The Truth About Complementary Proteins

Complementary proteins are food sources that when taken individually will have incomplete protein level, but when combined will provide us with the protein that we need.

Complementary Proteins

One of the most essential parts of our daily diet, protein is the source of our energy. It is crucial in retaining the structure as well as the function of our tissues and cells. The human body produces certain types of protein by itself and gets the others from food. But many food sources don’t contain enough of these proteins and need to be paired with other protein sources. This brings us to the concept of complementary proteins.

Before we start, let’s have a recap on what proteins are.

Overview of Proteins and their Function

Proteins are important as they are composed of organic compounds that go into our cells and affect the synthesis of nutrients inside them. Amino acids make up proteins which then transport the messages from the brain to the different parts of our body and affect our every move.

Some amino acids are produced by our body. However, there are some that we can only get from food sources which we call as the essential amino acids. Those that are produced by our body are known as the nonessential amino acids and are essential to provide the nitrogen that our cells need. Methionine, leucine, and histidine are among the amino acids that we can obtain from our daily diet, while asparagine, arginine, and glutamine are synthesized inside us.

As we have already talked about the sources of these amino acids, it is just good to know the two types of protein sources. Dairy, soy and animal meat are considered as complete proteins since they give all the important amino acids that our body needs. On the other hand, food sources such as vegetables, legumes, and grains, are categorized as incomplete proteins as their amino acids content are low.

If you are a meat lover, then there won’t be a problem with your protein source. The challenge will be with the people who are vegetarians and vegans as they may have incomplete proteins. In order to address this challenge, it is good to know the concept of complementary proteins as these will help support the energy that they need. Other important facts about complementary proteins are also uncovered below.

What Are Complementary Proteins?

Based on the recommended protein daily allowance by medical experts, each one of us should intake 0.8 grams of protein for every body kilogram. The daily requirement grows as we increase and intensify our physical activities. According to health professionals, 70 grams of protein are needed by physically active adults on a daily basis.

For vegetarians or those who are limiting their meat intake, there is a high chance that your protein intake will be below the daily recommended one. To prevent any health troubles that could be caused by insufficient protein intake, it is helpful to explore the concept of complementary proteins.

What are complementary proteins? Complementary proteins are food sources that when taken individually will have incomplete protein level, but when combined will provide us with the protein that we need. They are helpful especially for vegetarians and vegans as many medical experts recommend that they eat them in their every meal to stay fit and healthy.

Popularization of Protein Complementing

This concept was first introduced by Adelle Davis in 1954. In the write up Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit, Davis recommended that food sources with incomplete proteins be combined to provide us with complete proteins. It is also where Davis mentioned that the body will not use incomplete proteins if their level protein has not been completed in the span of one hour.

The concept was supported by Frances Moore Lappe when she released the book Diet for a Small Planet in 1971. In this writing, she discussed how combining plants based food sources with incomplete proteins can be mixed in sumptuous dishes to give us the protein level that our body needs. Among the common complementary proteins that she suggested are rice and other grains mixed with peas, beans or other legumes as well as dairy products and grains.

The popularity of complementary proteins continued in 1975 when the American National Research Council released a warning to vegans and vegetarians that they should always have complete proteins in their daily diet. The call was supported by the American Dietetic Association and other groups in the U.S. at the time such as the association of nurses which has published research explaining the practice of complementary proteins.

Criticisms have been raised through time, but I guess, it is safe to combine proteins than continue with hesitation and suffer the health consequences associated with having incomplete proteins in our system.

Best Protein Sources for Vegans and Vegetarians

To support our wellness and health, the U.S. National Institutes of Health has released a list of plant based food sources with high protein content. Among them are almonds, walnuts, tofu, black beans, tempeh, garbanzo bens, sunflower seeds and hazelnuts. Also included in the long list of high protein plant sources are kidney beans, split peas, lentils, pinto beans, peanut butter and peanuts.

A 20-year research in the 2006 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine found that the risk of heart disease can be decreased by 30 per cent if one implements a low-carbohydrate and high protein diet. Another interesting finding of this research is that going for plant based food sources of protein will help us cut our weight. In relation to this, a study in the 2014 issue of Obesity claimed that those who are eager to lose weight should include beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas in their daily diet as these food sources enhance their feeling of being full.

Complementary Protein Samples

To keep us motivated and eager to include complementary proteins in our daily diet, there are some sample food pairings that we can always try. These pairings are not just healthy but also tasty. This can help ensure that we do not lose the drive to have them in our plate. Some suggested pairings are as follow:

  • Garden salad with nuts, seeds and of course beans
  • Yogurt mixed with almonds and sunflower seeds
  • Stews or soups with grains, legumes and beans
  • Peanut butter spread on a whole grain slice of bread
  • Whole wheat pita bread eaten with hummus
  • Brown rice with stir-fried beans, nuts and tofu
  • Tofu eaten with quinoa or red or brown rice

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