Employee Wellness: Making Complete Proteins on a Plant-Based Diet
Following a plant-based diet can be great for one's health if done correctly and with proper nutrition research and education. One thing that many people remain unaware of when following a plant-based diet is the concept of complete proteins. Complete proteins are ones that contain all 9 essential amino acids. Amino acids are important for many functions in the body such as growth and repair body tissues, making hormones and brain chemicals, providing us with energy, maintaining healthy skin, hair, and nails, building muscle, and boosting our immune system. Essential amino acids cannot be made by the body, therefore must be obtained from our diet.
Not all proteins are complete proteins; these are considered incomplete proteins, which contain some but not all 9 essential amino acids in adequate amounts. The good news is, incomplete proteins can be paired together to create complete proteins. These proteins are considered complementary proteins. Let's take a look at some plant-based proteins that are complete and complementary.
Here are 6 complete plant-based proteins:
Quinoa can be used as the base of a grain bowl, added to salads, or used as breading.
Quinoa is gluten-free and also rich in fiber, magnesium, iron, and zinc.
2. Soy (Tofu, Tempeh, Edamame, Miso, Soy Milk)
Soy is a very versatile protein. Tofu and tempeh are naturally more bland tasting, but are able to absorb any flavors and spices you add to it.
Edamame can be steamed or roasted as an addition to a grain bowl or salad. It can also make a delicious fiber-rich snack on its own!
Miso is a fermented soybean paste that is great in soup and may aid in gut health.
Soy milk has a higher protein content than many other non-dairy milks and contains healthy fats.
3. Hemp Seeds
Hemp seeds are rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
Add them to smoothies, yogurt, fruit bowls, or salads for a nutritious and satiating meal or snack.
Buckwheat is a mineral-dense and fiber-rich seed. It also has prebiotic properties that help to increase good gut bacteria, leading to healthier digestion.
It is naturally gluten-free and can also be ground into a flour for baking.
Buckwheat and buckwheat flour can be used to make pancakes and cereal similar to oatmeal. They can also be added to a salad, used as a base for a veggie bowl, made into soba noodles, and more.
5. Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, as well as fiber and antioxidants.
Chia seeds can be bought whole or ground. Ground chia seeds can be used as egg replacements in baking.
Whole or ground seeds can be added to smoothies, acai bowls, salads, muffins, and oatmeal.
Amaranth is a whole grain seed that is naturally gluten-free and rich in antioxidants.
Amaranth also provides nutrients such as iron, manganese, vitamin C, and phosphorus.
Adding amaranth to rice can increase its protein content, making it more satiating.
Amaranth can also be used in salads, soups, porridge, and cereal. It can be ground to use in baking and popped to make amaranth popcorn!
Here are 4 complementary proteins that can be paired together to create complete proteins:
1. Rice + Beans/Lentils
Combine these proteins in salads, soups, chili, wraps, or grain bowls for a hearty and satisfying meal.
2. Nuts/Seeds + Whole Grains
Peanut butter on whole grain toast
Oats with pumpkin seeds
3. Pea Protein + Brazil Nuts
Smoothie/shake with pea protein powder + Brazil nut
Add pea protein powder and Brazil nuts to oats
4. Beans + Whole Grains
Whole grain wrap with beans and vegetables
Whole grain tortilla chips and bean dip
Bean burger on a whole grain bun
Chickpea salad sandwich on whole grain tortilla/bread
Falafel wrap with hummus on whole grain pita bread
Making complete proteins should not add stress to your day. Eating a varied diet can ensure you are meeting both protein and amino acid recommendations. Aiming to eat or create at least one complete protein in your day to maintain your health is great, but it does not have to be a part of every single meal choice.
Learn more about plant-based nutrition and other wellness programs offered by Wellness Workdays.
Written by Kylie McLoud, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern