Our First Food, Protein: Kinds of Protein, How Our Bodies Use It, and How Much We Need

Sarah Holland
Director of the East West Herb Course in the U.K.

Throughout life our needs change, that is part of the continuous cycle and continual striving for balance. Balance is the key in life and this includes the food we eat. Making changes in our lives, whether this is following a more spiritual path or regaining balance from disease will in event necessitate a change in our diet and food. The food we intake is also a source of prana outside of the air we breathe, so therefore our food choices should be an important consideration in our everyday life. Using food therapy as an integral part of our work in health and healing requires us to maintain flexibility and openness when dealing with such issues.

There has been much media press about diet and food over the years, creating immense confusion. Different diets purport different things and today we see such diets as the Hay system, F plan etc. We also have diets for a way of life, such as macrobiotics or a yogic more sattvic diet. I remember as a child my mother going on a high protein, low carbohydrate diet and being perpetually hungry! Certainly there are highly processed, refined foods on the market with no life force that are not necessary in our diet.

Protein has come under much controversy: eating too much, too little, attribution to disease and what is best for us. It always concerned me greatly when teaching Vegetarian cookery how many people decide to give up meat and fish, consume too much dairy and eggs and have no understanding of vegetable proteins, their importance in the diet or how to combine them; this is how the following article came about! Part 1 examines how protein is made, its function in the body, terms used and a brief overview of the digestive process. Part 2 will discuss protein from the viewpoint of Chinese, Ayurvedic and Western nutrition, patterns in excess and deficiency and making change, considering foods from both a chemical constituent viewpoint and a holistic, energetic approach.

The word protein is derived from Greek and means ‘˜holding the first place’. Proteins hold the first place in the building and maintaining of all living things and without them no life can exist. It has two main functions in the body, it is used as a building and repair material for tissues and organs, eg. skin, hair, muscles, liver and in the formation of hormones, enzymes and antibodies.

There are many types of protein including, animal protein, plant protein, human protein amongst a few. They can all be made from the same 20 amino acids in long multiple chains. These can be arranged in any order and there maybe several hundred amino acids in a single protein molecule.

The body can produce many of the 20 amino acids but there are eight essential amino acids that the body relies on from foods for its source, namely, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine. Children also require two further amino acids, histidine and arginine. Each of these amino acids have their own specific function, as do the other less essential amino acids for example GABA and tyrosine, which are also essential to health.

There are several terms used to describe protein which are as follows:

First Class protein or Complete protein, these are of animal sources, meat, fish, dairy, eggs. They have a good balance of the essential amino acids and are in similar proportions to those found in human tissues, muscles and organs.

Net Protein Utilisation (NPU) or biological value is the term used to describe the percentage of protein which is actually available to the body. Eggs and human breast milk have the highest NPU ratings of all foods and are therefore classified as complete protein.

Second Class protein or Incomplete protein are vegetable proteins, which are grains, nuts, pulses and seeds. They are classified as incomplete protein because these foods by themselves are low in one or more of the essential amino acids. These amino acids are called limited amino acids because they reduce the NPU of that protein. To obtain the essential amino acids from vegetable proteins in good proportion they need to be combined together, for example grains contain alot of tryptophan and not much lysine whereas pulses contain a lot of lysine but not much tryptophan so by combining grains and pulses together gives a good balance. The best combinations of vegetable proteins are grains and pulses, pulses and nuts.

Soya bean and soya bean products, for example tofu, are also a complete protein of vegetable source. However, strictly speaking the soya bean is slightly low in the amino acid methionine and therefore to combine with other vegetable protein for example a grain will enhance the quality of protein.

Concentrated Protein is a term we often hear within Alternative Medicine and it is referring to complete protein, meat, fish, dairy, eggs.

Protein metabolism is complex therefore I am going to give a brief overview. Proteins are converted by the enzymes of the gastric, pancreatic and intestinal juices into amino acids. They are absorbed by the villi of the small intestine and carried by the portal vein to the liver. The waste products of protein metabolism are urea and to a lesser extent uric acid and creatinine.

Some plant protein is not suitable for building and repairing and therefore is converted to glucose in the liver or urea. The glucose is either stored in the liver or used as fuel. This is not a substitute for carbohydrate energy giving foods such as grains. Animal sources of protein are more fully utilised than plant protein.

For the full utilisation of protein, a good balance of the essential amino acids is required from our food so that the function of protein is carried out. Secondly, carbohydrate is necessary. If protein is ingested by itself or with inadequate carbohydrate, it will be used for energy giving, which is the main function of carbohydrate. This highlights the necessity for a good carbohydrate/protein balance in the diet. Persistant low carbohydrate intake where protein is being used for energy is seen in cases of starvation, anorexia, overall weakness in the body, poor skin, loss of hair and poor absorption and digestion.

Protein Part 2

I ask myself, why do I leave things to the last minute? Its either a mad rush or for a reason. In this case writing Part 2 of the article on Protein has been for a reason, it has given me time for reflection and a time to look closer at new sources of nutritional information.

The aim of the NACNE report in 1983 was to present guidelines for the British diet that would result in better health and thereby reduce the incidence of such disease as angina, strokes, heart attacks, gallstones, diverticulitis, cancer of the colon, constipation, obesity and dental carries. There were recommended dietary changes with specific emphasis on less fat (especially saturated), less salt and sugar, more unrefined whole carbohydrate, less alcohol, which meant looking much closer at our food choices. This was left wide open for interpretation and resulted in overly high carbohydrate diets with little protein complement, low fat and an increased consumption of raw cold food. It was also a time when many people decided to become vegetarian which continues to grow.

But what about the long term effects? Today we are seeing people with fatigue, feelings of ungroundness, mood swings, sweet cravings, weight gain, increasing candidiasis, PMS, gluten problems and so forth. Our diets are out of balance! The balance between the macro-nutrients, carbohydrate, protein and fat needs to be re-evaluated, which in real terms means eating less carbohydrate foods, more protein and more fat! It is not being suggested that we increase our consumption of saturated fats, but look closer at the intricate relationship between fats and the essential fatty acids. This article focus’ on the carbohydrate, protein balance and why the ratios between these need to be changed. The Fats, Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s) and the energetic perspective will be looked at in the next Newsletter.

Carbohydrate foods give us energy, they are more yang and balancing in nature whereas protein foods repair, rebuild and are more yin and nurturing in nature.

We need to be concerned with which carbohydrate foods to eat. There are simple and complex carbohydrates, which we know as empty and full sweet in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine. The simple carbohydrates are sugars, table sugar, natural sweeteners such as honey; fructose found in fruits, fruit juice; lactose found in milk, ice cream. Complex carbohydrates are found in starches, grains, starchy vegetables such as potato; legumes, beans and peas; vegetables such as broccoli, asparagus, carrots. Simple carbohydrates give more instant energy, but this burst of energy can be relatively short then we crash and need more. Complex carbohydrates sustain us for longer.

Lets look closer at the complex carbohydrate foods which we have been encouraged to eat more of. What has occurred is an over consumption of foods such as pasta, cereals such as muesli and bread products, frequently served with tomato sauce and salad, to the neglect of whole protein complement.

These foods are made from the whole grain and many today are highly processed. Because of the nutritional guidelines on fats, these are being removed from many products and frequently replaced with simple sugars. In a round about way we could be continuing to ingest rather high levels of simple sugars in our diets, so what is this doing?

Nutritional thoughts to the digestion and metabolism of carbohydrates are looking at highly processed carbohydrates, discussed in the previous paragraph in the same light as simple sugars.

All carbohydrates are converted to glucose, which is used for energy and goes to the muscles or fat cells. If it is not used right away it is stored in the liver as glycogen. The more active you are the more glycogen you will use. There are also paired sets of endocrine hormones in the body, the two released from the pancreas are insulin and glucagon.

Insulin drives blood sugar levels down, whilst glucagon has the opposite effect. So we can see that the more carbohydrate we eat the more insulin that is released, the blood sugar level drops fatigue sets in and we need more. A condition known as insulin resistance, where both insulin levels and blood sugar levels remain high because the target cells no longer respond to the insulin results in the accumulation of excess body fat.

These two hormones, insulin and glucagon play an important role in both weight loss and gain. It is now recognised that a large proportion of overweight people may have a carbohydrate intolerance and such links are being looked at more closely in those who have chronic yeast problems. It can also give onset to diabetes.

Protein also plays a vital part in regulating the hormone glucagon and the Essential Fatty Acids in the metabolism of insulin. Dr Jenkins and Dr Wolever analyzed many different carbohydrate foods to see what the effect on blood sugar was, the relation between the test food and the glucose effects in the body is called the Glycemic Index.

Some people will have no problem with carbohydrate foods and insulin, however awareness of the wider perspective on carbohydrate foods is very helpful to us when we are considering food choices. Rebalancing our macro-nutrients is the key. Carbohydrate, protein, fat balances have become extreme, which when looking at a daily food intake would show the foods consumed centred around carbohydrate meals, with a small amount of protein and minimal fat intake. It is important to re-emphasise for the body to make and utilise protein the foods eaten need to have good proportions of the eight essential amino acids as was discussed in Part 1.

How much protein do we need? To suggest 50-100g per day is not as simple as it sounds. We need to consider the composition of the protein, meat contains the eight essential amino acids, has no fibre, is high in saturated fat and will be more available to the body in terms of protein than a limited vegetable protein which is high in fibre and low in fat, (beneficial to us in otherways). This hi lights how necessary it is with vegetable proteins to eat good protein complement at each meal. Considering foods in terms of calories is of little help to us, the only thing we can say is that if we intake more calories per day than our energy output the excess will be stored as body fat. Neither of these take in to account optimal health, how we actually would like to feel, constitutional types, imbalances, lifestyle and so forth.

Carbohydrates to encourage in the diet are fresh vegetables both roots and leafy, fruit, legumes (beans and peas), and whole grains (such as rice and barley). The fibre in these foods is more soluble and easier for the digestive tract to manage than fibre from wheat/rye products which can be more irritating. More people today are showing sensitivities to gluten found in some whole grains and whilst these foods are excellent for us, consume in moderation. Some diets over the past years have purported 4-6 helpings per day. This is excessive and can exacerbate the body with over elimination. This also applies to fruit.

Protein needs are greater in children, the elderly, pregnancy, lactating women, surgery/post operative, high energy output activity, such as athletes

Protein foods are better eaten individually than in a cocktail. Milk particularly is better taken by itself (warmed, not cold) as its such a concentrated source of protein. Protein foods do not mix well with fruit, the fruit undermines the digestion of the protein. Some people tolerate milk protein with grains, generally meat and fish with grains is harder to digest.

So what protein sources are best for us to eat? Since the NACNE report the following food choices have been encouraged but there are some new nutritional thoughts which I shall just touch on. White meat (eg chicken, without the skin), fish both white and oily (eg haddock and sardines), low fat dairy products! such as skimmed milk, tofu, grains (eg rice, millet), beans (eg mung, aduki), nuts and seeds (eg sunflower, almonds). In addition to this there are products not so widely used, tempeh, seitan and processed products such as quorn and other soya products on the market. Meat, such as lamb and beef, full fat dairy and eggs have tended to be given bad press and many people have either cut these out of their diets or greatly reduced them.

The Western view on food does not consider excess/deficiency patterns, hot/cold, taste, flavour or how individual foods can be used for specific imbalances. There is the wider perspective, the emotions (physical,emotional,spiritual balance), methods of cooking, seasons and so on.

Current nutritional thinking and the foods we eat are drawing us back to the ‘hunting and gathering man’ and how we evolved.We can look at protein foods eaten then such as wild game, fish, insects, to the far greater range of foods now available since the advent of modern day agriculture. The other relationship is to do with fats. Meat hunted by our ancestors contained structural fat, whereas meat from farming today contain storage fat. We have also seen a decline in the consumption of fish which has attributed to the EFA imbalance, both of these aspects we will looker closer at in the next Newsletter.

What’s the Deal With Complete and Incomplete Protein—and Does It Even Matter?

If you’re a big fan of quinoa, or chia seeds, you may have heard them touted as complete proteins. In a nutshell, that means they contain all of the nine essential amino acids required to build and repair protein tissues in the body. But the question is: does that matter?

The short answer is no, not really. But first, let’s back up a step.

Animal-based foods like eggs, dairy, fish, and meat are complete proteins; while most plant foods are incomplete—meaning certain amino acids are missing from the protein puzzle.

Some people believe that in order to utilize plant protein efficiently, you must eat so-called “complementary proteins” together. Rice and beans are a good example of complementary proteins, because the amino acids that are missing from beans are found in rice and vice versa.

However, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the terms “complete protein” and “incomplete protein” are misleading. That’s because if a person consumes enough calories from a healthful, varied diet—even if those calories come exclusively from plant-based foods—she should get an adequate supply of essential amino acids within a 24-hour period.

Your liver helps by storing various essential amino acids over the course of a day for use later on. In other words, you don’t need to worry about eating complementary plant foods simultaneously, as long as you’re eating a variety of nutritious foods (and not just vegan junk food).

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So no, you don’t need to eat quinoa or chiaat every meal; or memorize lists of foods to pair. But if you are vegan or lean toward a plant-based diet, to meet your protein needs by the end of the day it’s important to eat quality calories from a mix of whole foods. Here are some examples of snacks and mini-meals that can help you consume a broad spectrum of the nutrients and amino acids your body needs:

  • Add veggies, like shredded zucchini or finely chopped kale and fresh fruit to oats, and garnish generously with nuts and/or seeds.
  • Layer cooked, chilled quinoa and hummus and scoop it up with raw veggies.
  • Whip up energy balls made from nut butter or sunflower seed butter, mixed with rolled oats or toasted quinoa and dried fruit, rolled in chia seeds.
  • Add black beans and cooked, chilled wild rice to garden salads.
  • Toss buckwheat soba noodles with veggies, black eyed peas, and a sauce made from almond butter seasoned with ginger, garlic, and chili pepper.
  • Garnish lentil and veggie soup with chopped walnuts or pecans.
  • Whip chickpea flour into fruit and veggie smoothies along with sprouted pumpkin seeds.
  • Drizzle oven roasted veggies with tahini or serve with pesto made from olive oil, herbs, and nuts.

And remember that if you eat animals foods, quality still counts for wellness, weight management, and disease prevention. Pair pastured eggs, grass-fed dairy or beef, organic poultry, and wild, sustainable seafood with plenty of plants. And keep in mind that you don’t need to eat animal protein at every meal in order to consume an amino acid-rich diet.

Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a consultant for the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Nets.

Chapter 6 Quiz – 1 When the diet does not provide enough…

1 When the diet does not provide enough energy to meet the body’s needs, such as when consuming a very low calorie weight loss diet, body protein is used to provide energy. True 2 The role of hydrochloric acid in protein digestion is to Denature the protein 3 Review where digestive processes of protein occur. Select the letter that indicates where protein-digesting enzymes are released from the pancreas, which aids brush border enzymes from this organ to breakdown protein. Small intestine 4 High protein diets do not increase water loss. False 5 Protein quality is a measure of how good the protein in a food is at providing the non-essential amino acids the body needs to synthesis protein. False 6 The shape of a protein is essential to its function. True 7 Children who followed a vegetarian lifestyle will be malnourished. False 8 Most plant proteins are referred to as incomplete dietary protein. True 9 A diet that is based on plant proteins alone cannot meet most people’s protein needs.

Op-ed: ‘Complete’ and ‘incomplete’ protein is BS

As a registered dietitian, nearly every week I hear clients, colleagues, journalists, coaches, students, friends, bus drivers, and barbers use the terms ‘complete’ and ‘incomplete’ proteins. We’ve become obsessive in our quest to consume more and more of the former. And this has led to a diet that overemphasizes animal products at the expense of plants. The ripple effect of a diet focused on animal food extends far and wide, influencing not only our personal health, but environmental sustainability and humane livestock production (and whether we like it or not, these last two influence all of us).

The idea: ‘Complete’ proteins supply the necessary proportions of all of the essential amino acids(nitrogen-rich compounds that our body cannot produce). If someone only ate a single ‘complete’ protein food for the day, and nothing else, they would meet 100 percent of their daily protein needs. Chicken, beef, eggs, fish, and soy are often referred to as ‘complete’ proteins.

‘Incomplete’ protein food sources, on the other hand, are often plant foods. The terminology suggests that if someone was to subsist exclusively on an ‘incomplete’ protein food, they wouldn’t meet 100 percent of their daily protein needs; they’d likely fall short of least one amino acid. Foods like rice, carrots, and beans are referred to as ‘incomplete’ proteins.

For years, health professionals thought that if one food contained a smaller amount of one essential amino acid, we’d need to pair it up with another food at the same meal in order for it to be useful to the body. Rice falls a bit short in lysine, for example, but black beans have plenty of lysine, which gives us black beans and rice.

After all, we need each amino acid in different amounts to build a protein—kind of like how you need different supplies (bricks, nails, wood) to build a house. Without enough of one supply, the house suffers.

Today, though, our knowledge and perspective has evolved. And classifying a food as a ‘complete’ or ‘incomplete’ protein (for the well-fed person in a developed nation with protein in their nutritional bullseye each day) is flawed and antiquated.

There’s no doubt that certain foods have more amino acids than others. But in my opinion, with a little thought and effort, it’s nearly impossible to fall short on getting enough essential amino acids in your diet, even if it’s plant-based.

Furthermore, continuing to use terminology that steers people away from having foods like legumes as a protein source is irresponsible and misguided, especially when you account for added benefits of eating more plant foods, such as decreased likelihood of chronic disease, a smaller environmental footprint, and improved animal welfare.

Nutrition science is a recent science, and it’s very complex. Food is made up of countless compounds that we are continuing to learn more about. And beyond nutrients, we all have unique differences in how we digest and process foods. This can make attaining certain nutrients from certain foods more difficult or easy depending on our genetic makeup, health history, gut microbiome, and medication use—things that cannot be captured in the ‘complete’ or ‘incomplete’ label.

So instead of focusing on whether your protein source is ‘complete’ or ‘incomplete,’ follow these three guidelines.

1. Eat enough food to support a healthy body size.

If we don’t meet our energy and calorie needs (if we crash diet, fast for extended periods of time, or don’t eat enough during high volume periods of training), both dietary protein and proteins stored in the body might be diverted to other functions that protein is not ideal for, like producing energy. Eating enough calories allows protein to do what it’s meant to do in the body: aid in growth, repair, development, and in the synthesis of hormones, enzymes, and neurotransmitters.

2. Build a diet around a variety of foods.

When a diet is built around a single food group, there’s a much better chance that the person will run into a nutrient deficiency problem. If you were only eating steak, for example, you might meet your protein requirements but you’d fall short on fiber, vitamins A, C, E, K, D, some B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, potassium, copper, and manganese. For people who love numbers, an active adult should aim for between 1.2 to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or 82 to 116 grams of protein each day for a 150-pound adult. This protein can come from a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and animal foods.

3. Include at least one cup of cooked legumes each day.

Or closer to one and a half cups if you’re over 160 pounds. Legumes are a rich source of the essential amino acid lysine. If someone eating a highly plant-based diet is going to fall short in one of the essential amino acids, lysine is probably the one. That’s because it’s found in lower amounts in most plant foods—other than legumes, quinoa, pumpkin seeds, pistachios, and amaranth, that is.

Ryan Andrews, RD, CSCS completed his education in exercise and nutrition at the University of Northern Colorado, Kent State University, and Johns Hopkins Medicine. He’s written hundreds of articles on nutrition, exercise, and health, authored Drop The Fat Act & Live Lean, A Guide to Plant-Based Eating, and coauthored The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition Certification Manual.

You’ve got a lot on your plate when it comes to maintaining a healthy diet. You have to worry about watching your sugar intake, getting enough vitamins and avoiding processed food. Do you really need to stress about whether you’re eating complete or incomplete proteins?

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If you’re eating a versatile, healthy diet, the short answer is probably not.

To be clear, you definitely need to be eating enough protein – your body needs protein to form muscle, transport nutrients, and build and repair tissue. But eating a wide variety of protein-containing foods can help you get there, says functional medicine dietitian Rachel Stockle, MS, LD, RDN.

What is a complete protein?

A food is considered a complete protein when it contains the nine essential amino acids that our body cannot produce on its own.

Let’s back up for a second and talk about amino acids. They’re organic compounds that are considered to be the “building blocks” of protein.

There are 20 different amino acids that bond together in a chain to form a protein. Eleven of those amino acids are produced by our bodies. The other nine – the so-called essential amino acids – we need to get through food.

Many foods contain some but not all of the essential amino acids, and in various amounts. These are incomplete sources of protein, and they include:

  • Legumes (beans, peas, lentils)
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Whole grains
  • Vegetables

Complete proteins contain all nine essential amino acids in consistent amounts. Here are some complete protein examples:

  • Fish
  • Poultry
  • Eggs
  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Dairy
  • Whole sources of soy (tofu, edamame, tempeh, miso)

Plant-based proteins

You probably noticed that most complete sources of protein are animal products. But no need to sweat it if you’re following a vegetarian or vegan diet – you can still meet your protein needs with a variety of plant-based foods.

In fact, you don’t even necessarily need to mix and match incomplete proteins to create a complete protein at each meal.

“Including a wide variety of plant foods such as legumes, lentils, nuts, seeds and whole grains on a daily basis will allow for you to get the complete protein you need,” Stockle says. These foods also provide additional benefits in the form of vitamins and minerals.

So how much protein do I actually need?

A general rule to follow is to eat somewhere between 0.36 and 0.90 grams of protein per pound of your body weight each day, depending on your activity level and general health, Stockle says.

For example, a 140-pound woman who’s running 20 miles a week and lifting weights three days a week probably needs more protein than someone of the same weight who gets their exercise from walking four days a week.

Another important thing to remember is that timing matters. “We can only absorb about 25 to 40 grams of protein per sitting, so making sure to space out protein intake throughout the day is important,” she adds.

Unsure if you’re overdoing it? Use your hand as a guide – an appropriate serving of protein is generally about the size of the palm of your hand.

And if you’re worried you’re not getting enough? Stockle adds, “There are many protein powders you can supplement with in your smoothies that use combinations of hemp seed protein, pea protein and rice protein, which have higher percentages of all the amino acids we need.”

Think about the foods you already eat, and build from there. Here are some of the best non-meat protein sources:

Eggs. These are nearly perfect proteins, Wright says. “They have almost precise amounts of all the essential building blocks you need.”

And at only 70 calories an egg, you’re not getting too many calories.

Eggs have the added bonus of being easy to make ahead (hard-boil them and keep them in the fridge for a quick snack) and easy to add to foods you already eat, like salad. They can be a simple dinner option, too — cook them up with some veggies to make an omelet, whip up a frittata, or bake them in a pie crust with some spinach and low-fat cheese for a tasty quiche.

Dairy. Look for low-fat options for your protein fix. Cottage cheese, yogurt, and low-fat cow’s milk are all pumped with it. Pour milk on your cereal for breakfast, or have cheese with your snack crackers. You can even slide in some dairy protein for a delicious dessert. “I sometimes encourage people to have frozen yogurt if they enjoy a treat,” Catic says.

Seeds. Quinoa is a complete protein that has all nine essential amino acids. If you’re not familiar with it, think of it like a grain or pasta. Use it in dishes in place of rice or couscous, for example, and you’ll give your dish an automatic protein boost. Also, chia and flaxseeds are small enough to sneak into yogurt, cereal, smoothies, or oatmeal without changing the flavor much.

Soy. Tofu might be the first food you think of when you hear the word “vegetarian.” That’s because it’s a common substitute in dishes that typically use meat. Cubed tofu can be cooked and added to salads or burritos in place of chicken. Or for a quick soy snack, steam a bag of edamame — soybeans in pods you can pop into your mouth while they’re still warm.

Greens. Veggies like spinach and kale are an easy way to get a whole host of nutrients, including protein. Add a layer to sandwiches, or fill a bowl and top with your favorite veggies for a healthy salad.

First, yogurt started crowding out everything else on the dairy shelf. Then Greek yogurt muscled its way in. But one underdog dairy case food, which kept hanging on by its fingernails, is starting to fight its way back.

Some brands of cottage cheese, including Good Culture and Muuna, are starting to make it cool, launching snack-size containers with contemporary labels and mix-ins like acai and chia seeds, and hoping you’ll forget about its unfortunate melba toast, bland weight-loss diet phase. Even Breakstone’s is in on the act, with flavors like mango habanero.

Cottage cheese skeptics, stay with us, here. There’s more beyond the packaging and flavors to like about the stuff:

Cottage cheese contains more protein than two eggs.

And that’s just the protein in a personal-size cup of the stuff (5.3 oz)—in that size, those wannabe trendy cottage cheeses are weighing in at 16 to 19 grams of protein; eggs have about 6 g each. And your yogurt? Totally depends on which one you choose. Your Greek yogurt might have 15 g; the standard yogurt can have as little as 3 or 6 grams of protein.

It keeps low-carb eaters happy.

Options with fruit on the bottom will raise the carb count, but the plain stuff often clocks in at under 5 g of carbs.

Some brands contain probiotics.

Sorry, yogurt. You’re not the only one that contains the good-for-you bacteria known as probiotics. Some cottage cheeses, including Muuna and Nancy’s, have them, too. Even if your favorite brand doesn’t, you can load up those creamy curds with prebiotics—the food that nourishes probiotics already in your body—by mixing in foods like flaxseeds.

The curd issue doesn’t have to be an issue.

If you don’t like the texture of cottage cheese, smooth it out in a blender. Maybe even throw a little bleu cheese in there, too, for an extra zingy flavor. Or look for “whipped” cottage cheese, which has tiny curds and a very different mouth feel.

Sonja DahlgrenGetty Images

You can make it taste like dessert. But it’s even better as lunch.

Manufacturers often tart up yogurts with sugary fruit-on-the-bottom concoctions or even flavors from the bakery case, like banana cream pie. You can make cottage cheese more treat-like if you want by adding dried or whole fruit, or even hazelnuts and honey or toasted coconut and blackberries. But we recommend exploring its savory side (not weird; remember it can go in lasagna) with these mix-ins:

  • Cucumber, tomatoes and black pepper
  • Walnuts and figs
  • Spicy Peppadew peppers
  • Sunflower seeds or almonds
  • Salsa, black beans, and cilantro
  • Blackberries and toasted coconut
  • Prosciutto and pistachios
  • Avocado, tomato, and hot sauce
  • Shaved carrots and raisins
  • Use it in deviled eggs in place of mayo
  • Black olives and tomatoes

Get the satisfying stuff.

Give yourself the best cottage cheese experience by following the same rules as you do with yogurt—skip the nonfat stuff and reach for a container that contains the real, creamy, satisfying thing.

Muuna Lowfat Plain Cottage Cheese jet.com $4.29 Good Culture Whole Milk Classic Cottage Cheese instacart.com $5.30 Good Culture Pineapple Cottage Cheese jet.com $3.69 Muuna Cottage Cheese 4% Milkfat Classic Plain mercato.com $27.00 Marty Munson Marty Munson, currently the health director of Men’s Health, previously served as deputy editor at Dr Oz The Good Life and director of digital content at Shape.

Difference between Complete and Incomplete Protein

Proteins are macromolecules made up of amino acids. There are twenty amino acids which are of two types: essential and nonessential amino acids. Out of the twenty amino acids our body can synthesize only eleven amino acids which are known as non-essential amino acids. The other nine amino acids, which our body cannot synthesize, are called essential amino acids.

Each protein molecule is unique in itself as the size, shape, and length of each protein molecule are determined by its specific amino acid sequence and the chemical nature of their side chain (R-group).

Proteins perform a number of important functions in our body like they repair and build tissue, act as enzymes, aid the immune system and act as hormones. Other than water, protein is the most abundant substance in the human body. Protein can be categorized into two types, based on its chemical structure or amino acids: complete proteins and incomplete proteins. By knowing the difference between complete and incomplete proteins you can figure out the right combination of proteins. Let us see how complete protein differs from incomplete protein.

Complete Protein:

A complete protein is a protein which contains all the nine essential amino acids and can be fully utilized by our body to repair and build muscle tissues. Complete proteins are usually found in almost all animal foods like meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy products. Quinoa, soybeans and amaranth are some of the plant foods that also contain complete proteins. Whey protein, which is obtained from cow’s milk, is one of the fastest-digesting complete proteins. It quickly delivers nutrients to the body tissues or muscle.

Incomplete Protein:

The incomplete protein is a protein which lacks one or more essential amino acids which means it does not contain all the nine essential amino acids. When consumed, incomplete proteins are not fully utilized by the body. Incomplete proteins are usually found in plant foods as the plant foods contain few, not all the essential amino acids. Common plant foods which provide incomplete proteins include nuts, seeds, green peas, lentils, most grains etc. Foods which contain incomplete proteins when consumed in combination with other such foods can provide you complete protein or all the essential amino acids, e.g. a combination of beans and milk or rice can provide you all the essential amino acids or complete protein. Some other combinations of foods to make incomplete proteins are as follows:

  • Corn with beans
  • Yogurt with walnuts
  • Brown rice with green peas
  • Nuts with legumes
  • Legumes with seeds

Based on the above information, some of the key differences between complete and incomplete proteins are as follows:

Complete Protein Incomplete Protein
It contains all the nine essential amino acids. It lacks one or more essential amino acids or does not contain all the nine essential amino acids.
It is mostly found in animal foods. It is usually found in almost all plant foods.
A single animal food can provide all the essential amino acids. A combination of plant foods can provide complete protein (all essential amino acids).
Sources include animal foods like fish, meat, eggs, etc and some plant foods like quinoa and soyabean. Sources include plant foods like nuts, lentils, green peas etc.

The Real Difference Between Complete vs. Incomplete Proteins

Protein is an essential part of everyone’s diet, and the amount that each person needs each day is respective to body weight, activity level, age, and even gender. However, did you know there is such a thing as a complete and incomplete protein?

To explain the difference between a complete and incomplete protein, we consulted Sydney Greene, MS, RD, and Lauren Hoover, RD, MS at SHIFT.

Complete vs. incomplete protein

The key difference lies within the number of amino acids the food contains.

“Amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins, can be made in the body and obtained from food. There are nine out of the 20 amino acids that we cannot synthesize in our body, so we must get them from food,” says Greene.

These nine amino acids are referred to as essential amino acids, which Hoover says includes: Histidine, Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Threonine, Tryptophan, and Valine. The other 11 amino acids are naturally produced by the body, and therefore are classified as nonessential.

“A food is considered an incomplete protein if it does not contain all nine of these essential amino acids or if the ratios of the amino acids within the food are not adequate,” says Greene.

So in order for a food to be considered a complete protein, it must contain all nine amino acids.

What are some examples of each kind of protein?

“Most plant sources of proteins are going to be incomplete,” says Hoover.

Incomplete protein examples:

  • Black beans
  • Chia seeds
  • Lentils
  • Almonds
  • Brussels sprouts

The exceptions are soy and quinoa, as they both contain all nine essential amino acids.

“Any animal product is a complete protein, so examples of single-source complete proteins include meat, dairy, eggs, and fish,” she says.

Complete protein examples:

  • Beef
  • Cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Salmon
  • Pork
  • Chicken
  • Turkey

Examples of vegan/plant-based complete proteins:

  • Edamame
  • Tofu
  • Quinoa

RELATED: These are the easy, at-home recipes that help you lose weight.

Do vegetarians and vegans get enough complete proteins in their diet?

Because neither vegetarians or vegans eat meat, there is a concern that both groups aren’t getting enough complete proteins in their diet. However, Greene assures that as long as you eat a balanced diet full of whole grains, nuts, seeds, lentils, and vegetables, you will innately make a combination of a complete protein. For example, you can pair two incomplete proteins such as 100 percent whole-grain bread with two tablespoons of peanut butter to create a complete protein meal. Beans with brown rice and hummus with vegetables are two other such combinations.

“You also do not need to consume complete proteins at every meal. As long as you are including the foods mentioned above throughout your day, your body will be getting doses of amino acids all day long,” says Greene.

Now, does that clear up the confusion between what’s considered a complete and incomplete protein?

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Complete vs. Incomplete Proteins: A Beginner’s Guide

You might be skeptical about protein. Right now, protein powders are booming, and while you might think they’re just for people looking to build lean muscle or bulk up, protein does so much more, and is an indispensable part of a healthy, balanced diet.

Proteins are biochemical molecules that contain chains of amino acids. Protein can help repair and create tissue (including muscle), is used to make hormones and enzymes, and is a building block for everything from cartilage and bones to hair and nails. Because our bodies use protein in so many ways, getting enough through your diet not only helps to give your body what is needs, but is essential for overall health. But not all protein contains the same amino acids, which is why you might have heard about “complete” and “incomplete” proteins.

So what exactly is the difference?

Here’s the gist: overall there are twenty different kinds of amino acids, eleven of which our bodies can produce on their own. The other nine, called “essential amino acids,” we can only get through diet, supplementation, or a combination of the two.

A complete protein is one that contains all nine of those amino acids that our bodies need: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. While doctors generally agree that the best way to get protein is through diet, protein is generally found through animal sources, such as fish, poultry, meat, dairy products and eggs. Though there are some vegan sources, such as quinoa, beans, certain nuts and whole grains, it can be difficult to get the same levels of protein through a plant-based diet as from those one that includes animal products.

An incomplete protein is one that does not contain all nine of those essential amino acids. Beans, specific nuts, and tofu are a couple examples of incomplete protein sources, so eating those foods alone for protein will not give you all of the amino acids your body needs. That said, the more varied your diet, the more likely it is that you’re getting all the nutrients you need, so it is possible for vegetarians and vegans who eat a variety of different foods to get enough protein.

Many vegetarians and vegans combine different protein sources together, rather than trying to find only complete proteins, since combining different incomplete protein sources together in a dish can help create a complete protein meal. You’ve probably had several of these combinations without realizing it, like peanut butter on bread, hummus and pita, brown rice and beans or chili and cornbread, to name a few. Just take it from the FDA:

“Grains are low in the amino acid lysine, while beans and nuts (legumes) are low in the amino acid methionine. When grains and legumes are eaten together (such as rice and beans or peanut butter on whole wheat bread), they form a complete protein.”

So who does this impact?

Most of us get enough protein through our diets. If fish, poultry, and eggs are a part of your regular diet, then don’t sweat it! You’re most likely getting enough protein.

The same can be said for vegans who are conscious of protein intake, whether that means skillfully combining complementary proteins, or choosing to eat complete proteins regularly.

If you aren’t eating a lot of complete protein sources, or decide you want to add a protein supplement to your diet, look for a powder that’s a complete protein.

Think of it this way: why would you choose to take only some of the things your body needs (like six or seven of the essential amino acids), when you could get all nine from a single source? While some people opt for incomplete proteins geared towards specific health goals (like collagen, for example, which is a popular protein used to support hair, skin and nail health), if your goal is overall health and well-being, then a complete protein is the best way to go. Whey and casein are both complete proteins, and are a great place to start.

Complete plant-based protein powders do exist, and are usually made up from many different plant-based protein sources combined together to create a complete, vegan protein supplement.

Complete and incomplete proteins

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