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Myth: Complimentary proteins should be eaten together

TRUTH: Just because you don’t eat meat or other animal foods at every meal or snack doesn’t mean you need to pair foods together to ensure ‘complete’ proteins.  A complete protein is one that has all 9 essential amino acids (among others). Essential refers to the fact that we must eat those 9 because our body cannot synthesize them from any other nutrients.  In other words, they are necessary for life, but the only way to get them is from food.

So, the idea behind ‘complimentary proteins’ is this: because plant foods do not contain all the essential amino acids, you need to eat a particular combination of foods with every meal (like rice and beans) to get enough amino acids to be healthy.

This sounds logical but there’s really just no evidence to support the theory. Eating plant based protein foods with all essential amino acids in the same meal doesn’t matter- but having them throughout the day does. Research shows that consumption over a 24-hour period is a much more effective way to ensure nutritional adequacy.  Your body has a “store” of amino acids which are available to make proteins including building muscle, DNA transcription and translation, or any other protein-requiring activity.

BOTTOM LINE: Your body isn’t synthesizing so much protein or muscle that in only a few hours without essential amino acids, you’ll begin to damage or weaken your body.  Our bodies are amazing at keeping carbs, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients around for times of need.  Eating a variety of healthy plant based proteins throughout the day provides enough amino acids and protein to be healthy and complete.

 

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

  1. Mayo Clinic: Vegetarian Diet: How to get the best nutrition
  2. CDC: Nutrition for Everyone: Protein

 

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