Complete VS. Incomplete Proteins


We most often consider the calorie intake when trying to eat healthily. Focusing more on a protein-rich diet is another aspect of trying to shed some pounds accompanied by exercise and physical activity. A protein-rich diet will increase your energy reserves in the body. Since proteins do not accumulate in your body, you tend to lose weight with a protein-rich diet. 

Though eating proteins are healthy, one also needs to consider other forms of nutrition because a well-balanced diet is essential for the normal functioning of your body. While you may think that all kinds of proteins are necessary for your diet, then you have missed out on a scientific chunk that differentiates a term called complete protein from incomplete protein.

What Are Amino Acids?

Amino acids are biomolecules that contain the carboxyl group at one end and the amino group at the other. These amino acids dictate the type of protein that will form in our bodies. In total, there are 20 amino acids and nine amino acids- lysine, leucine, histidine, isoleucine, phenylalanine, methionine, valine, threonine, and tryptophan are essential. Essential means these amino acids are not biochemically synthesized in the body and are acquired purely from the diet. The remaining eleven amino acids are non-essential. They do not go by the literal term; by non-essential, it means your body naturally produces them and are perhaps very important.

  • Lysine is essential in protein synthesis and calcium absorption.
  • Leucine is helpful in wound healing, protein synthesis, and muscle rebuilding.
  • Isoleucine is in a high concentration in your muscles to help in energy production.
  • Phenylalanine is essential for neural health because it’s a precursor of neurotransmitters, one of the components for synthesizing other amino acids.
  • Methionine is in the detoxification and metabolism process. Also, it enables the body to absorb minerals such as zinc and selenium better.
  • Valine helps in muscle regeneration and energy production.
  • Histidine is an essential amino acid as it has a role to play in numerous body systems such as the neural system, immune system, and digestive processes.
  • Threonine is involved in fat metabolism and also plays a role in maintaining the immune system.
  • Tryptophan plays an essential role in the mood and appetite processes.

So What Are Complete And Incomplete Proteins?

The food products that incorporate all nine essential amino acids are complete proteins, while those containing non-essential amino acids are incomplete proteins.

Does This Mean Vegetarians And Vegans Consume Incomplete Proteins?

While plant-based food products such as soy, spirulina, buckwheat, and quinoa contain all essential amino acids, most of these plant products lack a few essential amino acids. However, when consumed with proper nutritional intake, a vegetarian or a vegan diet balances the proportions of the two groups of proteins. 

Hence, the first step towards a healthy diet is identifying what you are eating and its components. Every diet has its pros and cons. However, maintaining a balance to uplift the pros is always better than rattling over the cons. If you are a vegan and are well aware of the nutritional components that you get from your diet, you shouldn’t worry about the balance. But if you tend to follow a vegan diet without knowing the dietary components or scientific workings, you could be misleading yourself, inviting trouble for your body.

For instance, Vitamin B12 is a critical vitamin rich in animal diet, and minimal quantities are in a plant-based diet. However, by incorporating vitamin B12 supplements or derivatives, a vegan diet can be made wholesome. Similarly, you can make an incomplete protein-rich diet to a complete protein-rich diet by having a well-balanced diet.

So How Can You Maintain A Balance With A Plant-Based Diet?

The best advice is to have a well-balanced diet. For example, beans are high in essential amino acids; however, they lack lysine. To incorporate lysine, you can combine rice with beans to make this diet proportionate, and you do not miss out on the complete proteins.

One piece of advice is to create a complementary protein diet. Just because non-essential amino acids are produced in the body doesn’t mean you ignore food products rich in these non-essential amino acids. Food such as peas, legumes, vegetables, grains, seeds, and nuts are highly rich in incomplete proteins, and you should consume them along with complete proteins. 

The Bottom Line!

The first step towards healthy eating is identifying sources of nutrition and balancing these food products into your diet. Learn about the scientific evidence that backs these diets and components. It shouldn’t be too high on complete proteins and less on incomplete proteins or vice versa. Though give a little more priority to complete proteins, ensure to add a balance within the two to have a chunk of all the proteins you require for your body. 

Apart from proteins, it is best to intake other sources of nutrition as well. Portions of carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals are also essential for the wellbeing of your body. Hence, incorporate all these biomolecules for the nutritional benefits that you will get from them.