Vegans May Benefit From Complementing Proteins

Are we back to complementing proteins?

Bioavailable Methionine Assessed Using the Indicator Amino Acid Oxidation Method Is Greater When Cooked Chickpeas and Steamed Rice Are Combined in Healthy Young Men, The Journal of Nutrition, 9 April 2020

When chickpeas are the main protein source in the diet of young adult men, the combination of rice and chickpeas in a 3:1 ratio is recommended to improve dietary protein quality.

The idea of combining foods that contain complementary amino acids was promulgated by Frances Moore Lappé in her 1971 book, Diet for a Small Planet. It has since been challenged. Lappé herself retracts the notion in her later editions.

But …

While it’s true that all the essential amino acids exist in plant foods – you don’t need to eat animal foods to get them* – that doesn’t take into account absorption. This study took that into account.

If you’re going to eat rice and you’re going to eat beans it would not be a bad idea to get them into your stomach around the same time.

* You do need to eat sufficient calories, keeping in mind that fruit is a poor source of protein.

3 thoughts on “Vegans May Benefit From Complementing Proteins

  1. Darryl

    As someone who believes some of the health benefits of plant based diets arise from methionine restriction, I’m content to eat without regard to combining (though my diet is heavier on legumes, lighter on cereal grains to limit Met).


    1. Bix Post author

      That was a good link. Thank you.

      I am familiar with methionine restriction, I think it has value. Not eating animal foods cuts down on sulfur-containing methionine considerably.

      There is a trade off in muscle loss (sarcopenia) as one ages.

      “Protein intake and efficiency of use appears to decrease with age (31–34). This may be due to a combination of factors including greater expense, increased satiety, dentition/chewing difficulties, and changes in digestion, gastric emptying, splanchnic uptake, and peripheral use.”

      “There is general agreement that moderately increasing daily protein intake beyond 0.8 g x kg(-1) x d(-1) may enhance muscle protein anabolism and provide a means of reducing the progressive loss of muscle mass with age.”

      I think that combining beans and grains may be one way for vegans to increase protein quality in older age without resorting to eating animal foods.


  2. mboydp

    Didn’t she say in her retractions that you still should aim for complementary proteins, but not necessarily in the same meal or even the same day–but maybe instead within the same week? I’m not sure–don’t remember clearly. She also moved more into food politics, with her daughter, as I recall. Fascinating person! But I’m sure you know all this.



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