Are plant proteins complete proteins?
Plant proteins are as complete as complete can be.
The myth that they’re not, or are of a lesser quality than animal proteins, dates back to experiments performed on rats in the early 1900s. Forget the fact that rats aren’t humans, have different nutritional requirements, and need more protein than humans to support their furry little bodies. The meat, dairy, and egg industries have marketed the hell out of this ancient research, and even in the year 2009 most every Dick, Tom, and Jane thinks the only way to get complete protein is through meat, eggs, or dairy.
In reality, proteins are composed of chains of roughly twenty different amino acids. Of those, eight are found outside our body and must be absorbed from our food. These eight are the “essential” amino acids. The remaining acids are “nonessential” because they can be synthesized by our bodies themselves. Plants supply all the essential and nonessential amino acids. All of them. While some plants may be low in (not missing) one amino acid and other plants may be higher in another, your brilliant body sorts it all out and, at the end of the day, complements your amino-acid profile so it is perfectly balanced. In so doing, it creates a high-quality protein that is healthier, safer, and better than animal protein.
Thus, there is absolutely no need to combine certain plant proteins at each meal in an attempt to achieve an optimal amino acid balance. Unfortunately, the protein-combination myth continues to be perpetuated by any number of respected organizations. But the American Dietetic Association gets it right. Its position statement reads: “Plant sources of protein alone can provide adequate amounts of the essential and non-essential amino acids, assuming that dietary protein sources from plants are reasonably varied and that caloric intake is sufficient to meet energy needs. Whole grains, legumes, vegetables, seeds, and nuts all contain essential and non-essential amino acids.”
Scream it from the mountaintops: Plant proteins are 100 percent complete!