I decided to write this article because my very fit Paleo enthusiast boyfriend is quite particular about getting his complete proteins. Im sure Im not the only one who thought: Isnt protein, protein? but apparently its not. I have to say that I found a lot of contradictory information, but here is my breakdown for your benefit. I would love to know what you think and if youre on the pro-meat or pro-vegan team. So feel free to leave your comments below and perhaps we can have a lovely debate over the ins and outs of protein.
Here we go:
First of all, lets establish why protein is so darn important. Protein makes up 10% of your brain, and 20% of your heart, liver, and muscles. It builds and repairs tissues and cells, and is responsible for performing important bodily functions such as creating digestive enzymes, regulating metabolism, and producing antibodies to fight infections.
Understanding Complete Protein VS. Incomplete Protein
What protein actually is, is a combination of amino acids. The human body has 22 amino acids; 13 of which are created in your body, the other 9 are obtained through food. In order for the body to create the protein needed to be able to build tissue and carry out the above mentioned functions one must get all 9 of the amino acids that are derived food.
Contrary to the general knowledge given to us by the typical food pyramid, all whole foods contain protein. (*most fruits dont contain a lot though) The reason meat and dairy are named the main sources of protein is that animal products contain the right amount of all of the 9 amino acids. Other whole foods only contain some of the amino acids or not enough quantity of them. Hence, a complete protein is a food that contains the right amount of all 9 amino acids. An incomplete protein does not.
Vegetarians and vegans get a lot of flak about not getting enough protein in their diets because vegetables are incomplete proteins. The truth is that there are a few plant based complete proteins AND knowing how to combine incomplete proteins will give the body the protein it needs without having to eat animal products (more on this later).
Here is a list of complete and incomplete protein sources:
Dairy products (milk, yogurt, cheese)
Nuts & seeds
PROS & CONS of Plant Protein and Animal Protein
Plant Bases Protein Diet:
CONS – Getting protein from solely plant based sources makes getting it a little more difficult. It takes eating more food to get adequate amounts of protein, and means having a diet high in carbohydrates. You will need to take supplements to make up for vitamins that you are lacking from not eating meat.
PROS – Vegetables contain a lot of fiber which helps keep your heart healthy and helps digestive system function. Meat, on the other hand, does not contain fiber.
Animal Protein Diet:
CONS – Animal derived protein can be extremely high in cholesterol, fat, and especially saturated fat which can lead to cardiovascular health problems and diseases. Lets not forget hormones and antibiotics that are given to the animals that end up in our diets.
PROS – You are guaranteed to get your complete proteins with every piece of meat you eat. Easy peasy!
How to Create Complete Proteins
To make a complete protein on a plant base diet one must combine complementary proteins. This is where it starts to get confusing to me. How does one know which amino acids are in each food in order to make sure youre getting all nine? I have found several combining suggestions such as beans and rice, or peanut butter and wholewheat bread but no clear formula to follow. I have also found several charts made to make the food selection process easier, but many of these are not clear to me and there doesnt seem to be any indication of how much to eat.
Here is the one I found that was the easiest to understand:
Heres where things start to go awry for me:
– As mentioned right above there is no clear formula to follow (at least not that I can find) to properly combine proteins. It is suggested that if youre a vegetarian or vegan to make sure that you mix up your proteins?and eat a wide variety of?nuts,?legumes,?whole grains, and fruits and?vegetables?to ensure that youre getting a variety of amino acids. But if a complete protein is the RIGHT quantity and ALL 9 amino acids isnt this method of just eat as much variety as possible just leaving things to chance?
– Next up, some sources say that the correct combination of foods need to be eaten at each meal in order to give your digestive system the correct amino acids all at the SAME time. Other sources say your body isnt that stupid and as long as you eat a wide variety of plant based proteins within 24 hours your body will naturally combine the protein by pulling them from all the food you ate that day and create complete proteins. According to Mayo Clinic it takes 6-8 hours for the average person to pass food through the small intestine. So after that 8 hours does your body hold onto amino acids and wait for the next puzzle piece to come in? I couldnt find any clear answers.
– Is Plant Protein Inferior? Some nutritionists and the Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS) argue that animal proteins are better quality because they are easier to digest since they are closer to our own biological makeup and contain all the amino acids we need. Plant protein enthusiasts say that the body doesnt care about the source of protein as long as its getting protein. For the average population the body doesnt seem to have a problem digesting either types of protein.
– But are we getting enough protein on a plant-based diet? According to some sources the recommended daily allowance of protein in adults is 0.36 grams/pound of body weight, though this fluctuates with individual circumstances such as if you are an athlete or trying to lose weight. Meat enthusiasts argue that the average vegetarian does not get enough protein and will become protein deficient.
Vegetarian enthusiasts claim that there is no way a vegetarian can become protein deficient unless their diets rely mostly on tubers, simple carbs, and processed foods. They also claim that all whole foods are in fact complete proteins and the claim that they do not have all, and are not enough quantity of the essential amino acids is bogus. World Health Organization says that about 97% of people need less than the recommended amounts of protein. This has vegetarians claiming that just because meat has more protein doesnt make it better.
Too much protein has been linked several health problems such as: osteoporosis, kidney stones, immune dysfunction, arthritis, cancer and low energy.
So there you have it. In my opinion the debate of Complete VS. Incomplete Protein leads to the war of Meat-Eaters VS. Vegans. Meat eaters believe that animal products are the best and only true source of complete protein. Vegans disagree and think that the daily requirement of protein is too high anyway, and that meat is simply not worth eating due to its cons.
Studies from the Harvard School of Public Health say that the average persons diet naturally includes a healthy variety of protein from plants and meat. Therefore, we do not really need to worry about our protein intake. I am personally a believer that a little bit of everything (not junk that is) is the best way to stay healthy.
Meat Eaters: make sure to eat mostly fish and poultry as these meats are lower in fat.
Vegans & Vegetarians: You may need to focus a bit more on your protein intake to make sure that you are eating enough complementary proteins to create complete proteins, and are getting enough protein each day. Speak with your doctor or a nutritionist for guidance.
What are your thoughts? Do you have any knowledge on the subject? Leave your comments!
Sources:?blog.fooducate.com. marksdailyapple.com,?mnn.com, livestrong.com, fitday.com, builtlean.com, tipsforhealthyliving.blogspot.ca