Monday Mission: Learn About Complete Proteins

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Learn About Complete Proteins

I love little pieces of knowledge that you can apply to your life immediately and continue to use almost daily. I love feeling smart about nutrition and having the ability to improve my family’s health in simple ways. Learning about complete proteins and complementary foods was a window into another world that brought clarity and reassurance to my meals. (top photo source)

Basically, we all know that protein is good and important to have in our diets. When I was pregnant for the first time, we took Bradley Birth classes (24 hours worth! Phew!), which include info on nutrition and a goal of 80g protein per day during pregnancy. I learned to count and keep track of my protein, and I even won the prize one class for highest protein day – something over 140g, I believe! It wasn’t until after I had a child that I learned that all protein isn’t created equally.

Whole vs. Incomplete Protein

EDITED TO NOTE, 2015: As cool and prolific as this information was, I have since read that it might not be true at all. I don’t really know what the truth is at the moment, so I’m leaving this post here with this caveat.

Animal sources of protein – beef, chicken, pork, eggs, and milk – are whole proteins. All the 8 essential and 14 other amino acids are present. Our bodies can utilize all the nutrition as is. Plant proteins are incomplete – they have some of the amino acids, but not all. Since I like to include them in meals as often as possible. They’re still great nutrition for us, but our bodies would do better if the proteins could be completed.

We can make whole proteins happen simply by eating complementary foods, each with part of the protein, to make a complete protein in a given meal. My favorite part about this is how easy and natural it is. God didn’t exactly create the PB&J sandwich, I know, but He certainly knew what He was doing when He made certain foods go well together on the tastebuds. They tend to be those that complete the protein as well.

Your mission, then, if you choose to accept, is to print the following chart and post it on your refrigerator. What you do with it after that, perhaps as you meal plan, is up to you.

Choosing Complementary Proteins

Non-meat (incomplete) sources of protein include:

  1. Whole grains (oatmeal, whole grain bread, cornmeal, brown rice)
  2. Dairy (cheese, yogurt, milk) UPDATE: Milk is a complete protein, so I’m not sure how this all fits into the complementarity scheme. See the comments for more details.
  3. Legumes (anything in a pod:  peanuts, peas, dried beans like kidney, pinto, etc.)
  4. Seeds (sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, any nut)

All of the above have some usable protein, BUT your body can find the most whole protein if paired together correctly:





Some examples include:


  • Brown rice and beans (twice the rice as beans)
  • Whole wheat bread and peanut butter (1 slice bread and 1 T. pb)
  • Cornbread (not Jiffy mix, must be WHOLE corn) and beans
  • Whole wheat toast and chili with beans
  • Oatmeal with peanut butter
  • Whole wheat pasta with beans/chili sauce
  • Remember that adding just a smidge of meat to a bean dish will allow the body to assimilate all the vegetable protein, as taught in the beans post.


  • Yogurt or cottage cheese with peanut butter
  • Milk (1/2 cup) and peanut butter (5 Tablespoons)


  • Handful of nuts with glass of milk or yogurt
  • Homemade granola with milk or yogurt
  • Ice cream with almonds? :)  Lots of almonds!


  • Triscuits and cheese
  • Grilled cheese sandwich (1 slice whole wheat bread and 1 tsp cheese)
  • Mac and cheese (1 c. whole wheat pasta with ½ oz. cheese)
  • Fettuccine alfredo or lasagna (whole wheat pasta only)
  • ½ pound white potatoes and ¼ c. melted cheese
  • oatmeal made with milk
  • rice pudding (brown rice and milk)
  • whole wheat toast with cottage cheese

Information from Super Baby Food by Ruth Yaron.

The Impact of Information

Do be careful with this knowledge.  It may make you more thoughtful as you eat, which hopefully won’t annoy you too much. For example, when other people eat chili and cornbread, they think, “Mmmmm, chili and cornbread!”  When I eat chili and cornbread, I think, “Hmmm. The beans in the chili complement the whole grain corn in the cornbread to form a complete protein (check), and the Vitamin C in the tomatoes will help me absorb the iron in the beans more efficiently, and I might avoid drinking milk with this dinner, because the calcium will inhibit that iron absorption, although if I do drink milk, I should have an extra piece of cornbread because the whole grains will complete the protein in the milk.”  Phew! It’s a different world when you live in my head!

What you can look forward to this week:

Other posts you may enjoy:


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6 Bites of Conversation So Far

    • Katie says

      Hmmm, it seems you are right. My Google search turned up a few sources that confirmed that milk has all 22 amino acids. I wonder why my book sourced it differently. I did find this:
      *Beef, egg, fish, milk all have different ( unique ) amino acid ratios and thus have different %s of usable protein.
      *Animal protein is generally a complete protein, but even the protein in animal products does not have a perfect amino acid ratio. Animal protein can be as low as 60% usable protein up to about 85% usable protein.
      Going deeper into the Super Baby Food book, Yaron does say that milk products are complete proteins, but I guess it’s only “adequate” in the “sulphur-containing proteins”, for what that is worth. Some of the other items (grains, etc) have adequate s-c proteins, too, so they must complement each other there. There are 8 essential amino acids that our body cannot produce on its own, but 22 total. No meat or vegetable source has the perfect balance of all 22, so complementarity is still in play. ??? Thank you for adjusting my facts!

  1. Sarah says

    I love your site! I am definitely going to start putting these ideas into practice in my kitchen. However I’ve read that the theory we have to combine our proteins is a myth that just won’t go away and that it is not necessary. What are your thoughts on this?

    • Katie says

      I’ve seen that, too, but it can’t hurt! Ultimately meat is our best source of protein, but I can’t afford main course meat every day… 😉 Katie
      PS – Welcome!

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