Eating enough protein is so important for the health of our bodies, from our muscles to our bones, our hair, our nails, and skin.
The protein is in turn made up of 20 amino acids, protein’s building blocks. Nine of these, called essential amino acids, must be obtained from our diets.
The food we eat provides two main types of protein:
• Complete protein has abundant amounts of the nine essential amino acids. Eggs, whole milk, chicken, fish, beef and soy are all sources of complete protein. Just one serving of chicken or beef (the size of a deck of cards) meets half of your daily protein needs!
• Incomplete proteins contain some, but not all, the amino acids our bodies eat. Examples of incomplete proteins include beans (3/4 complete), rice (2/3 complete), and whole wheat (1/2 complete). Most foods, including dairy products, vegetables, and grains, contain at least some protein.
The good news is that you can get all the amino acids you need by pairing up sources of incomplete protein. The illustration below shows you how to match up so-called complimentary foods so that they equal a complete source of protein.
Here are some common ways people pair up food groups to provide every type of essential amino acid:
Legume + whole grain = rice and beans
Legume + dairy product = chili and cheese
Whole grain + diary product = pasta with cheese
Dairy product + nuts/seeds = yogurt with sunflower seeds
However you get your protein, be aware of what other things come along with it. Many protein-rich foods are also high in saturated fats and cholesterol, while others have added health benefits like omega-3 fatty acids or antioxidants.
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