The Protein Myth That Has Taken Years to Debunk

Protein combining is the idea that in†order 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 combining†in†a†freshman year nutrition class in college.†In more recent editions of Diet for a Small Planet, Lappe says correctly that†there’s no need to worry about eating complementary proteins, as long as you’re eating enough calories.

Protein combining is†all 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 like†Pokemon, but with amino acids: “Gotta catch ‘em all.” But,†that’s not really how it works.

It’s true that some plant-based foods†are missing an amino acid here and there. What isn’t true is that you need to combine plant-based proteins†carefully to avoid deficiency. Your body stores amino acids, so if you eat†whole 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 provide†protein.

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 told†him 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 worry†about 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 be†on the decline. It’s so easy to†hit†your 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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.5 months ago

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Batista c.
Past Member 11 months ago

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Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill11 months ago


Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus12 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

Philip Watling
Philip Watlingabout a year ago

It makes sense to me, not that I need to worry too much - I like meat :)

federico bortoletto
federico babout a year ago

Grazie dell'articolo.

Jim Ven
Jim Vabout a year ago

thanks for the article.

Carol S.
Carol Sabout a year ago


Marie Pacheco
Marie Pabout a year ago

Valuable information. TY for sharing.

Heidi Aubrey
Heidi Aubreyabout a year ago

A word of caution. Your body does NOT store the amino acids as it does oh, say, fats. Just like sugar, the amino acids are converted by the liver to into fats that very same day. Just like you metabolize any meal. Either it is used and all the necessary parts go to their allotted places or it gets converted into fat some is stored as glycogen for emergency energy. If all the amino acids are not present to do a repair job, the project doesn't even get started. It is an all aminos present or nothing. This is why the combining was so forcefully pushed. If one truly does eat from the complimentary plants each and every day, then this is not a problem. If, however, you find that you bruise very easily, then you are definitely not getting the complete proteins that your body needs.