Are you getting enough protein? One of the best ways is to consume foods that are “complete proteins.” That’s because they contain all nine essential amino acids (EAAs). Aminos are the building blocks of proteins and 20 are found in the human body. People can only get EAAs from food and supplements. You can make some foods like beans & rice or buckwheat & beans into complete proteins. However, an easier option is to simply eat foods that contain all 9 EAAs. This provides enough daily aminos required for a healthy body/grain. It’s also good for fitness goals like building lean muscle mass.
You actually have several options when picking complete proteins. The most obvious ones are animal-based ones like meat, eggs, and cheese. In fact, most of the complete proteins are from animals. However, there are also some plant-based options that also provide all 9 EAAs. You should also consider these foods because they include certain nutrients you can also get from plants. When combining both main protein sources you’ll maximize the amount of proteins, minerals, enzymes, and antioxidants you get. That’s a good thing! This is especially critical if you have to consume a high amount of protein due to body weight, fitness goals, etc.
What are Complete Proteins All About?
You might have heard terms like complete/incomplete proteins. A complete protein is a food that contains all 9 essential amino acids (EAAs). These aminos are ones people have to get from foods/supplements. They’re different from non-essential amino acids (NEAAs) that people’s bodies are able to produce.
About half of the 20 amino acids are EAAs. You can easily get one-third of them from a certain type called branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). This refers to the aminos’ structure since they branch off to one side.
However, you also need to get the other 6 EAAs. A related issue is food is always a better source of nutrients versus supplements like protein powders. Here’s why. You might hear that amino acids are “natural.” That’s true but the most natural source is real food versus supplements like powders and pills.
Some protein sources don’t have low amounts of protein. However, they’re still “incomplete” proteins since they don’t include all EAAs or don’t include enough of them for a full day’s worth. One example is most beans. Soybeans are a complete protein but green beans and kidney beans are incomplete proteins.
You can actually combine 2 or more beans in order to make a complete protein. For example, some options include chickpeas and green beans, or kidney and pink beans like Wendy’s chili. These combinations provide protein sources that are equal to hard-boiled eggs, Greek yogurt, or miso soup.
Meanwhile, if you want your meals to be more “efficient” then you should pick foods that are complete proteins. It prevents you from using several combos for your meal planning.
An X-factor is you’ll also have to get enough good fats and carbs in your meals. So, when you pick high-protein sources like complete proteins it will be easier to pick nutrient-rich foods to get all required nutrients for any given day.
Foods that Contain All Nine Essential Amino Acids
These foods are very popular in diets like the Mediterranean Diet since they’re generally healthier than meat. On this particular diet, you have to eat fish/seafood at least 2x per week. Fish and seafood provide a wide range of nutrients.
For example, fatty fish (trout, sardines, tuna, mackerel, herring) and shellfish (oysters, crabs, shrimp, lobsters) are both high in omega-3 fatty acids. This is a source of healthy fat that can provide health benefits like brain/heart health.
This seed/cereal has been eaten up to 7 thousand years ago but recently became a “superfood.” Quinoa is high in nutrients like:
- Vitamin Bs
Fun Fact: Quinoa has 95% of Phosphorus’ daily value (DV).
This includes milk, cheese, yogurt, kefir (fermented dairy), and others. This food is allowed on a vegetarian diet but not a vegan diet. Even if you consume dairy many health experts recommend consuming a moderate amount.
Dairy products not only include all 9 EAAs but other nutrients. They’re high in calcium, Vitamin D, and others. One caveat is the body absorbs solid food better than liquid food so you’ll have to consume more than green leafy veggies, for example.
4. Chia Seeds
These seeds have been trending in recent years. They’re very easy to add to foods like yogurt, smoothies, salads, and meat/veggie dishes. They’re also low-carb and high-fat so it’s a good option they’re also high in vitamins/nutrients, which also makes them a good food choice. You could even use some leftover seeds to grow your own Chia Pet (Google it).
Pork, beef, and chicken are some of the most well-known meats that are complete proteins. These foods are also a good source of nutrients like iron, zinc, and Vitamin B12. There are certain nutrients that are tougher to get from plant-based foods although it’s still possible.
Perfect Combos for Complete Proteins
1. Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich
Make sure to make your peanut butter & jelly on whole wheat. You can swap out the jelly/jam if you want but if you add it, make sure to go no-sugar if you want to reduce carbs. You might have the idea that peanut butter is unhealthy. Sugar-free peanut butter has about 4g of carbs. The key is to avoid unhealthy ingredients like sugar that makes PB&J unhealthy.
2. Hummus and Whole Wheat Pita
You should go with whole wheat pita bread for more nutrients/protein. Then just pair it with some hummus (2 tablespoons). This popular healthy food is usually made from chickpeas, sesame seeds (paste), lemon juice, and olive oil. The garbanzo beans and sesame seeds are already high-protein. Just add some flatbread to make it a complete protein.
3. Multi-grain Bread
This is a good option and the best is probably Ezekiel Bread. It not only includes 4 different grains but also two sprouted beans. This makes it a super-duper protein! You also get extra nutrients from the sprouted beans since they’re between seeds and beans.
4. Beans and Rice
This is a classic combo that turns incomplete proteins into a complete one. Make sure to go with whole grain options like brown rice or wild rice. You can pick any bean to turn this food into a complete protein. A similar option is two or more beans.
5. Spirulina (Algae) and Grains/Nuts/Seeds
You might have wrongly read that spirulina is actually a complete protein. It’s actually close but not because it doesn’t have enough of a few amino acids. There’s an easy fix. Just add seeds, nuts, or grains to make it a complete protein. That’s it! You make lots of stuff like smoothies, crunch bars, and popcorn after learning foods that contain all nine essential amino acids.