Health & Habits
"The Complete Protein Myth" Busted
Posted May 7, 2021
If we think those on a plant-based diet need to eat copious amounts of rice and beans to get “complete” proteins, we must think again. Covering our essential amino acids from such a diet is easier than we think.
The widely held belief that plant-based proteins are “incomplete” or “missing” amino acids is a common misconception. It’s clear that a few crucial truths have been overlooked based on two basic tenets of biology: plants use the same 20 amino acids as humans to build their proteins (the genetic code is universal), and all animals ultimately get their protein from plants (or plant-like phytoplankton) either directly or indirectly through the food chain.
Proteins, in short, are biochemical molecules that contain chains of amino acids. They can help repair and create tissue (including muscle), are used to make hormones and enzymes, and are building blocks for everything from cartilage and bones to hair and nails. Because our bodies use protein in so many ways, getting enough through our diets is essential for overall health. But not all proteins contain the same amino acid structure, which is why we’ve heard about “complete” and “incomplete” proteins.
Proteins are composed of 20 amino acids, and each is defined by its unique sequence of these acids. Eleven are produced by the human body, and are alanine, arginine, asparagine, aspartic acid, cysteine, glutamic acid, glutamine, glycine, proline, serine, and tyrosine.
For good health, we must get the other nine essential amino acids from the foods we eat. These include leucine, histidine, isoleucine, phenylalanine, lysine, methionine, tryptophan, threonine and valine. When a food contains all nine of these amino acids, it’s considered a “complete” protein.
The idea that those following a plant-based diet need to meticulously plan each meal to combine amino acids is a myth, and has been dispelled by the nutrition community years ago. While some plants are admittedly low in certain amino acids, there is no need to eat complementary proteins together at every meal. The human body is extremely intelligent, and maintains pools of free amino acids by complementing the food we eat. It then effectively recycles protein by putting back around 90 grams into our digestive tract every day to be broken down and reassembled. This means that our body can easily mix and match amino acids to whatever proportions we need. The only reason animal products have “complete” amino acid profiles is because the animal had already done this themselves.
Plant Foods With High Protein
There’s an array of plant foods high in protein, but a few stand out with higher levels of essential amino acids:
- Ezekiel bread
- Soy (edamame, tempeh, tofu)
- Chia seed
- Nutritional yeast
Additionally, simple combinations of plant foods can create complete protein sources:
- Whole grain pita bread and hummus
- Peanut butter on whole grain toast
- Spinach salad with nut and seed toppings
- Steel-cut oatmeal with pumpkin seeds or peanut butter
- Lentil soup with whole grain slice of bread
Luckily, Vedge Plant Protein offers a complete amino acid profile, including organic pea, organic sunflower seed, and organic pumpkin seed protein. The amino acid leucine has been shown in clinical studies to increase muscle protein synthesis, which is why we use peas as our main base.
Whether we’re looking to build muscle, burn fat, or simply cook healthier meals, plant sources can provide all the protein our bodies need. Getting our protein from plants means we’ll be eating more vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds - all of which have been linked to the health of our hearts, brain and gut microbiome. As long as we eat enough total plant-based protein and incorporate some diversity in our sources, we should be covering our essential amino acids. We don’t have to eat endless servings of rice and beans - unless we want to...
Moughan PJ, Rutherfurd SM. Gut luminal endogenous protein: implications for the determination of ileal amino acid digestibility in humans. Br J Nutr. 2012 Aug;108 Suppl 2:S258-63. doi: 10.1017/S0007114512002474. PMID: 23107536.
By Vedge Nutrition
Throughout history, our ancestors have relied on herbs and spices, not only for cooking, but for their healing properties. Few have survived the test of time quite like turmeric, arguably the most well-studied dietary supplement in modern natural medicine. While turmeric has drawn more attention from natural health enthusiasts in recent years, it’s been used as a health supplement for approximately 4,500 years. It’s become an international export, but hasn’t strayed far from its roots.
In the pursuit to optimize personal performance, athletes have been experimenting with different food sources and supplements for years. Despite the shifting fads for performance enhancement, caffeine has been a long-time favorite for athletes. It can help keep our minds sharp, increase our performance, and even speed up our recovery.
Research on creatine suggests that it does much more than help us build muscle and strength. While it can undoubtedly help us set PRs in the gym, creatine can also have positive effects on bone mineral density, reduce oxidative stress, and even boost memory. In short, creatine has something to offer nearly everyone.
The leaves are turning, the days are getting cooler and crisp, and the smell of pumpkin spice is in the air. Autumn is upon us, and with cold and flu season on the horizon (and COVID-19 still a major threat), it’s also the season to take healthy steps toward keeping our immunity at its strongest. The immune system, as we all know, is our body’s natural defense against infection, and is key toward maintaining good health. It consists of a vast network of organs, white blood cells, proteins (antibodies), and chemicals. This system works together to protect us from foreign invaders (bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi) that cause infection, illness and disease. A well-working immune system prevents germs from entering our bodies and kills them or limits their harm if they get in. To keep our immune systems healthy, we must get plenty of sleep, stay active, eat healthy foods, reduce stress and follow other healthful habits.