A complete protein is a food that contains all 9 essential amino acids. In total we need 20 amino acids in order to function, but 11 of these can be synthesised by the body. The remaining 9 are essential as they need to be acquired through diet.
Amino acids are literally the building blocks of life. They combine to form proteins that allow cells to grow and regulate.
The 9 essential amino acids are leucine, histidine, isoleucine, phenylalanine, lysine, methionine, tryptophan, threonine and valine.
Most foods that provide a complete protein source are animal based; such as red meat, fish, eggs, poultry, dairy cheese and dairy yoghurt. There are some plant based complete proteins such as quinoa and chia seeds but the vast majority of vegan foods on their own are not a complete protein.
Old School Meat Thinking
The fact that most plant foods aren’t a complete protein was commonly used as a stick to beat people on a plant based or vegan diet with. The thinking was that it can’t be healthy to live on plants as it’s very difficult to get complete protein with all essential amino acids at each meal.
The outdated view was that if you were eating plant foods then for every single meal it was vital to carefully plan according to amino acids what you eat else you risk being deficient and unhealthy. Plant protein combining is in practice very difficult and time-consuming to get all 9 EEAs. Thankfully it’s now know to be a myth.
You Don’t Need to Consume Every Essential Amino Acid With Every Meal
It just isn’t important to get all EEAs in every single meal.
You just need to have all 9 EEAs across a day. This is easy on a plant based diet full of natural produce.
Is Animal Protein Higher Quality?
One argument against plant-based sources of protein is that animal protein is superior because they help the body grow quicker. Unfortunately, it’s been shown that animal protein makes all cells grow quicker including cancer cells. Insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) levels are increased with a high meat diet.
Plant proteins have been shown to decrease the levels of IGF-1 meaning they discourage cancer cell growth. Plant proteins are believed to be a better choice over meat as they are lower in levels of the essential amino acid leucine meaning the ageing process is slower.
A Whole Food Plant Based Diet Contains All Essential Amino Acids
The good news is modern studies have debunked the thinking that every meal needs to contain all EEA and concluded there are no concerns over amino acids in a plant based diet.
All whole foods contain amino acids. As long as you eat a wide variety of minimally processed whole foods over a day then you need not worry about amino acids or complete proteins.
How to Ensure Your Plant Based Diet Contains All Amino Acids
- Eat enough calories for your weight.
- Consume a variety of fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and pulses.
- Base the majority of your diet on whole food unprocessed foods.
- Eat a rainbow of different produce.
- Don’t follow a fruit only diet.
- Consume at least 5% of your calories from protein. This is not difficult as many plant foods contain way more, oats are 16%.
As Healthline say “if you’re following a plant-based diet, you can still ensure proper intake of all essential amino acids as long as you eat a variety of plant proteins each day.”
Plant Protein Recipes
Please find below some of my most popular recipes that are easy to make, nututious and loaded in plant protein. All are free of dairy, wheat, eggs, meat and gluten.