Essential Amino Acids and Complementary Protein

There’s a lot of misinformation out there when it comes to dietary protein. Meeting our protein needs through our diet is crucial to healthy eating, preservation of lean tissue, protecting metabolic rate and managing hunger and fullness hormones—all of which are essential for weight management! However, sometimes in our quest to eat healthier or lose weight, we inadvertently cut back on dietary protein to the extent that we aren’t meeting our needs for this nutrient. The good news is, a basic introduction to protein nutrition can empower you to prevent protein deficiency!

Protein 101

Proteins are long chains of amino acids joined together in a specific order, creating a unique form and function. When we eat dietary protein, our digestive tracks break down the long chains into individual amino acids, which can then be absorbed into the blood stream. There are nine essential amino acids: phenylalanine, valine, threonine, tryptophan, methionine, leucine, isoleucine, lysine, and histidine. We can not make essential amino acids, so we must get them through our diet.

Types of Dietary Protein

There are two types of protein foods: Complete Proteins and Incomplete Proteins. Complete proteins contain an adequate amount of each of the nine essential amino acids. Animal proteins are all complete proteins. Good sources of lean animal protein include chicken, lean beef, fish and shellfish, and vegetarian options like eggs, milk, yogurt (particularly greek yogurt) and cheese. Soybean products and quinoa are two vegan sources of complete protein. Here is a list of the protein and calories in a recommended serving of various complete proteins:

Most plant-based protein is incomplete protein, meaning it is inadequate in at least one essential amino acid. Legumes (beans and dried peas) are a great source of protein, but legume protein lacks the essential amino acid methionine. Whole grains can also be a good source of protein, but they lack adequate lysine. However, if you pair legumes and whole grains, the two proteins together create a complete protein, since legumes have adequate lysine and whole grains have adequate methionine. The protein in nuts or seeds can also complete whole grain protein. Refined grains, vegetables and fruit are not good sources of protein. Here is a list of protein and calories in a few incomplete proteins:

It is important to work with a Registered Dietitian or Nutritionist to determine what amount of protein you need each day to meet your needs. It can be challenging to meet all your protein needs if you have specific foods you avoid, so some people benefit from a protein supplement, like those we carry in our office. Please don’t hesitate to call our office if we can help you learn more about your individual protein needs for good health and weight loss.

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Lindsay Pasdera

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