The amount of protein you’re consuming isn’t everything—quality also plays an important role.
There’s a rule of thumb that your ideal protein intake is roughly 0.8 per kg of body weight. This equation is helpful, but it also only tells one part of the story. In truth, the kind of protein we consume is also a pretty big factor. Remember how we mentioned that proteins are composed of amino acids? Well, while there are 20 amino acids used by the human body, there are specifically nine amino acids that are considered “essential”—the body can’t make these essential amino acids itself, so we have to consume them from our diets. The thing is, only certain foods contain all nine of these essential amino acids in adequate amounts. These are known as “complete protein” foods, and when we refer to a “quality” protein, we likely mean that it contains all or most of the essential amino acids in sufficient amounts. (3)
To ensure that we’re regularly consuming “quality” protein, it can be helpful to know which foods are either complete or almost complete—and to also consider diversifying our protein sources, in order to target a broader spectrum of those amino acids. Which leads us to our next point…
Different factors can lead to dietary gaps in protein.
There are a lot of reasons why someone could be falling short on their protein needs, but a good place to start is diet. Someone who is largely plant-based, for example, could be more likely to experience gaps in their protein intake. That’s because while many animal sources of protein are considered complete proteins (eggs, fish, and meat, for example), complete plant-based proteins are harder to come by. (Soy is actually the only plant-based protein that has a truly complete amino acid profile.)
It’s not all bad news, though: There are many other high-quality, plant-based protein sources that only fall slightly short of being considered “complete.” Pea protein is a good example: While it technically contains all of the nine essential amino acids, it falls a little short on the amino acid methionine (which is why we added methionine into our Essential Protein line-up). Rice, on the other hand, contains sufficient amounts of methionine, so this is a great “complete” protein pairing (and a delicious meal to boot). Quinoa is another one: It’s a little lacking in the amino acid lysine but has all of the other essential amino acids in adequate amounts. (Psst: Legumes like lentils and chickpeas tend to have lysine in sufficient amounts.) (4)