. It was based on the premise that vegetarian and vegan diets provide insufficient content of essential amino acids, making it necessary to combine plant-based proteins to get the same “complete” protein you’d get from an animal. Protein combining has since been discredited by the medical community, but there are still people out there who adhere to this practice, and even more people who still believe plant-based protein is incomplete.

Concepts like “good fat vs. bad fat” and “good cholesterol vs. bad cholesterol” are somewhat well-known these days, but chatter about “incomplete protein vs. complete protein” hasn’t quite made it into the nutritional zeitgeist. You may have heard about complete protein if you’re vegan or vegetarian, but that doesn’t guarantee you fully understand what it is.

Case in point: quinoa. Quinoa is often marketed as one of the only vegetarian sources of complete protein, but that’s a misleading claim because every plant-based protein is complete. There’s no information to support the idea that quinoa is a more complete source of vegetarian protein than other plant-based foods. Nor is meat, for that matter. Let’s get to the bottom of why.

What’s a complete protein, anyway?

Just to be clear, a “complete protein” is a protein that contains all nine of the essential amino acids our bodies need to function: tryptophan (the stuff in turkey that supposedly makes us sleepy), threonine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine+cystine, phenylalinine+tyrosine, valine and histidine. Those amino acids are “essential,” but our bodies can’t make them, so they must be derived from the foods we eat.

Though many vegans and vegetarians worry about getting enough protein, concern about “complete protein” intake has more to do with the quality of our protein than the quantity.

Animal protein is not more complete than plant-based protein.

Dr. Michael Greger explains at his site that all nutrients come from the sun or the soil. Cows, for example, get their nutrients from the sun and from plant-based foods like grass and hay. So if cows eat plants, and plants provide cows with all the nutrients they need, why would we assume steak is a more complete protein than the food that provides the steak with its nutrients? The answer: We shouldn’t.

While it’s true that some plant proteins are relatively low in certain essential amino acids, our bodies know how to make up for it.

“It turns out our body is not stupid,” Greger explains. “It maintains pools of free amino acids that can be used to do all the complementing for us. Not to mention the massive protein recycling program our body has. Some 90 grams of protein is dumped into the digestive tract every day from our own body to get broken back down and reassembled, so our body can mix and match amino acids to whatever proportions we need, whatever we eat.”

Greger told HuffPost that there’s no such thing as incomplete vegetarian protein. The only incomplete protein in the food supply is gelatin, which lacks tryptophan.

So why have we been led to believe that animal protein is more complete than vegetarian protein?

Misleading studies sparked the popularity of a bogus practice called ‘protein combining’ in the 1970s.

In 1909, the biochemist Karl Heinrich Ritthausen formed a theory that vegetarian and vegan diets provide insufficient amounts of essential amino acids, making it necessary to combine plant-based proteins to get the same “complete” protein you’d get from an animal. Another 1914 study out of Yale also suggested that plant-based protein is incomplete ― but this research was conducted on infant rodents and lacked context.

Protein combining gained popularity in 1954 with the publication of Adelle Davis’ book Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit. The concept gained even more steam in 1971, when Frances Lappé published the best-selling book Diet for a Small Planet, which echoed the same idea. Vogue and the American Journal of Nursing even talked about protein combining in 1975. By then, America was on board.

But in 1981, Lappé changed her position on protein combining in a revised edition of her book, in which she backpedaled on the entire theory and apologized for reinforcing a myth.

The biggest pushback to the theory came in 2002, when Dr. John McDougall issued a correction to the American Heart Association for a 2001 publication that questioned the completeness of plant proteins.

McDougall asserted that earlier research about plant-based protein was misleading. “It is impossible to design an amino acid-deficient diet based on the amounts of unprocessed starches and vegetables sufficient to meet the calorie needs of humans,” he said. “Furthermore, mixing foods to make a complementary amino acid composition is unnecessary.”

He went on to say:

The reason it is important to correct this misinformation is that many people are afraid to follow healthful, pure vegetarian diets ― they worry about ‘incomplete proteins’ from plant sources. A vegetarian diet based on any single one or combination of these unprocessed starches (eg, rice, corn, potatoes, beans), with the addition of vegetables and fruits, supplies all the protein, amino acids, essential fats, minerals, and vitamins (with the exception of vitamin B12) necessary for excellent health. To wrongly suggest that people need to eat animal protein for nutrients will encourage them to add foods that are known to contribute to heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and many forms of cancer, to name just a few common problems.

Other doctors supported this hypothesis, including Dr. Andrew Weil and Dr. Joel Fuhrman, and the medical community followed.

So if all protein is complete, is all protein equal?

If protein combining isn’t necessary, is it all the same? Do 10 grams of protein from lentils have the same effect on our bodies as 10 grams of protein from steak?

Though they are both considered complete proteins, Greger told HuffPost there are differences. For example, he said, “lentil protein doesn’t raise IGF-1 levels as much as beef protein, which is one reason beef is a probable human carcinogen and legume consumption is associated with lower cancer risk. The lentils would probably also be better for our kidneys as well as longevity.”

How much protein do we really need, anyway?

Whether we’re vegan, vegetarian or omnivorous, protein intake is one of our key daily dietary concerns. But how much do we actually need per day to maintain a healthy lifestyle? According to Greger, it’s not nearly as much as we think.

“As long as we’re eating enough calories of whole plant foods, one shouldn’t have to worry at all,” he said. “We only need 0.8 to 0.9 grams of protein per healthy kilogram of body weight. In other words, one PB&J could get you a third of the way there.”

Now that we can do.

Source: Huffpost

Read also:

Protein and Amino Acids . . . . .

Study: Stroke Doubles Dementia Risk

People who have had a stroke are around twice as likely to develop dementia, according to the largest study of its kind ever conducted.

The University of Exeter Medical School led the study which analysed data on stroke and dementia risk from 3.2 million people across the world. The link between stroke and dementia persisted even after taking into account other dementia risk factors such as blood pressure, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Their findings give the strongest evidence to date that having a stroke significantly increases the risk of dementia.

The study builds on previous research which had established the link between stroke and dementia, though had not quantified the degree to which stroke actually increased dementia risk. To better understand the link between the two, researchers analysed 36 studies where participants had a history of stroke, totalling data from 1.9 million people. In addition, they analysed a further 12 studies that looked at whether participants had a recent stroke over the study period, adding a further 1.3 million people. The new research, published in the leading dementia journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, is the first meta-analysis in the area.

Dr Ilianna Lourida, of the University of Exeter Medical School, said: “We found that a history of stroke increases dementia risk by around 70%, and recent strokes more than doubled the risk. Given how common both stroke and dementia are, this strong link is an important finding. Improvements in stroke prevention and post-stroke care may therefore play a key role in dementia prevention.”

According to the World Health Organisation, 15 million people have a stroke each year. Meanwhile, around 50 million people globally have dementia – a number expected to almost double ever 20 years, reaching 131 million by 2050.

Stroke characteristics such as the location and extent of brain damage may help to explain variation in dementia risk observed between studies, and there was some suggestion that dementia risk may be higher for men following stroke.

Further research is required to clarify whether factors such as ethnicity and education modify dementia risk following stroke. Most people who have a stroke do not go on to develop dementia, so further research is also needed to establish whether differences in post-stroke care and lifestyle can reduce the risk of dementia further.

Dr David Llewellyn, from the University of Exeter Medical School, concluded: “Around a third of dementia cases are thought to be potentially preventable, though this estimate does not take into account the risk associated with stroke. Our findings indicate that this figure could be even higher, and reinforce the importance of protecting the blood supply to the brain when attempting to reduce the global burden of dementia.”

Source: University of Exeter

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