Complete vs. Incomplete Proteins

Chances are, if you’re a regular human being who blinks, breathes and thinks, and also possibly happens to be a regular (or irregular) gym goer, you have questioned the importance of protein once or twice.

When I first discovered veganism, as any regular person, this sounded SO extreme that I was very against it. It’s natural, since meat’s main macronutrient is protein and unfortunately, I was eating a ton of it! Although long time vegans roll their eyes at it, it would be strange if we did not question that. It’s healthy to question it. I’m glad we do. It means we care about our health.

I had been researching health since I had an eating disorder at age 14, so naturally, I went on a research binge to prove to every vegan that they’re doing it all wrong. The only thing I was able to prove to myself was that the only thing that was “extreme” was consuming carcinogenic products that cause diabetes, and heart disease while supporting the slaughterhouses that torture animals.

The most prominent thing among the plant based controversy was PROTEIN.

What is protein?

Proteins are large molecules in the cells of living things. Although protein is usually associated with muscle, it is an important part of all tissues of our body, including hormones, bones, and blood. Proteins are made up of compounds called amino acids which are the building blocks of our body, and almost all of it’s functions.

 

What is a complete protein vs an incomplete protein?

There are 20 amino acids in the body, however different combinations of all of them make up different tissues and help perform different bodily functions. There are two categories of amino acids:

Nonessential amino acids are created by the body by itself, provided the right nutrients and the right essential amino acids. There are 11 nonessential amino acids.

Essential amino acids can not be produced by the body which means we must eat them directly in order to receive them. We must have every one of these amino acids in our body in order for us to survive. There are 9 essential amino acids.

If we are missing a single one of these 20 amino acids, we can die. We must consume foods that will provide our body with all nine essential amino acids, so that the body can produce the other 11. (The one exception is if someone has a disease such as Phenylketonuria, or PKU in which case the individual’s body is incapable of making the amount of amino acids necessary for survival. Usually in this case, the individual is monitored closely by a doctor or dietician, but they, aswell receive the amount of every essential amino acid they need, simply in different proportions suggested by the doctor or dietician.)

Complete Proteins: Foods that contain all nine essential amino acids.

All animal products (meat, dairy and eggs and all animal products) are complete proteins

Incomplete Proteins: Foods that contain less than nine amino acids.

Most plant-based foods, (with the exception of soybeans and quinoa), are incomplete proteins.

Logically, this makes sense. We are also animals, and the protein that we consume, in any ratio, turns into a complete protein in our bodies. Therefore, in an animal, the same would occur.
To recap, animal products are complete proteins, and most plant foods are incomplete proteins. So does this mean that we should be eating animal foods?

Well, not necessarily. Just hearing that word “complete”, I understand that it kind of sounds like “better”, right? Although it may sound easier to get all nine from just one single food, in reality, the word “complete” just means that it contains a number of amino acids, not that it’s “healthier” or “unhealthier”.

Therefore it’s really easy to twist it into ways so that it sounds like it is. If a consumer is walking down the aisle of a grocery store, and it says on a bottle of milk that it’s a “complete protein”, that makes it sound appealing does it not? They can write that on a chocolate bar, for all I know! Does that make it healthy? Of course not! Think of all the sugar and trans fat that is in that.
Yes, our body needs all nine amino acids, and for this reason, it has it’s own way of providing us with what we need for survival.

If our bodies can do wondrous things such as heal wounds or make babies, we should be able to trust it to know what to do with the nutrients we feed it!

Mutual Complementation

There is something called mutual complementation, which means combining different types of foods to create complete proteins. I understand that the idea of this sounds more complicated than it is.

But, have you ever heard of the infamous combination of beans and rice? There’s a reason for it being a popular combination, and no, that’s not only that it is delicious! It’s because beans are low in the two amino acids methionine and tryptophan. But rice has high amounts of the two, meanwhile less of the other seven, making the combination a perfectly stable source of complete protein! There are other countless examples such as peanut butter and bread, lentils and bread, seitan and beans, etc. Turns out, we’ve been eating complete proteins in the plant-based form, not even needing to be eating meat!

Know what the best part is? These combinations don’t even have to be eaten together. Our body has what’s called a pool of amino acids and it can take out what it needs when it needs it. Kind of like with intermittent fasting. When we’re fasting for 16 hours, our body can still continue to keep our heart beating, brain working and our blood running through our veins. It can also take out amino acids from it’s pool of them when it needs them. We don’t need to worry that we’re not getting enough of them. We just need to be aware that it’s important

Given it is this easy, why do people still eat it? Among many other reasons, the most valid one would be: Simplicity.

Simplicity of Eating Meat:

Instead of combining multiple foods, just one can be eaten. But is the simplicity of the animal protein consumption worth the risks associated with it?

Let’s take a look. We will compare beans and rice with an egg, as, it is considered the highest quality animal protein.

1/2 Cup of Beans
1/2 Cup of Rice
= 32g Protein
0g Fat
0g Cholesterol
1 Egg
=6.3 Protein
5.3g Saturated Fat
186.5g Cholesterol
(In order to match the protein ratio, we’ll times it by five, so we have a similar amount of protein.)
5 Eggs
= 31.5g Protein
27.5g Saturated Fat
932.5mcg Cholesterol

27.5g of Saturated Fat vs 0g Fat.
932.5mcg Cholesterol vs 0g Cholesterol.

The safe daily intake of cholesterol is below 200mcg. If we want to eat a enough of the animal protein, (the “highest quality” animal protein, for that matter) we must also consume 932.5mcg of Cholesterol!

Is it worth it? Well, is the amount that your health will suffer worth it? Absolutely not if it means consuming the large amount of carcinogenic crap that will be consumed along with it!

Vegans supplement Vitamin B12. If we’re aware that we have to do it, it’s easy to do. Omnivores get their complete proteins from animal products. They KNOW to do that. Vegans can get them from proper mutual complementation. We must KNOW to do that. It takes a little bit of knowledge and then it becomes second nature to eat foods in certain combinations (Why do you think beans and rice are such a popular combination?)

Please eat foods with tons of nutrients, eat a balanced diet. 80/20 within plant based foods!

If you believe that anything tastes better than healthy feels, then you have not experienced feeling truly healthy yet.

If you are vegan, I just want to thank you for doing the planet, and the animals a huge favour. If you are not, then please ask yourself how you can treat something as delicate as your own body and precious as this earth with anything but the absolute utmost respect.

Remain compassionate,

Alica

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