A couple of years ago I made a major change to my diet. If you've read , you know that I am all about unprocessed foods. The fewer ingredients, the better. But the change I made needed me to focus on complete protein food combinations so my body could stay as healthy as possible. 

So what's this major change?

I went completely vegan.

It might sound extreme or questionable, but it's done nothing but good things for me. My annual doctor's appointment truly galvanized the benefits of what I'm doing for my body. One of the biggest surprises was that my vitamin D levels actually went up. Before becoming 100% plant-based, my vitamin D levels were always borderline low. The benefits of an adequate amount of vitamin D are crucial to health, so this concerned me. 

Finding Complete Protein Food Combinations

Most of my clients are omnivorous, meaning they eat plants and animals. I still want to support them as much as possible, so I still create meal plans for them including all of their favorite foods and healthy recipes...just in a way that shifts their bodies to a healthier state. 

Even before I gave up animal byproducts, I found that many of my clients were married to the idea that they needed to get animal protein in their meals for them to be healthy. A lot of people think that not eating a meaty protein creates an imbalance in the amount of protein, carbs, and fat in the diet. Don't get me wrong, eating a piece of white toast with a glass of orange juice for breakfast is hardly balanced and won't do your body many favors, but you can get all the protein you need without eating chicken, bacon, fish, turkey, beef, or any of animal byproduct.

We simply don't need animal proteins with every meal. Not even close.

I emphasize this not to convert you from omnivorous to vegan, but so you know you have alternatives if you go to the kitchen to make dinner and discover you're out of the chicken breasts you thought were there.

The Building Blocks of Protein: Amino Acids

While I still support my clients 100% with what they believe is right for their body, I like to introduce different food combinations that create complete proteins for their bodies.

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. When we eat a food that has certain amino acids in them, our body breaks them down and sends them where they need to go.

>>This is an important takeaway. >> When your body eats anything, it's broken down and absorbed for the nutrients it provides, not the food itself. For example, eggs contain the amino acid called lysine. Chickpeas also contain this same amino acid. As far as amino acids go, it makes no difference if your body gets the lysine from an egg or a chickpea. Make sense?

Our body needs something called essential amino acids. They're called essential because our body can't create them, so we have to get them from our diet. The nine amino acids our body can't make include:

  • Phenylalanine
  • Methionine
  • Lysine
  • Leucine
  • Isoleucine
  • Tryptophan
  • Valine
  • Threonine
  • Histidine

Yes, a breast of chicken or a piece of salmon contains all of the essential amino acids, but you can also combine foods to make the same combination of amino acids so your body can benefit from protein in the same way.

Hello, Plant-Based Complete Protein!

You can combine some plant-based foods to get all the amino acids that you need. This makes meal planning a little easier. There is a lot of variety in the plant-based world of foods you can combine.

>This is an important takeaway. >> You don't need to eat these foods together to get the benefits of all the essential amino acids, but you should eat them in the same day. Remember, your body breaks down a food into its constituent amino acids, so don't stress about the combinations as much.

Here are a few combinations:

  • Rice & Beans
  • Tahini & Chickpeas (aka hummus)
  • Nut Butter & Whole Grain Toast
  • Rice & Lentils
  • Barley & Lentils
  • Oatmeal & Peanut Butter

In a nutshell, you can combine any of the following the get a complete protein:

  • grains  & seeds (or seed butter)
  • grains & nuts (or nut butter)
  • grains & legumes
  • legumes & nuts
  • legumes & seeds
  • legumes & grains

Single-Source Complete Proteins

  • Pumpkin Seeds
  • Quinoa
  • Spinach
  • Buckwheat
  • Chia Seeds
  • Hemp Seeds
  • Sprouted Grain Bread (such as Ezekiel)
  • Soybeans*

*A quick note about soybeans...I really try to avoid soy as much as possible. Soy is mostly GMO and loaded with glyphosate, the chemical in RoundUp that kills weeds. This means I avoid tofu, soymilk, edamame, etc. While soy may be beneficial for some people in some ways, there are plenty of other legumes you can consume that will give you similar benefits without ingesting glyphosate. This article explains in a little more details about why soy should be minimized.