How To Eat More Complete Protein

What is complete protein?

A complete protein is a protein source that contains all nine essential amino acids necessary in the human diet

Nine essential amino acids:










You may have been told that complete protein can only be found from meat sources such as chicken, pork, beef or eggs, but complete proteins can be formed from plant sources. Plant sources of protein are important for health because they contain fiber, phytonutrients, and have positive effects on health and chronic conditions.

Health Benefits

Serving: 1 cup of lentils

16 grams Fiber

3% daily calcium

36% daily iron

17% daily magnesium

731 miligrams potassium

18 grams protein

For $1-2 per 1 pound bag of lentils, one can stretch this into multiple meals. This is a cost effective way to incorporate more complete plant protein and fiber into your diet. The cost of 1 pound of steak can cost as much as $10-14 dollars and comes with added health risks down the road like heart disease, diabetes, and colon cancer among other concerns.

Lentils were grown in the Middle East in 8000 BC, but were also grown by the Greeks and Egyptians as well. First arriving to the Americas in the 16th century, Lentils were used during World War 11 as a high protein meat substitute when meat was scarce and people were working with tight budgets.

Lentils combined with a whole grain such as brown rice give you the same quality of protein as eating meat does, but eating lentils and rice is better for your heart because it does not contain saturated fats that contribute to hardening and blocking of the arterial system. That’s not to mention that protein is important for bone, muscle, and skin health, but there seems to be this misconception that in order to have strong muscles one must consume meat…wrong! Some of the largest animals on earth eat only plants and support weights of up to a ton.

What else are lentils good for besides a healthy heart? Well, they are packed with fiber. Fiber is important because it contributes to the feeling of satiety or fullness. High fiber foods have been correlated with lower cholesterol, colon health, lower rates of constipation, and prevention against colon cancer among other benefits, according to the CDC.

Another benefit that lentils have is certain nutrients like iron, folate, potassium and calcium. Iron is important for the production of red blood cells and can prevent a condition called anemia that leads to feeling sluggish and tired from not having enough red blood cells to carry oxygen around the body. Folate is an important nutrient for everyone, but particularly women of child bearing age because it contributes to the formation of the brain and spinal cord development and prevention of spinal cord defects. Potassium is an important cardiac electrolyte and can contribute to a lowering of the blood pressure.

Sources of plant protein

– Rice and beans

– Pasta with tomato sauce

– nuts and seeds with whole grain (peanut butter with whole grain crackers)

– beans with nuts and seeds (salad with chickpeas and sunflower seeds)

– hummus and pita bread

– Quinoa, buckwheat, hempseed, and soybeans (these foods are complete individually)

Ideas for recipes with the last four foods:

Quinoa Salad with nuts and berries

Buckwheat Pancakes or Muffins with buckwheat flour or bread with Buckwheat flour

Salad with hempseed or granola with hempseed

Marinated tofu with vegetables, homemade miso soup with tofu

Environmental Significance

It takes 1799 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef! Admittedly, whether you are producing meat, dairy, or plant foods there will be some consumer cons such as the type of land that is use, the amount of water usage, and the land area that is needed to produce a particular crop. However, the numbers are indisputable when you compare the amount of water it takes to produce meat protein as opposed to plant protein.

Soy beans, for example, take 216 gallons of water per pound, and lentils 710 per pound. Why is it important to consider how much water is needed to produce the food we eat?

As the population continues to climb, the same amount of land and water is required to feed an increasing number of people. In addition, land, air, and water pollution put added strain upon these resources and diminish the quality of the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the soil we use to grow our food in.

It is important to pay attention to our water usage directly and the water usage required to produce the things we use and eat in our everyday lives so that we can participate in mitigating this existential crisis.

We must consider that communities in the US and around the world do not have clean drinking water or clean land to grow food. It is important to know that growing meat protein contributes more pollution through the production of methane, manure, and land degradation, but does not replenish the land in the way certain plant crops do. It is essential that as individuals, communities, and nations we encourage each other to produce, consume, and distribute vegetables, fruits, and legumes so that people can make the urgent transition to consuming more plant sources of protein.