What Is a Complete Protein? Let’s start at the beginning. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. There are 20 different types that can form a protein, but nine that the body can’t produce on its own. These are called the essential amino acids, and we need to get these from our food instead. When a protein source contains all nine essential amino acids, in roughly the same quantities, it’s called a “complete” protein.
Meat and eggs are complete proteins, however a lot of vegetarian and vegan protein sources, such as beans and nuts, are not. This isn’t cause for alarm, though. Most dieticians would agree that you don’t need to get every amino-acid in all your meals and what matters most is the bigger picture of your daily consumption. If you’re eating a variety of different plant-based foods and protein sources, you’re likely to be doing just fine without too much effort.
However, for those who do like to ensure they’re eating complete sources of protein, here are some plant-based foods that make the cut:
Despite most of us struggling to pronounce it (FYI, it’s keen-wa), the popularity of this grain has boomed thanks to its high nutrient content and complete protein status. Swap it in for rice or use it to bulk out a salad.
Protein: 17.6g protein per 100g
This pseudo-grain is actually a fruit seed (related to rhubarb and sorrel), meaning it is wheat-free and a great substitute for those who are sensitive to gluten. It has a nutty flavour and a well-balanced amino acid profile too.
Protein: 13.3g per 100g raw
Soybeans often gets a bad rep, but if it’s something you can tolerate, it’s low in saturated fat and high in protein, as well as Vitamin C, folate, calcium and iron. If tofu’s not your thing, try edamame beans or tempeh for your lunchtime protein-hit.
Protein: 16.6g per 100g cooked soybeans
Hummus and Pita
Grains are low in lysine and high in methionine, whereas legumes – such as chickpeas, are low in methionine and high in lysine. Just another reason why hummus and pita are a match made in heaven!
Protein: 7g protein per 1 whole-wheat pita & 2 tbsp hummus
Vegan Protein Powder
A lot of vegan proteins will consist of one core protein source: hemp, pea, soy and brown rice are common ones. At Neat Nutrition, we decided to mix pea and hemp together for our vegan protein blend.
Hemp has a more comprehensive blend of the essential amino acids your body needs than other protein sources. Essential amino acids are those you get from your diet rather than your body making them. Meanwhile, pea protein is closest to a whole food source and is high in lysine, which is an amino acid that many vegans lack in their diet.
Protein: 26.5g per 35g serving
Rice and Beans
The humble meal of rice and beans might not seem like much, but it's a tasty, budget-friendly combo that is nutritionally complementary too. Turns out creating whole protein sources on a plant-based diet is easier than you might think...
Protein: 7g protein per 1 cup serving
Peanut Butter Sandwich
What else goes together like rice and beans? Peanut butter on toast! Spreading a layer of peanut butter on whole wheat bread is another great fuss-free snack that's high in energy, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates and makes a complete protein. PB&J sandwiches all round!
Protein: 11g for 2 slices of whole wheat toast & 2 tbsp peanut butter