Complementary Proteins and How They Work

Protein is a very important component of our diet, and should make up 15-25% of our daily energy intake. Protein is necessary to maintain our cells – it plays a role in structure, functioning, and maintaining of all the cells and tissues, from our heart to the muscles in our feet. Protein also acts as a transporter and messenger. What are complementary proteins though? Read on to find out!

What is Protein?

Proteins are made up of many smaller units known as amino acids, which bind together in a particular sequence to tell the protein what it’s role is. There are 20 amino acids, and some of these are unable to be made by the body. These are known as essential, and must be consumed through food.

There are many different foods sources of protein, such as meats, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, lentils, and legumes, dairy foods, and grain foods. Animal products are sources of complete proteins, which means they contain all the amino acids.

Incomplete sources of protein also exist, and these have low amounts or do not contain all of the essential amino acids. This is more common in plant based food sources of protein, such as lentils, legumes, and cereals. Eating 2 or more of these incomplete proteins together forms a complementary protein – a protein that then contains all the essential amino acids required by our bodies in sufficient amounts.

For people who consume a vegetarian, or vegan diet, or for those who choose to eat minimal sources of animal products, complementary proteins become an important part of ensuring the daily protein intake is adequate. Complementary proteins don’t have to be consumed in one meal, but as long as they are consumed over the course of the day, our body will be supplied with what it needs.

What are Complementary Proteins?

Combinations of complementary proteins includes:

  • Lentils or legumes with grains, nuts/seeds or dairy
  • Grain foods with dairy products
  • Dairy with nuts and/or seeds

Some ideas for meals and snacks that contain complementary proteins include:

  • Peanut butter sandwich or spread on grainy crackers
  • Hommus on bread or crackers
  • Vegie patties (made with lentils/legumes) on a roll or bread
  • Macaroni and cheese
  • Grilled cheese sandwiches
  • Tofu with rice, quinoa, barley, or buckwheat
  • Noodle stir fry with a peanut or sesame seed sauce
  • Lentils, legumes, or beans served with pasta
  • Lentil or dairy-based soup served with bread
  • Beans with tortillas or rice or tacos
  • Yoghurt and nuts or muesli
  • Wholegrain cereal and milk

For more information on your protein intake, or on combinations of complementary proteins, book in to see one of our dietitians to help you with your nutrition goals.