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Making your protein complete

By Greg Zacarese

Protein is important to build and repair tissue. You also use protein to make enzymes, hormones, and other body chemicals. Protein is an important building block of bones, muscle, cartilage, skin, hair, nails, and blood. Protein is found in many different foods, including meat, fish, milk, beans, nuts, and whole grains.

Meat, poultry, fish and eggs contain the most protein. Protein from these animal foods is considered high-quality protein, and supplies all of the nine essential amino acids.  People on vegetarian/vegan diets omit these animal foods. They need to get complete protein in other ways such as combining two or more plant based food sources that alone do not contain all of the nine essential amino acids, but together they do. An example is rice and beans. For beans, the limiting amino acid is methionine. For rice, the limiting amino acid is lysine. When combined, these complement the missing amino acids, and provide a complementary protein dish. Vegetarians and vegans do not need to complement plants in each meal to reach the desired level of essential amino acids as long as their diets are varied.

Other complementary protein dishes include:

  • Legumes with grains. An example is lentils and rice with yellow peppers.
  • Legumes with nuts. An example is black bean and peanut salad.
  • Legumes with seeds. An example is spinach salad with sesame seed and almond salad dressing.
  • Dairy with seeds. An example is yogurt mixed with sesame and flax seeds.
  • Grains with dairy. An example is white cheddar and whole wheat pasta.

Greg Zacarese is a Dietetic Intern with the University of SODEXO with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program

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