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Let’s talk about protein: Part 3

Posted May 31 2010 6:00pm

Good evening! Due to the overwhelming, positive feedback on my protein posts , I’ve decided to add a part 3 :D

Did you miss part 1 ? Part 2 ? Well then, skedaddle & come back!

Today, I’m going to discuss protein quality. What’s the deal with…amino acids? Complete vs. incomplete protein? Huh?!

*Disclaimer* Depending on which professor you talk to or which article you’re reading, you may hear different numbers than mine. Different sources will tell you anywhere from 8-10 essential amino acids. Oh, and they’ve recently discovered a 21st amino acid , but we won’t get into that. Keepin’ it simple here. Just know, you’ve been “disclaimed” ;)


Protein actually refers to a larger unit made up of smaller parts called Amino Acids. *Think of a family:

AA and protein

The whole family, collectively, is called protein. All of the individual members are called amino acids & they have some funky names (Lysine, Methionine, Leucine, etc.) For your body to make it’s own proteins, it needs all 20 amino acids present. No man left behind!

Why are some of the family members bright & colorful, you ask?

Well, because those guys are special. Yup, this family plays favorites ;)  

Of the 20 amino acids, your body can actually make 11 of them (the grey ones). No ingestion required! The other [colorful] ones, however, must be obtained through diet. These 9 amino acids are referred to as essential.

A complete protein is one that contains all 9 essential amino acids. Some sources of complete protein include:

  • Animal products (Meat, dairy, eggs)
  • Soy
  • Amaranth
  • Buckwheat
  • Nutritional Yeast (nooch)!
  • Quinoa
  • Spirulina
  • Hemp

An incomplete protein is one that is missing one or more essential amino acids. A lot of plant sources have incomplete proteins. But here’s the interesting part…

The missing amino acids vary greatly from one food to the next. Take a look –>


AA Oats

              (missing Lysine) LYSINE


AA Potatoes

        (missing Leucine & Histidine) LEUCINE HYS


Almonds AA

    (missing Lysine & Methionine/Cysteine) LYSINE M or C


Broccoli AA Score

                (missing Leucine) LEUCINE


AA Peas

    (missing Methionine/Cysteine) M or C

*As you can see by the pictures, the Amino Acid profiles are all different! The key here is variety. If you’re trying to meet your protein needs by eating broccoli only…then it might present a problem. But really, who eats broccoli for breakfast, lunch and dinner?!

And now that I’ve given this whole lesson on amino acids, I’m going to share with you some research:

I came across multiple articles on the internet stating that protein combining comes from outdated research and it’s actually a myth! This Wikipedia article summarizes all the ones I came across:

“We never talk about protein anymore, because it’s absolutely not an issue, even among children. If anything, we talk about the dangers of high-protein diets. Getting enough is simply a matter of getting enough calories.” – Marion Nestle, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Nutrition, Food and Hotel Management at New York University.

*How’s that for a lesson? I teach you all this information and then tell you not to worry about it! ;)

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