Do vegetables contain complete proteins?


Proteins in food are made of amino acids. Some amino acids, called nonessential amino acids, your body can make — while others, called essential amino acids, you have to get from your diet, because your body cannot make them. The nonessential amino acids include alanine, asparagine, aspartic acid and glutamic acid. Usually, amino acids such as arginine, cysteine, glutamine, glycine, ornithine, proline, serine and tyrosine are nonessential — except during periods of illness and stress, notes MedlinePlus. The nine essential amino acids are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lycine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine.

We’ve all heard that plant protein is “incomplete” compared to meat protein, and that plant foods have to be carefully combined to make a “complete” protein.  But that’s just an urban legend that was never based on science. The American Dietetic Association abandoned that idea decades ago.  Susan Havala Hobbs, Ph.D, R.D. describes how the ADA discarded the protein combining idea:

There was no basis for [protein combining] that I could see…. I began calling around and talking to people and asking them what the justification was for saying that you had to complement proteins, and there was none. And what I got instead was some interesting insight from people who were knowledgeable and actually felt that there was probably no need to complement proteins. So we went ahead and made that change in the paper.  [The paper was approved by peer review and by a delegation vote before becoming official.] And it was a couple of years after that that Vernon Young and Peter Pellet published their paper that became the definitive contemporary guide to protein metabolism in humans.  And it also confirmed that complementing proteins at meals was totally unnecessary.

Interestingly, it’s very easy to trace the protein combining myth to its original source: A bestselling book called Diet for a Small Planet, in 1971. The author, Frances Moore-Lappé, wanted to promote meatless eating because meat production wastes horrific amounts of resources. But she knew her readers would think you couldn’t get enough protein on a vegetarian diet, so she set out to reassure them, by telling them that if they carefully combined various plant foods, like rice and beans, the inferior plant proteins would become just as “complete” as the ones in meat.
Lappé got her idea from studies that were done 100 years ago, on rats.

Below is a ranking of 34 vegetables highest in protein.The servings size for comparison is 100 grams which can be anywhere from half a cup to two cups depending on the weight and water content of the vegetables. The range of protein provided is between 3 – 14 grams per 100 gram serving.

#1 Sun-Dried Tomatoes 258 calories Protein:14% Carb:56% Fat: 2% Other (water):28%
#2 Soybean Sprouts 125 calories Protein:13% Carb: 9% Fat: 7% Other (water):71%
#3 Winged Beans 148 calories Protein:12% Carb:28% Fat: 1% Other (water):59%
#4 Lentil Sprouts 106 calories Protein:9% Carb:22% Fat: 0% Other (water):69%
#5 Baby Lima Beans 132 calories Protein:8% Carb:25% Fat: 0% Other (water):67%
#6 Garlic 149 calories Protein:6% Carb:33% Fat: 0% Other (water):61%
#7 Dried Seaweed(Sushi Nori) 306 calories Protein:6% Carb:81% Fat: 0% Other (water):13%
#8 Grape Leaves 93 calories Protein:6% Carb:17% Fat: 1% Other (water):76%
#9 Green Peas 77 calories Protein:5% Carb:14% Fat: 0% Other (water):81%
#10 Succotash(Corn And Limas) 115 calories Protein:5% Carb:24% Fat: 1% Other (water):70%
#11 Wasabi Root 109 calories Protein:5% Carb:24% Fat: 0% Other (water):71%
#12 Portabella Mushrooms 35 calories Protein:4% Carb: 5% Fat: 0% Other (water):91%
#13 Spinach 34 calories Protein:4% Carb: 5% Fat: 1% Other (water):90%
#14 Alfalfa Sprouts 23 calories Protein:4% Carb: 2% Fat: 1% Other (water):93%
#15 Peas And Onions 70 calories Protein:4% Carb:14% Fat: 0% Other (water):82%
#16 White Mushrooms 44 calories Protein:4% Carb: 6% Fat: 0% Other (water):90%
#17 Broccoli Raab 33 calories Protein:4% Carb: 3% Fat: 0% Other (water):93%
#18 Straw Mushrooms 32 calories Protein:4% Carb: 5% Fat: 0% Other (water):91%
#19 Brussels Sprouts 41 calories Protein:4% Carb: 8% Fat: 0% Other (water):88%
#20 Balsam-Pear (Bitter Gourd) 34 calories Protein:4% Carb: 7% Fat: 0% Other (water):89%
#21 Podded Peas 52 calories Protein:4% Carb: 9% Fat: 0% Other (water):87%
#22 Shiitake Mushrooms 48 calories Protein:3% Carb: 8% Fat: 0% Other (water):89%
#23 Peas And Carrots 53 calories Protein:3% Carb:11% Fat: 0% Other (water):86%
#24 Turnip Greens 29 calories Protein:3% Carb: 5% Fat: 0% Other (water):92%
#25 Sweet Corn 108 calories Protein:3% Carb:25% Fat: 1% Other (water):71%
#26 Oyster Mushrooms 43 calories Protein:3% Carb: 6% Fat: 0% Other (water):91%
#27 Kale 50 calories Protein:3% Carb:10% Fat: 0% Other (water):87%
#28 Artichokes (Globe Or French) 47 calories Protein:3% Carb:11% Fat: 0% Other (water):86%
#29 Chives 30 calories Protein:3% Carb: 4% Fat: 1% Other (water):92%
#30 Asparagus 24 calories Protein:3% Carb: 4% Fat: 0% Other (water):93%
#31 Broccoli 28 calories Protein:3% Carb: 5% Fat: 0% Other (water):92%
#32 Cauliflower 32 calories Protein:3% Carb: 6% Fat: 0% Other (water):91%
#33 Collards 36 calories Protein:3% Carb: 7% Fat: 0% Other (water):90%
#34 Parsley 36 calories Protein:3% Carb: 6% Fat: 1% Other (water):90%


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