You’ve probably heard that protein is good for you but there’s more to the protein story than that. For young women, it’s important to make sure you are getting enough protein from all the different sources in the right amounts and many of us may be missing the mark. Let’s face it- our daily lives are so busy, the last thing we think about is if we are pairing our proteins correctly- I can barely pair a cute outfit in the morning for work! Read on to find out why it’s so important to focus on protein pairing and how to create your own protein power couple . . .
We’re all looking for that special someone. The person who brightens our day, making life seem easier or more complete. Amino acids, the building blocks of protein, need that kind of lovin’ too! But let’s be real – protein pairing is about as clear as an “it’s complicated” relationship status on Facebook.
In a way, amino acids are like us – young, newly single, challenged by the environment (stomach acid can be very hard on amino acids). Amino acids serve as the building blocks for protein and proteins do amazing things in the body – from building muscles to split-proof hair. There are thousands of protein variations used by our bodies, all created from either amino acids on their own or some combination of amino acids.
So where do these amino acids come from? Amino acids can be made through physiological processes in the body or obtained by eating food. Different types of food contain a different set of amino acids. There are 20 types of amino acids used in the body, 9 of which are essential, or indispensable. The food you eat must provide indispensable proteins, or the body may start breaking down muscle. The other 11 amino acids are dispensable – meaning the body can make these on its own.
Some types of food contain all the essential amino acids in just the right amount. Like Brad and Angelina or any other power couple, they seem to have it all! These protein sources – or complete proteins – are often obtained from animal products (meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs etc.) but can also be found in non-animal products such as soy foods. Other protein foods are incomplete or lacking in some essential amino acids. Also, some amino acids are not as well digested in these proteins as others. Not to worry! You can easily create your own power couple of complementary proteins by pairing two incomplete proteins. A set of complementary proteins can provide adequate amounts of amino acids.
Do you need to pair these incomplete proteins at every meal? Nope! Consuming a variety of protein foods in adequate amounts throughout the day will provide the essential amino acids your body needs. Still curious about how the food groups match up? Check out our sample list of single foods looking for their match to make the ultimate protein power couple:
The take home message is simple – you can eat a variety of foods to meet your protein needs! Grains, legumes, beans, and seeds may not provide all the amino acids in adequate amounts that your body needs – but it’s easy to combine them with other proteins to form a complete protein. And don’t forget about those fantastic proteins like beef, chicken, dairy products, and soy foods that are perfect “just the way they are”. Because you know as much we do that sometimes you don’t need another person to make you feel complete. So whether a protein is “single and ready to mingle” or is complete on its own, there are a lot of ways to get protein in your diet. Get out there and start “protein” dating!
Sarah Romotsky is a Registered Dietitian and is the Director of Health & Wellness at the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation in Washington DC. IFIC Foundation’s purpose is to bridge the gap between science and communications by collecting and disseminating scientific information on food safety, nutrition, and health and by working with an extensive roster of scientific experts and through partnerships to help translate research into understandable and useful information for opinion leaders and ultimately, consumers.