Certain food items complement each other and are best when paired together. London-based Parna, a certified nutritionist and fitness expert, tells us about complete proteins and incomplete proteins, based on the nine essential Amino acids. Here’s she reasons in favour of food pairing, in the weekly column, exclusively on Different Truths.
I love you once,
I love you twice,
I love you more than beans and rice
When I was a small child, I often used to ask my mom, why do we always have daal (pulse/lentil) rice together and not just daal or rice alone. I used to wonder why in India mostly people eat daal with rice. My mom always used to answer that it is good for the stomach and it will make me strong and intelligent. If we have daal by itself we will have stomach upset.
She was right to some extent because both the pulses and rice contain some amount of proteins in it and protein is a very important nutrient required by our body for growth, repair, hormones, blood, enzymes, etc. But as I grew older, I knew there was something more to it. Maybe I was looking for a more scientific answer. I started researching on various food compositions and how it is beneficial for our body.
All food contains some amount of protein in it. Proteins are made up of Amino acids (the building block of proteins), just like words are made up of alphabets. There are 20 amino acids out of which nine are essential Amino acids and rest are non-essential Amino acids. Essential Amino acids are the ones which our body cannot produce and it is essential for us to obtain it from a diet. These nine Amino acids, therefore, need to be supplied through the diet in order to enable the body to synthesise protein, whereas the non-essential Amino acids can be even synthesised by our body itself.
The nine essential Amino acids are Isoleucine, Histidine, Leucine, Methionine, Lysine, Phenylalanine, Tryptophan, Threonine and Valine.
As we combine different alphabets to form different words, similarly different amino acids can be combined to form different proteins. Based on this combination, any protein is classified as either complete protein or incomplete protein.
- Complete protein is the protein that contains all the nine essential Amino acids in sufficient quantity. As a thumb rule, all animal proteins are considered to be the complete protein, e.g., meat, poultry, eggs, dairy, and fish.
- Incomplete protein is the protein which is deficient in one or many of the nine essential amino acids. As a thumb rule, all plant based proteins are considered to be incomplete protein. (Quinoa and Soybean are an exception).
As you can see both daal and rice, basically all grains, pulses are plant based foods and thus they are incomplete proteins. The protein composition of rice (also most of the grains) shows that it is deficient with the essential amino acid Lysine. On the other hand, daal (and all other pulses) is deficient in the essential amino acid Methionine.
But the good news is that we can combine two or more foods with incomplete proteins, to form complementary proteins, which can complete the protein profile of each other and thus provide adequate amounts of all the nine essential amino acids required by our body.
Therefore, in order to reap the benefits of the protein in rice or daal, it is mandatory to consume them in combination, which would give you all the nine essential Amino acids. As far as digestion is concerned, daal certainly has a couple of flatulence causing enzymes, which can cause discomfort when had as a meal by itself. Hence, it is best to balance it out with rice.
Here is a list of some food pairings that make a complete protein:
- Legumes with grains, nuts, seeds or dairy
- Grains with dairy
- Dairy with nuts
- Dairy with nuts/seeds and legumes
Likewise in other countries also, food pairing is done to get complementary proteins. Here are some common meal items that naturally complement each other’s proteins:
- Hummus with pita bread
- Tacos filled with beans or lentils
- Quinoa salad with black beans and feta
- Beans and rice or tortillas
- Peanut butter sandwich
- Macaroni and cheese
- Tofu with rice (or any grain)
- Grilled cheese sandwich
- Yogurt with nuts
- Noodle stir-fry with peanut or sesame seed sauce
- Lentil soup or dairy-based soup with bread
- Whole grain cereal with milk
Protein is one of the five vital nutrients to life. So, just as the rhyme, “I love you once, I love you twice, I love you more than beans and rice” suggest, pair up your food to get complementary proteins in your diet like beans and rice and enjoy with someone you love!
Photos sourced by the author.
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