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What are complete proteins

Complete proteins are foods that contain all 9 essential amino acids in the proper amounts needed by the body. 

What are examples of complete proteins?

A protein is “complete” when it contains all of the nine essential amino acids in similar amounts. These essential amino acids are those that the body cannot make itself so they must come from the diet.

Examples of complete proteins include animal-based proteins such as meat, poultry, eggs, shellfish, fish, milk, and dairy products.

Some plant-based proteins also fit the definition of a complete protein including soy-based products such as tofu or tempeh as well as other plant-based sources such as quinoa, chia seeds, amaranth, hemp, and buckwheat. 

Is quinoa a complete protein?

Quinoa is considered a complete protein since it contains all nine essential amino acids in roughly equal amounts. In addition to being a good source of protein at 8 grams per cup, quinoa also is an excellent source of fiber, iron, magnesium, and zinc. 

Is tofu a complete protein?

Products made from soybeans such as tofu, tempeh, and edamame are also sources of complete proteins. Approximately 85 grams of each (about 3 ounces or ½ cup) of each provides 8 to 11 grams of protein per serving while also being an excellent source of iron, calcium, and potassium. Tempeh and edamame also have the added benefit of being high in fiber.

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Photo of Kristin Ricklefs-Johnson

Medically reviewed by:

Kristin Ricklefs-Johnson, Ph.D., RD

Kristin is an RDN who also earned her Ph.D. in Nutrition from Arizona State University with an emphasis on insulin resistance, lipid metabolism disorders, and obesity. She completed her post-doctoral fellowship at Mayo Clinic where she focused on nutrition-related proteomic and metabolic research. Her interests include understanding the exact mechanism of action of various genetic variations underlying individual predispositions to nutrition-related health outcomes. Her goal is to help all individuals prevent chronic diseases and achieve long, healthy lives through eating well.

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