What is Complete Protein and Why Do We Need It?

The Spread

January 21, 2022

Folks who want to watch their diet, especially those trying to exercise while staying healthy, need to look out for their protein intake. Unfortunately, just getting enough protein in your diet isn’t enough. You’ll also need to worry about getting the right type of proteins. Certain foods simply don’t have all of the amino acids your body needs and are an incomplete source of protein. It’s okay if you feel a bit confused, but don’t worry, we are going to explain what complete protein is and why we need it, as well as which foods you should eat to give your body everything it needs.


What is a complete protein?

Whether they are plant or animal-based, proteins are made from 20 amino acids. Some of these amino acids can be produced by our own bodies, while others must be taken in through food. Proteins, and the amino acids they are combined from, are the building blocks of life. They are necessary for all of the basic tasks your body needs to function.

Your body uses amino acids to synthesize protein, which can help your body grow, recover from injury, repair muscle tissue, and perform many other necessary functions. In general, protein-rich food is recommended for anyone who is active and wants to maintain a healthy diet. However, not every protein is equal, and they can be made up of different amino acids. Complete protein food contains all of the amino acids your body needs.

 Bowl of nuts is rich in protein but incomplete in amino acids.

Some foods, although rich in protein, might not have all the essential amino acids.


Why do we need complete protein?

Although your body can create some amino acids on its own, there are certain amino acids that are essential but that your body has no way of making. Therefore, they must come from food. There are 9 amino acids that your body cannot produce but still needs. These are defined as essential amino acids, and you need to pay close attention to which foods contain them. If all 9 essential amino acids are present in a food source, it is considered a complete protein.


Complete vs. incomplete protein foods

As we have previously mentioned, not every food considered to be protein-rich contains all of the amino acids essential for our bodies to function. So, which foods are sources of complete protein?

  • Mostly animal-based foods contain complete protein. This means that you can find complete protein in meat and poultry, as well as eggs, fish, milk, and dairy products. However, there are also plant-based complete proteins, such as soybeans and quinoa.
  • On the other hand, there are incomplete protein foods that do not contain all of the necessary amino acids. Most plant-based foods considered high in protein typically lack one or more essential amino acids. For this reason, a majority of plant-based diets need to be supplemented.

Soybeans and soy milk on a white table. 

Soybeans are one of the few plant-based sources of complete protein.


Complete protein food choices for vegetarians and vegans

Vegetarians usually need to combine several foods to get complete proteins. It was formerly believed that vegetarians needed to carefully combine these ingredients in a single meal to achieve an optimal diet. However, most of the time, it is sufficient to eat different food groups that together have all of the necessary amino acids. You can try to eat a mix of grains, nuts, berries, and broccoli to achieve a good combination of what your body needs.

We also need to note that vegans have an even harder time supplementing their diets if they want complete protein. Vegetarians usually turn to milk and dairy products for the amino acids they are missing from other food, while vegans don’t have that option. A great option to get your complete protein while on a vegan or vegetarian diet would be something like P-nuff Crunch, which combines the correct amino acids your body needs into one snack, while remaining 100% plant based.


Peanut butter as a protein source

Despite popular opinion, traditional peanut butter recipes don’t contain all of the amino acids your body needs. Relying only on peanut butter for your protein intake can leave you short on some essential building blocks. For this reason, we recommend opting for a peanut butter mix with added protein such as our Nuts 'N More High Protein Spreads to make sure you have complete protein in your diet.

Peanut butter spread on slices of apple.

Peanut butter with added protein has all the essential amino acids.


Storing and taking complete protein food with you

Unfortunately, if your schedule is packed, it can sometimes be hard to make sure you’ve checked all of those boxes and gotten all the amino acids you need. It might be a good idea to have a reliable source of protein handy. Luckily, there are foods that have complete protein and also compact and easy to carry, like peanut butter snack packs.

You can keep your pantry well-stocked for when you need a protein boost to your diet. What’s best is that most of these foods don’t need to be refrigerated. This means that you can pack the protein-rich items when going out to train or even when traveling. It also won’t be a problem to pack your pantry when moving to a new home. However, we suggest that you clean your pantry and start packing on time before moving day, as this is the easiest way to do this. Your best option is to rely on non-perishable items and always have some healthy snacks handy when relocating.


To summarize

Now that we’ve covered what is complete protein and why do we need it, you should have a good idea of which foods to focus on. Remember that you need all 9 of the essential acids in your diet. Try to look for a good mix of foods to cover everything. If you are considering using peanut butter as a source of amino acids, make sure it has a fortified formula and is a complete protein.