What is a Complete Protein – List of High Protein Foods!

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complete protein foods

While it’s important to get enough protein in your diet, it’s also crucial to ensure you’re getting the right type of protein. As protein is the building block of building muscle, you’ll want to ensure you’re getting in all the right kinds of amino acids.

In this article, I’m sharing what a complete protein is, which foods are complete protein ( Vegan and non-vegan).

And why it’s important to have a good variety of foods in your diet.

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what is a complete protein

What is a Complete Protein?

The complete protein definition is comprised of 20 amino acids; 11 of these amino acids are produced by the human body.

For good health, we must get the other 9 amino acids (called “essential amino acids”) from the foods we eat. 

When a food contains all nine of these amino acids, it is called a “complete protein.”

It’s not critical to eat a ” complete protein ” with each meal. It’s better to have a variety in your whole day!

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. While your body can make some of them, 9 have to be obtained through your diet.

These are referred to as essential amino acids and include. 

  • histidine
  • isoleucine
  • leucine
  • lysine
  • methionine
  • phenylalanine
  • threonine
  • tryptophan
  • valine
complete protein foods

What Are Essential Amino Acids

Amino acids, often referred to as the building blocks of proteins, are compounds that play many critical roles in your body.

They’re needed for vital processes like the building of proteins and synthesis of hormones and neurotransmitters.

In total there are 20 amino acids that your body needs to grow and fuction properly. 

Your own body produces 11 of them on its own, this means the remaining 9 we have to get it from food sources.

Only these 9 amino acids are know as essential amino acids, even though all 20 are important for overall health.

The nine essential amino acids perform a number of important and varied jobs in your body:

  1. Phenylalanine: Phenylalanine is a precursor for the neurotransmitters tyrosine, dopamine, epinephrine and norepinephrine. It plays an integral role in the structure and function of proteins and enzymes and the production of other amino acids .
  2. Valine: Valine is one of three branched-chain amino acids, meaning it has a chain branching off to one side of its molecular structure. Valine helps stimulate muscle growth and regeneration and is involved in energy production.
  3. Threonine: Threonine is a principal part of structural proteins such as collagen and elastin, which are important components of the skin and connective tissue. It also plays a role in fat metabolism and immune function.
  4. Tryptophan: Though often associated with causing drowsiness, tryptophan has many other functions. It’s needed to maintain proper nitrogen balance and is a precursor to serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates your appetite, sleep and mood.
  5. Methionine: Methionine plays an important role in metabolism and detoxification. It’s also necessary for tissue growth and the absorption of zinc and selenium, minerals that are vital to your health.
  6. Leucine: Like valine, leucine is a branched-chain amino acid that is critical for protein synthesis and muscle repair. It also helps regulate blood sugar levels, stimulates wound healing and produces growth hormones.
  7. Isoleucine: The last of the three branched-chain amino acids, isoleucine is involved in muscle metabolism and is heavily concentrated in muscle tissue. It’s also important for immune function, hemoglobin production and energy regulation.
  8. Lysine: Lysine plays major roles in protein synthesis, hormone and enzyme production and the absorption of calcium. It’s also important for energy production, immune function and the production of collagen and elastin.
  9. Histidine: Histidine is used to produce histamine, a neurotransmitter that is vital to immune response, digestion, sexual function and sleep-wake cycles. It’s critical for maintaining the myelin sheath, a protective barrier that surrounds your nerve cells.

Complete Protein Foods

There are both complete proteins in animal products as plant-based products.

The plant-based products are usually ‘incomplete proteins’ and lower in protein.

To turn ‘incomplete plant-based proteins’ into complete proteins you need to combine multiple proteins sources.

Animal proteins are complete, including meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy.

There are also a few plant-based sources of complete protein, including: 

complete protein foods

Is quinoa a Complete protein?

Yes, quinoa is one of the plant-based foods that is a complete protein!

Quinoa is an excellent food to make a healthy, nutritious meal that is also high in protein.

100 grams of quinoa has a whopping 13 grams of complete protein. 

Quinoa is also considered a superfood as it is a slow-acting carb which means that it releases its energy slowly.

That is great for when you’re losing weight and you need to stay saturated throughout the day.

complete protein

Is Tofu a Complete Protein?

Tofu, tempeh, and edamame are all made from soybeans what means that they are an excellent source of complete protein.

Tofu is a very popular choice among vegans, because of its high protein content,
100 grams of tofu has 13 grams of protein and little to no carbs. Due to these great macronutrients is it often used like chicken.

Three ounces (85 grams) of tempeh contain 11 grams of protein. This serving is also a good source of fiber and iron and contains potassium and calcium.

A 1/2 cup (85 grams) of whole edamame provides 8 grams of protein along with a good amount of fiber, calcium, iron, and vitamin C.


Ezekiel Bread

Ezekiel bread is made from sprouted whole grains and legumes, including barley, soybeans, wheat, lentils, millet, and spelt.

Two slices (68 grams) of the bread contain 8 grams of protein.

Unlike most breads, the combination of whole grains and legumes in Ezekiel bread provides all nine essential amino acids.

Spirulina (Blue-green algae)

Spirulina is a type of blue-green algae that’s a popular supplement among those on vegan and vegetarian diets.

You can get spirulina in multiple ways. It comes in tablet forms or in powder form, the powder form is more convenient as you can simply add it to your smoothie, soup, or salad!

Just 1 tablespoon (7 grams) of dried spirulina provides 4 grams of complete protein.

If you’re interested in trying spirulina you can find it in your specialty stores or online.

complete protein

Chia Seeds

Chia seeds are an excellent source of complete protein and healthy fats. They’re rich in omega-3s, iron, calcium, magnesium, and selenium.

Two tablespoons (28 grams) of chia seeds provide 4 grams of protein.

Chia seeds are often used for a nice topping for oatmeal or salads, mixed into baked goods, or added to smoothies. 

If you would like to give chia seeds a try, stock up at your local supermarket or online.


Even though hemp seeds come from the plant cannabis, they’re unlikely to give you any of the effects of marijuana, so don’t worry 🙂

Three tablespoons (30 grams) of raw, hulled hemp seeds boast an impressive 10 grams of protein and 15% of the DV for iron. They’re also a good source of phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and zinc.

Hempseeds are besides a complete protein, also particularly rich in the essential fatty acids linoleic acid (omega-6) and alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3).

Hempseeds are easily added to salads or yogurt, as they have a nutty flavor. Another good option is to add them to your smoothies.

You can find them in your local stores or online.

Nutritional Yeast

Nutritional yeast is very popular among vegans and is commercially sold as a yellow powder to be used as a cheese replacement for vegan dishes, like popcorn, pasta, or mashed potatoes.

A 1/4-cup (15-gram) serving of nutritional yeast provides 8 grams of protein.

Nutritional yeast can also be an excellent source of zinc, magnesium, copper, manganese, and all the B vitamins, including B12 when fortified.

You can find nutritional yeast in your local places or online!

Rice & beans

Rice & beans is a nice finisher to the list, as they are important for the next topic we’re going to discuss.

Which is to turn plant-based foods that are not complete proteins into complete proteins!

Both brown and white rice are low in lysine but high in methionine. In contrast, beans are high in lysine but low in methionine. As such, combining them allows you to get enough of each, as well as the remaining seven essential amino acids, to count as a complete protein.

what is a complete protein

Make Plant-based Proteins Complete Protein

Most plant-based foods are incomplete which means that they miss certain essential amino acids to make it a complete protein!

If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, or if you limit the amount of animal products you consume, you can combine incomplete, plant-based proteins to meet your body’s needs. 

Combinations include: 

  • Nuts or seeds with whole grains (natural peanut butter on whole wheat toast) 
  • Whole grains with beans (beans and rice; hummus and pita bread; refried beans and tortillas) 
  • Beans with nuts or seeds (salad with chickpeas and sunflower seeds)
  • Garnish lentil and veggie soup with chopped walnuts or pecans.
  • Add veggies, like zucchini or chopped kale and fresh fruit to oats, and garnish generously with nuts and/or seeds.
complete protein foods
Vincent Sorel

Vincent Sorel

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