Looking to up your daily dose of protein? This health-boosting, hormone-regulating nutrient is essential for a host of basic functions – but some protein sources are a little more well-rounded than others. Here are the top 5 complete protein sources to chow down on.
Protein is vital for muscle health, managing our appetite, promoting skin, hair and bone health, along with keeping our hormones in check. But, did you know not all protein sources are made alike? While meat sources are the more well-known complete proteins, there are a few vegetarian options on this list that may surprise you. Here’s what you need to know about what makes a protein complete, and which foods to add to your shopping basket.
What is a complete protein?
While many foods pack a good dose of protein, they don’t all qualify as a complete protein. To meet the criteria, the food needs to contain all 9 essential amino acids:
These amino acids are essential for your body to function, from hormones to neurotransmitters, and unfortunately your body cannot produce them itself – that’s where diet comes in. Take a look at these 5 surprising sources of complete protein to add to your plate:
Quinoa is a nutritional powerhouse that just so happens to be the suggested food of choice for future NASA space missions – and for good reason. It’s a complete protein source, along with providing a boost of fibre, iron and magnesium. Just one cup provides 8 grams of protein, so swap your rice out for this nutrient-dense grain to accompany your next curry or stir-fry dish. You can also add this nutty grain to muffins, salads and soups.
The humble egg is packed with protein – including all 9 of the essential amino acids. They provide 30% of our daily protein needs in just one egg, and considering this nutrient has been proven to promote muscle health, support weight loss, balance our blood sugars and manage our satiety hormones, it’s not a bad idea to add a couple of eggs to your avo toast. But that’s not the only thing to celebrate about eggs, they’re also abundant in iron and omega 3s, boasting around 13% of our daily iron needs in a single egg.
Hemp, like quinoa, is one of the few plant-based complete proteins. They’re also brimming with healthy fats like linoleic acid and medium chain triglycerides, which researchers say promote weight loss, curb cravings and manage hunger signals. A 30-gram serving of hemp seeds has around 9.5 grams of protein, so sprinkle a few over your oats or bake them into a grainy loaf. Check out hemp-experts, Grass Roots, for everything from hemp hearts to hemp seed oil, packed with those brain-boosting nutrients. These guys are all about eating holistically, and making nutritious foods accessible and easy to use – they’ve also got a range of heart-healthy chia seeds and cacao powder to give your morning smoothies an iron-boost.
Despite its name, buckwheat doesn’t actually contain wheat; it’s a gluten-free complete protein with a variety of applications. They can be used in their flour form for baking, or in their kernel form – which cook up similarly to oats – or you can enjoy it in the popular Japanese soba noodles. A cup of cooked buckwheat packs 6 grams of protein, add a little peanut butter, yoghurt and strawberries and you’ve got yourself a nutritious brekkie.
Tofu, along with other soy products like tempeh and natto, are packed with protein – and yes, they are a complete protein, despite the fact that beans rarely qualify. That’s what makes these soy products so exceptional – and a pretty good option for vegans and vegetarians looking to up their intake of whole protein. Tofu packs around 12 grams of protein per serve, but fermented forms of soy blow tofu out of the water for protein content. Natto boasts 18 grams per serve. This stuff is pungent, with a cheese-like texture – but don’t be put off! It’s a beloved food that goes well with rice, mustard, egg and spring onions. It’s also one of the biggest sources of vitamin K2, which is essential for bone health and preventing osteoporosis. Just a tablespoon of the stuff packs around double our daily recommended intake.
But remember, when it comes to protein content and tofu, the firmer the product is, the more protein it has.
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