There are 3 types of protein: Complete, incomplete and complementary
Complete- contains all essential amino acids that are necessary for our body to function properly
Incomplete- missing one or more essential amino acids
Complementary- when joined together, contain all essential amino acids
Most foods contain both essential and non-essential amino acids. However, many are deficient in at least one essential amino acid making them incomplete proteins. Joining some of these incomplete proteins together can create a complete protein with all essential amino acids necessary for the body. Complementary proteins do not have to be eaten at the exact same time, but should be consumed throughout the day.
So how do we make sure we’re getting complete or complementary proteins?
Meat and animal products are complete proteins on their own. This includes eggs, cheese, milk, yogurt and fish. In the plant-based diet, quinoa and soybeans are also complete proteins.
Incomplete proteins that can be eaten during the same day to encompass all essential amino acids are legumes, grains, nuts and seeds (Side note: a legume is a food that produces fruit in the form of pods. This includes foods like beans, lentils, peas and peanuts). A combination of these foods during the day will give us the proper protein structures that we need. Some meal ideas for these complementary proteins could be:
Black beans and rice
Lentils with cashews
A salad with peas and sunflower seeds
So you don’t need to get all of your protein through meats, but it is important to understand where your protein is coming from and ensure that you are consuming foods that will provide the body with the essential amino acids it needs.