Before I answer the question, lets look at why protein (in particular, 'complete protein') is so important.
Take a trip back to your school science classes and you’ll remember that protein is made up of smaller components called amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks for all body tissue (muscle, bone, cartilage, skin, etc.) as well as blood, hormones and enzymes, so it's essential for every function within your body to occur.
There are many different amino acids, 12 of which can be manufactured by your body. A further 9, called essential amino acids, must be obtained from your diet. A protein that contains all of these 9 essential amino acids is called a ‘complete protein’. All animal proteins are complete proteins (including eggs and dairy).
There are a few non-animal sources that offer complete proteins, such as soybeans, quinoa, buckwheat, and spirulina. Other plant based proteins may contain all 9 essential amino acids but not in high enough amounts to be used, and therefore cannot be called a complete protein.
With this in mind, if you are eating a plant based diet, in order for your body to function at its best, it's key to eat a variety of plant proteins (e.g. grains, lentils, peas, corn, nuts and seeds) on a daily basis to ensure you are consuming enough of all 9 essential amino acids.
If you are a fussy eater or follow a limited diet due to food allergies, there is a high chance that your diet may be lacking in those essential amino acids. If you think that might be you, don’t stress. The good news is that combining two or more incomplete proteins can create a complete protein! Enjoy them in the same meal or the combination can be consumed over the same day.
Here are a few food combination suggestions that would work:
Hummus with pita bread
Barley and bean soup
Lentil curry with rice
Nut butter on toast (good quality bread please!)
Split pea soup with bread
Seed butter on wheat crackers
Chia seeds (overnight soaked) with nut butter
Tortillas with refried beans
Note that vegan protein replacements and vegan protein powders are generally a complete protein, as they are either made from combined plant proteins or they are derived from soybeans, which is already a complete protein.
I work with several vegetarian and vegan clients, so if you have any favourite recipes you make at home that you think would follow the protocol above, please share them with me and I’ll get them on my website.
If you are following a plant based diet and feel still feel unsure about what to eat give me a call or send me and email.