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Importance of Complementary Proteins

by Visitor

Visitor's Question:

What is the importance of complementary proteins?

Suzy's Answer:

This is a great question and especially important to those who are pursuing a vegetarian or vegan diet.

Proteins are made up of chemicals called amino acids. There are about 20 common amino acids. Nine of them are called “essential” because the body is unable make them, and so they must be provided by the foods you eat.

If your diet does not contain enough of these essential amino acids, you will suffer the negative effects of protein deficiency.

Foods that provide all of these essential amino acids are called “complete proteins." Foods that supply complete protein foods generally come from animal sources. Plant foods do not usually have complete proteins, but by eating combinations of plant foods, called “complementary proteins,” you can obtain a complete protein.

For example, when you eat any kind of beans with rice, such as is often found in Mexican food, you are obtaining a complete protein. The beans and rice "complement" each other, since each has certain essential amino acids and when eaten together, you will have all of the essential amino acids.

Here are some
combinations that will provide a complementary protein.

Grains... with Dairy

Legumes... with Nuts

Legumes... with Grains

Legumes... with Seeds

Legumes... with Dairy

Nuts/Seeds... with Dairy

Nuts/Seeds... with Legumes

Dairy... with Nuts/Seeds and Legumes

Nutritionists used to say that we had to eat these complementary protein foods in the same meal, but now tell us that eating them in the same day will provide the needed benefit.

Health problems are associated with not enough protein.

Protein is a vital nutrient, and depending on the level of protein deficiency, a person who does not get all of the necessary amino acids may suffer from any of the following symptoms:




-Dry skin or skin lesions

-Edema (swelling)

-Fatty liver


-Heart attack - wasting of heart muscle

-Inability to maintain body temperature


-Lack of growth in children

-Loss of appetite

-Loss, thinning or discoloration of hair

-Malnutrition - poor absorption of nutrients

-Muscle wasting

-Poor appetite

-Reproductive problems

-Slow development in children

-Susceptibility to infections and disease

-Weight loss
Hope this helps answer your question and thank you for your interest in eating healthy and for visiting our healthy eating website.

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