The Protein Myth That Has Taken Years to Debunk

Protein combining is the idea that inorder to get”complete” proteins from plant-based foods, you need to eat two different protein sources together, like beans and rice or corn and quinoa. And it’s just not true. Here’s how this myth got started and the truth about plant-based protein.

Back when I first went vegetarian and then vegan, Diet for a Small Planet was the book to read. At that time, author Francis Lappe included information in her book about how plants provide incomplete proteins and how vegetarians and vegans need to combine proteins at each meal to ensure we’re getting a “complete” protein.

This was commonly considered true at the time. It was being taught in health and nutrition classes and in medical schools, so it makes sense that Lappe would mention it in her book.I also learned about protein combininginafreshman year nutrition class in college.In more recent editions of Diet for a Small Planet, Lappe says correctly thatthere’s no need to worry about eating complementary proteins, as long as you’re eating enough calories.

Protein combining isall about amino acids. The idea is that plant-based proteins don’t provide all of the essential amino acids, so you need to eat combinations of plant-based protein sources to make up the complete set.It’s likePokemon, but with amino acids: “Gotta catch ‘em all.” But,that’s not really how it works.

It’s true that some plant-based foodsare missing an amino acid here and there. What isn’t true is that you need to combine plant-based proteinscarefully to avoid deficiency. Your body stores amino acids, so if you eatwhole grains at breakfast and beans at lunch, you’re good.In fact, as long as you’re eating a variety of plant-based protein sources, you’re good. And pretty much all plants provideprotein.

Unfortunately, this myth is still common, even in the medical community.Jeff Novick, MS, RD, describes teaching a recent nutrition course where a medical resident toldhim that protein combining was covered in one of her current textbooks.

It turns out that the myth of protein combining has even deeper roots than the book that popularized the idea. It goes all the way back to a 100-year-old study of rats.Here’s Dr. Michael Greger talking about how this idea got started and what we know now about plant-based protein.

You don’t have to eat beans and rice together to stay healthy. As long as you’re eating a variety of foods, you don’t need to worryabout complementary proteins on a vegan diet at all. Your body is smarter than that.

The other concern when it comes to plant-based protein is that vegans and vegetarians don’t get enough. Luckily, I’ve noticed that this myth seems to beon the decline. It’s so easy tohityour protein requirements while eating a plant-based diet. If you’re worried, check out these 25 delicious vegan protein sources, and lay your fears to rest.

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267 comments

Jerome S
Jerome S3 months ago

thanks for sharing

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Jerome S
Jerome S3 months ago

thanks for sharing

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven3 months ago

thanks

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven3 months ago

thanks

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Christina C
Christina C3 months ago

Glad to see these myths finally debunked! Thank you for sharing.

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Margie F
Margie FOURIE4 months ago

Eat in moderation

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Elena Poensgen
Elena Poensgen4 months ago

Thank you

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Elena Poensgen
Elena Poensgen4 months ago

Thank you

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Matt B
Matt B4 months ago

This is so good to know. It is one of the reasons I've always struggled with being a full vegetarian because I simply don't want to spend all my time trying to get the full protein in every meal. It definitely simplifies things for me and I can now go back to being a full vegetarian and enjoy the variety of meals throughout my day. Thank you.

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