22 amino acids, in varying combinations, comprise the protein that our bodies use. Of these, 8 are essential to get from outside; that is, our bodies cannot produce 8 of them so we need to eat foods that contain them. We need to get all of the 8 and all together at the same time (in the same meal).
Meat and dairy sources tend to have all of them and that’s why meat and dairy have been good foods for humans until recently. The contamination of those protein sources by the way the animals are raised, fed, or injected with growth stimulants and antibiotics on factory farms affects the value to our bodies. The way that milk and dairy are processed similarly make them less that perfect food sources.
Grains, beans, corn, seeds, nuts, and potato all have some of the amino acids, but perhaps not all, and each may have different combinations of them. So, combining them in the right proportions brings them together for complete vegetable protein from vegetables.
Frances Moore Lappé, a pioneer of the 20th and 21st Century efforts to understand and improve what we eat, taught us how to eat right (Diet for a Small Planet), cook food correctly (Let’s Cook It Right), and combine beans and grains to complete the protein. Her book, Diet for a Small Planet, has been on our bookshelf for 30+ years. Here are the combinations she recommends to use vegetable foods to create whole protein for a meal. Her books are more relevant than ever, so check them out!
²/3 Cup Rice + ¼ Cup Beans
¾ Cup Rice + 1 Cup Milk
1 Cup Rice + 4 Teaspoon Brewer’s yeast
1 Cup Rice + ¹/3 Cup Sesame Seeds
1 ¼ Cup Rice + 2 Teaspoon Soy Grits
1 Cup whole wheat Flour + ¼ Cup Soy Flour
3 Cups whole wheat Flour + ½ Cup Beans
1 Cup whole wheat Flour + ½ Cup Milk
5 Slices whole wheat Bread + 1 Cup Milk
1 Cup cornmeal + ¼ Cup Beans
1 Cup cornmeal + ¼ Cup Soy Grits and ¼ Milk
1/3 Cup Garbanzos + ½ Cup Sesame Seeds
1 Cup Beans + 2 Cups Milk
1 Cup Sunflower Seeds + ¾ Cup Peanuts
1 ¼ Cup Sesame Seeds + 1 Cup Milk
½ Cup Sesame Seeds + 6 Oz. Tofu
1 Medium Potato + 1 Cup Milk
1 Medium Potato + 1 Cup Cottage Cheese
Combining these foods typically results in whole proteins because the amino acids that one lacks is generally provided by another. If you are not into measuring out amounts but just want to know what to combine, here are the winning combinations.
“Legumes” include peas, beans, lentils, soy, alfalfa, and other plants.
Legumes + Rice
Soybeans + Rice + Wheat
Beans + Wheat
Soybeans + Corn + Milk
Beans + Corn
Soybeans + Wheat + Sesame
Soybeans + Peanuts + Sesame
Soybeans + Peanuts + Wheat + Rice
Soybeans + Sesame + Wheat
Peanuts + Sunflower Seeds
Seeds and many of the nuts + Legumes
Rice + Legumes
Corn + Legumes
Wheat + Legumes
Dairy products, having all the essential amino acids for whole proteins, can compliment and complete just about everything, so, in a pinch, you can add
Beans and grains are dry measure.
Milk is liquid, non-fat milk or ¼ cup powdered milk or 1 cup cottage cheese or 1/3 cup grated or 1/3 cup instant milk, or ricotta cheese or 1 cup yogurt.
* From Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé.