Incomplete proteins are not less healthy than complete proteins. In fact, the opposite might be true.
Incomplete proteins come from plant-based foods, which are some of the most nutritious foods on the planet. “When looking at protein, it’s important to look at the entire protein package. Unless you are consuming amino acids supplements, like branched-chain amino acids, you are getting much more than just protein in a food,” says Nichole Dandrea-Russert, M.S., RDN, a dietitian nutritionist and the author of The Fiber Effect.
“As long as these are whole plant foods (with no or limited processing), we can feel confident that these foods are high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber with no saturated fats,” says Guest.
Dandrea-Russert explains that plant-based proteins come with fiber and phytochemicals, both of which have been shown to support health, from brain to gut and heart health. “Both fiber and certain phytochemicals have been shown to reduce inflammation, whereas compounds in meat, such as antibiotics, dioxins stored in animal fat, and heterocyclic amines (carcinogenic compounds formed when meat is cooked) promote inflammation4.”
“By focusing on a variety of plant proteins, you’re also going to be helping your gut microbiome5,” adds Amanda Sauceda, M.S., R.D. The American Gut Society found that people who regularly eat more than 30 different plant foods per week have a more diverse microbiome than those eating 10 or fewer5.
However, Guest notes, complete proteins may offer the advantage of having higher mineral bioavailability. You absorb minerals like iron and zinc when you eat meat than when you eat plant foods.
At the end of the day, amino acids are amino acids. If you’re entirely plant-based, you may just have to eat larger portions in order to reach your protein needs, notes leading amino acid researcher Don Layman, Ph.D. “It’s perfectly fine [to be vegan or vegetarian], but you will always need more total protein, and that means more total calories to be equal,” he previously explained on the mindbodygreen podcast.
By including plenty of plant-based proteins in your diet, you can hit your protein targets and improve your overall health and longevity6.