Complementary Proteins

May 3, 2024

Protein is an important part of any diet, as they function as building blocks for our cells, muscles, and tissues. No matter what sort of diet you follow (omnivore, vegetarian, vegan, etc.) it can be challenging to make sure you're getting enough protein. However, learning about the interesting concept of complementary proteins can be an important step in the right direction!


First things first, it's important to understand the difference between complete and incomplete proteins. The building blocks of proteins are called amino acids. Our bodies need 20 different amino acids, 11 of which we naturally produce. The remaining 9 amino acids need to be consumed through our diets. A complete protein contains these essential 9 amino acids that our bodies don't make on their own. many of the most common examples of complete proteins are animal products, such as beef, fish, and eggs, although some plant-based foods, such as tofu, are also complete proteins. An incomplete protein contains some essentail amino acids, but not all 9. Some examples of incomplete protein sources include beans, vegetables, and nuts.

By combining complementary protein sources, you can ensure you're getting all 9 essential amino acids no matter how many animal products you consume. A common example of complementary proteins is rice and beans. Rice contains the amino acids methionine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, phenylalanine, trypotphan, and valine. Beans contain the missing two amino acids, lysine and threonine. Together, rice and beans make uo a complete protein!

Here are some other examples of food combinations that make up complete proteins:

  • Oats + peanuts
  • Chickpeas + pasta
  • Peas + corn
  • Whole wheat + peanuts 
  • Soy beans + sesame seeds
  • Yogurt + nuts
  • Hummus + pita

By Sophia Orsinelli

JVC Northwest AmeriCorps Team Member