Complete vs. Incomplete Proteins

Our bodies can synthesize 16 of the 23 Amino Acids that we need. That leaves 8 essential Amino Acids (9 for children), which must come from the foods we eat.

Hemp Protein Powder can supply any diet with a vegetarian source of essential fatty acids, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fibre, chlorophyll and a complete, balanced gluten-free source of the essential Amino Acids.

Many plant proteins are labeled “incomplete” proteins as a resulting from the low amounts of one or more of the nine essential Amino Acids. Truth be told, the “incomplete” label is somewhat misleading as all plant proteins do contain each of the essential Amino Acids. But in most cases (e.g. grains, legumes), levels of one or more amino acid are insufficient for human needs. However, hemp protein supplies enough of each of the essential Amino Acids to contribute to the human body’s requirements. In fact, an important aspect of hemp protein is that it is a quality source of the Amino Acids Arginine and Histidine, both of which are important for growth during childhood and of the sulphur-containing Amino Acids Methionine and Cysteine, both of which are needed in the production of vital enzymes.

Hemp protein also contains relatively high levels of the branched-chain Amino Acids that are crucial in the repair and growth of lean body mass, making a Hemp Protein shake after a workout a worthwhile investment.

All plant-based foods have varying amounts of protein (plus carbohydrates, fats and other good things) and the body will combine proteins from all sources, to make ‘complete protein’. That’s true for everybody, vegetarian or non-vegetarian.

The term ‘complete protein’ means that all eight Essential Amino Acids are present in the correct proportion.

Foods from animal sources have complete proteins and some foods from the plant kingdom, such as Hemp and Quinoa, have complete protein.

The term ‘incomplete protein’ refers to foods which have all the Essential Amino Acids, but are low in one or more of them. That’s called the ‘limiting Amino Acid’.

Most plant foods have one or more limiting Amino Acids which limit the availability of all the other Amino Acids in the food. That’s why these foods are called ‘incomplete proteins’.

For example, the limiting Amino Acid in grains is usually Lysine (Lys); in legumes it can be Methionine (Met) and Tryptophan (Trp). So, the low-level of Lys in grains is complemented by a higher level in legumes and vice versa, to make ‘complete protein’.

However, vegetarians and vegans don’t need to worry about complete and incomplete protein. It is not necessary for vegetarians and vegans to combine specific protein foods at one sitting to make complete protein.

Complementary Protein Theory Debunked

Scientists used to think that vegetarians and especially vegans, would develop protein deficiency if they didn’t get eight or nine Essential Amino Acids all together in proper amounts at every meal.

Whenever we eat, our body deposits Amino Acids into a storage bank and then withdraws them whenever we need them. So, it’s no longer considered necessary to eat complementary proteins together at one sitting, to make complete protein. Your body does that automatically, from all the foods that you eat over the course of a day or so.

Part referenced from: Frances Moore Lappé, author of ‘Diet For A Small Planet’, is well-known for the theory of combining complementary proteins at each meal. In the 20th Anniversary Edition of her book, she has altered her views in light of new knowledge about amino acid storage.


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