A reader asks the following question:
“What’s a complete protein mean?”
Please join this discussion and post your comments. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Here’s the answer . . .
Protein – Definitions
Depending on your diet plan you may hear the term “complete” or “incomplete” protein source. What that means that whether the protein source includes all essential amino acids. “Essential” means we need them to support life and our body cannot make these amino acids itself; they must be ingested. If the protein source has all the essential amino acids it is considered a “complete” protein. If it does not, it is considered an “incomplete” protein.
Protein – Why Do We Care About Amino Acids
Amino acids are the building blocks we need. They are the basis for our life processes. They are absolutely essential to all metabolic processes. If we don’t eat the essential amino acids our bodies have trouble making the proteins needed for ordinary functioning. We don’t store amino acids in our body so we have to ingest them daily!
Protein – Which Type
Complete proteins are primarily found in animal products such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy foods. There is one plant based complete protein – quinoa. For people who choose not to eat animal products a variety of foods must be eaten to obtain all the essential amino acids.
For a dedicated vegetarian all the amino acids can be eaten by rotating foods – beans and brown rice is a complete protein. Truthfully though, this is one of the reasons I’m not a big proponent of vegetarian based diets. For most people I’ve seen, the balance takes work that they don’t want to do – it’s not as easy as eating an egg or chicken breast to get all the essential amino acids. Even more than I usually preach it . . . planning is vital for people needing to combine amino acids in order to make complete proteins.