We all know about the importance of protein in our diets. It’s essential for growth and repair of the body, energy and overall good health but, did you know that not all proteins are created equal? Complete proteins are far superior to any other protein source and are key to keeping us fit and healthy. But what exactly is a complete protein and what gives it the edge?
The answer lies in understanding the make-up of ‘proteins’. In fact, protein isn’t a single ingredient, but are molecules made up of long chains of amino acids. The interesting bit is that different proteins contain different amino acids. In fact, there are 20 different amino acids in total of which nine of these are considered ‘essential’ and the others are ‘non-essential’ or ‘dispensable’. The body simply can’t make the essential amino acids by itself which is why they’re a fundamental part of our diet. The remaining 11 amino acids can be made by the body and so we can be less concerned about consuming these day-to-day.
So, a complete protein basically contains all nine of the vital amino acids our bodies can’t live without, giving us all the protein-related nutrients it needs to function properly in one fell swoop. We need to be eating complete proteins every day to stay healthy. Sounds sensible, right? The only issue is that some proteins are incomplete, containing only a few essential amino acids, so we need to become wiser to proteins and make smart dietary choices.
Animal proteins are ‘complete proteins’. These include meat, fish and dairy. Eggs are also a good source of complete protein. But if you’re one of the many people cutting down on animal products for the good of your health and the planet, you need to be careful that you don’t miss out on your daily complete protein intake, especially as plant proteins, apart from soy, tend to be incomplete proteins. Having said this, when different plant proteins are eaten together, this can make your protein intake ‘complete’ once again, you just need to know which protein pairings work well.
To take the ‘guess work’ out of protein consumption, many people choose to drink a ‘complete’ high protein drink each day. This way, they are confident that their bodies are getting the all-important vital nutrients needed. Cricket-based protein powders are both ‘complete’ and sustainable, and interestingly contain more calcium than milk (433mg per 100g vs. 123.5mg per 100ml). And the best vegan shakes will include a blend of plants to ensure all nine amino acids are present.
So, be savvy and get to know your proteins and your protein powders, especially as high protein products may not always be ‘complete’. By making smarter choices, your body will get the vital fuel it needs.