Vegetable Protein Substitutes For Meat -- How To Combine Incomplete Proteins To Make Them Complete

You do not have to be a vegetarian to enjoy a meal without meat a couple of times a week. You will be healthier and you will save money by skipping the meat a few times every week.

I hope the information in this hub will help people who are not confident about how to combine foods in order to assure that they and their families are getting enough protein in their diets.

Lately, the word is that you do not have to worry about combining vegetable proteins to make sure they are complete proteins. Nutritionists are saying that if people just eat a wide variety of vegetables and grains daily, they will complete the proteins without having to think about it.

A while back I happened to be in the grocery store around dinnertime. A woman and a young boy of approximately 9 years were rushing around the store looking for things the boy could eat for his supper. They already had a TV dinner of macaroni and cheese. The woman suggested, “How about a cheese sandwich and some French fries?” That sounded good to the boy. Diet coke to wash it all down. That was to be his supper. Does anyone see a problem with this ‘meal?’ Mainly starch and fat. No vegetables or fruits.

So many people nowadays seem to know nothing at all about nutrition. They do not bother with real vegetables. They think they are getting their vegetables when they eat French fries and catsup! Yet nutritionists believe people can manage to get enough protein without actually knowing and making sure their vegetable protein is complete, and just eating whatever appeals to them in the moment.

Peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole wheat bread
Peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole wheat bread

Protect Your Health By Assuring Your Vegetable Protein Is Complete

Since my health is what will suffer, and in turn I will be the one to bear the results of that suffering if I do not get sufficient protein in my diet, I like to make sure I am getting the protein I need. One way to do that when relying on vegetable protein is to understand what a person needs to do to make sure the protein they are eating is a complete protein.

The human body cannot utilize incomplete proteins and will treat them like carbohydrates. If a person goes long enough without getting sufficient protein their body will start taking the necessary protein from its own internal organs and muscles. This is why anorexia is so dangerous. Going without proper nutrition for a long period of time, including insufficient protein, can permanently damage one’s internal organs or even cause death.

Rather than trust that I am, by happen chance, getting a sufficient mix of complimentary vegetables and grains, I prefer to know what vegetables and/or grains I need to eat at the same time, or at least on the same day, to make sure the protein I am getting is complete protein that my body can utilize.

Here Is a List of Just a Few Foods That Are Great Sources of Protein Instead of Meat

Lentils: Just one cup of lentils contains 18 grams of incomplete protein. Lentils are an excellent source of fiber and B vitamins. To complete the protein in 1 cup of lentils, mix the lentils with 1/2 cup of barley, or 1/2 cup of rice, or 1/2 cup of quinoa.

Make sure the lentils are cooked well. If they are still crunchy, they are undercooked. Undercooking your lentils will cause the magnesium, iron, and other minerals in lentils to be unavailable for absorption by your body. They will be hard to digest and could cause upset stomach. So be sure to cook them until they are done.

Barley: Just one cup of barley contains 3.5 grams of incomplete protein. Barley is also a good source of both soluble and insoluble fiber (6 grams per cup), and vitamins, and it is all but fat free. Barley can reduce the risk of heart disease, Type II diabetes, and colon cancer.

Only choose hulled barley, pot barley, or pearled barley. Mix the barley with 1/2 cup of lentils, 1/2 cup of beans or 1/2 cup of peas (or a combination of these items) to complete the protein.

Rice: Just one cup of rice (brown or white) contains almost 8 grams of incomplete protein. However, brown rice is more nutritious because the process of producing white rice strips most of the vitamins, minerals, and fiber out of the brown rice. For the most nutritious benefit, choose brown rice or long grain rice. Mix rice with beans, lentils, or dairy products to complete the protein rice contains.

Peanuts: Most people do not realize that peanuts (sometimes referred to as “goober peas”) are not a nut at all, but a legume. One cup of whole peanuts contains 18 grams of incomplete protein, and 2 tablespoons of peanut butter contains 8 grams of incomplete protein. Peanuts and peanut butter are good sources of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Peanuts contain no trans-fats or sodium. Peanut butter may contain sodium because it is often added for flavor in the processing.

Mix peanuts with grains or dairy products to complete the protein. A peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread and/or eaten with a glass of milk makes a complete protein. (If you use whole wheat bread you can skip the milk and still have a complete protein, or you can put the peanut butter on white bread and drink milk with it and have a complete protein.)

Beans: One cup of beans contains 15 grams of incomplete protein. WebMD calls beans a superfood and says they are not only a good food if you are trying to lose weight, but they are packed with fiber and antioxidants (fight cancer and heart disease). Beans are a legume, and when mixed with grains (corn, wheat, etc.) or nuts (almonds for example) they become a complete protein.

Oats: One cup of cooked oatmeal contains 6 grams of protein. Oats are a good source of minerals and vitamins. Oats are sometimes referred to as the cleansing grain because oats cleanse the intestinal tract and blood.

Wikipedia reports, “Oat protein is nearly equivalent in quality to soy protein, which World Health Organization research has shown is equal to meat, milk, and egg protein.”

According to WebMD, “Oats might help reduce cholesterol and blood sugar levels and control appetite by causing a feeling of fullness. Oat bran might work by blocking the absorption from the gut of substances that contribute to heart disease, high cholesterol, and diabetes.”

The ‘Quick Oat” products are not as beneficial as ‘old fashioned’ oatmeal that must be cooked is. says the more that oats have been processed, the more nutrition that has been removed, and in some cases quick cooking or instant oat products have had sugars, artificial sweeteners, and/or salt added.

Vegetables: The following list of vegetables contains incomplete proteins that can be made complete by mixing them, or eating them, with grains or dairy products. This is just a partial list of vegetables that contain a fair amount of protein. The number of grams of protein they yield is based on one cup.

Asparagus – 7 grams

Broccoli -- 7 grams

Brussels sprouts – 7 grams

Cauliflower – 7 grams

Collard greens -- 7 grams

Green peas – 9 grams

Okra – 7 grams

Spinach – 5 grams

Yams – 5 grams

What Are Legumes?

Legumes include alfalfa, clover, peas, beans, lentils, lupins, mesquite, carob, soybeans, peanuts, tamarind, and the woody climbing vine wisteria.


Complete Protein Combinations

Mix two or more of the items on each line below together to make a complete protein.

· Legumes with Grains like pasta or bread

· Legumes with Nuts

· Legumes with Seeds

· Legumes with dairy Products

· Grains with dairy Products

· Vegetables with grains or dairy products

. Nuts/Seeds with dairy Products like milk, cheese, or yogurt

Types of Protein

A complete protein includes all of the essential amino acids. Our own bodies can make about half of the necessary amino acids we require to be healthy, but we must get the other half from the food we eat. The proteins we must get from our diet are called, “essential amino acids.” Sometimes people may refer to sources of complete proteins as “high quality proteins.” High quality proteins and complete proteins are the same thing.

Animal based proteins are complete proteins. Examples are, eggs, milk, cheese, poultry, fish, and meat.

Incomplete proteins are those proteins that do not contain all of the essential amino acids our body requires and which we must obtain from our diet. Examples of incomplete proteins include grains, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.

Complimentary proteins are 2 or more incomplete protein sources that when combined, provide a complete protein mix containing all of the essential amino acids our diet must provide.

For example, neither corn nor beans are a complete protein by themselves, but when combined provide the essential amino acids our bodies require (refried beans in a corn tortilla, for example). Neither rice nor beans alone provide the essential amino acids our bodies require, but when combined they form complete proteins.

Recommended Daily Protein Allowance

Age and Grams of protein needed each day

  1. Children 1-3 years . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13 grams
  2. Children 4-8 years . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19 grams
  3. Children 9-13 years . . . . . . . . . . . . 34 grams
  4. Girls 14-18 years . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46 grams
  5. Boys 14-18 years . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 52 grams
  6. Women 19-90 years . . . . . . . . . . . 46 grams
  7. Men 19-90 years . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 56 grams

© 2012 C E Clark

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Comments 40 comments

Au fait profile image

Au fait 17 months ago from North Texas Author

Reviewsbypat, thank you for coming by and adding a little info about grains. My purpose here is simply to help people get enough protein while eating vegetarian. Hope you're having a great weekend . . .

Ms. Clark :)

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Reviewsbypat 17 months ago from Belfast, Ireland

There's a lot of mixed information going around about grains. If you talk to the paleo crowd, they're saying only with the advent of grains into the human body around 10, 000 years ago has disease entered therein too. The vegan crowd say grains are ok, but only certain grains like quinoa, mullet and buckwheat but most of the rest cause inflammatory reactions in the gut and brain. It's hard to know what to do, only that we should limit are carbohydrate intake and encourage the body to use fat as fuel instead. The medical crowd will tell you a different story, but I once cleaned the kids ward in a local hospital and witnessed a 6 year old kid have a seizure. His mom said there was nothing they could do as no one knew the cause of seizures, the mother of another child across from her said her brother had stopped having seizures which he suffered 3 or 4 times a week, after visiting a herbalist called Yan dvries. So what you put into your mouth as fuel for the body does directly affect your health. Sorry for writing a book Mrs Clark, and thanks for posting, info of this type is always helpful.

Au fait profile image

Au fait 22 months ago from North Texas Author

Tillsontitan, Mary, thank you for your high praise and for commenting on this article. It is mainly to help people who want to be vegetarian make certain they are getting enough protein in their diets. It can also be helpful if a person just wants to cut some of the meat out of their diet every week, but not necessarily go vegetarian all the way. Less meat, especially red meat, means a more healthful diet for your body and your bank account. :)

Au fait profile image

Au fait 23 months ago from North Texas Author

Paul Kuehn, thank you for reading, commenting on, voting on, and sharing this article! It is mainly intended to educate people on how to combine vegetables in order to utilize the protein in them and to become vegetarian if that is a person's wish. I noted that there is extremely little information on this online -- or was when I wrote it. Nutritionists only said that if people eat a wide enough variety of vegetables they will get enough protein. I think they don't know the nature of people very well, especially children.

I have HBP too, but I figure you only live once and why make it so tedious and joyless? No one gets out of this world alive, at least not permanently. I eat what I want to for the most part, trying to get a balanced diet. You should be able to have the things you love, not daily, but once in a while.

tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 23 months ago from New York

Very comprehensive list of things that are good for us to eat. Complimenting foods is something most of us don't think about but you've made a good case for it here. As always, your research is impeccable.

I've always been a big meat eater but as I've grown wiser (yes, and older too) vegetables have become more of a staple in our diets.

Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting.

Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul Kuehn 23 months ago from Udorn City, Thailand

This is certainly a very useful hub for anyone who wants to practice good nutrition. Living off of fast foods certainly won't give you the necessary nutrition you need and certainly damage your health. My doctor now wants me to eat only fish and chicken and to avoid all fried foods, pastries, and salty foods. I must do this for my hypertension but it certainly takes a lot of enjoyment out of eating. Voted up and sharing with HP followers and on Facebook.

Au fait profile image

Au fait 2 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you Peggy W for pinning and tweeting this article! I think people who eat less meat tend to be healthier. I still eat meat once in a while, but I prefer to go meatless. Most women only require 45 grams of protein a day, and most men 50, assuming a person is not involved in heavy labor or doing an intense workout routine daily.

Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 2 years ago from Houston, Texas

This is wonderful information and I am going to share it again by tweeting and also pinning it to my health board. Combining these foods can make all the difference when needing protein in one's diet and wanting to cut out some meat sources.

Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you for stopping by Deborah-Diane and for sharing this article. Knowing how to mix vegetables to provide high quality complete protein for oneself and ones family can save a lot of money. I now some people don't think they can live without their meat, but substituting high quality vegetable protein 2-4 times a week can still help make ends meet while remaining healthy at the same time.

Deborah-Diane profile image

Deborah-Diane 3 years ago from Orange County, California

After hearing this morning that food prices are going up, possibly by as much as 15% in the coming year, I thought I would share this with my followers who might want a healthy way to save money. We all need to know how to find healthy alternatives to meat.

Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Diogenes, glad you stopped by. Have no idea what a landlord has to do with this article or what advice you are accusing me of giving. I rarely give advice. My articles are reports of information I have discovered in the course of research. I try to bring all relevant info on a subject together in one place so that people can decide for themselves what they want to do. If I share my opinion, which is rare, I usually label it "Opinion." That way people can skip it if they want to.

Take care Bobby . . . xx

Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you Schoolmom24, for reading, sharing your thoughts, and voting on this article. I learned all this stuff in my nutrition class at university, but I still researched it to make sure I got it right -- but what a time I had finding this info! I'm glad if this info was helpful and useful for you.

Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Heidithorne, thank you for reading, voting on, and sharing this article! When I went looking for information on what to combine with what in order to make veggie proteins complete (learned it in nutrition class at the university, but who remembers so many details?), I couldn't find anything about it either. Mostly nutritionists said to eat a varied diet and the completion of protein would take care of itself -- not very helpful from my prospective. So I was inspired to write this article because at the time there was all but no other info on specifically what beggies needed to be combined for optimum protein advantage. Thanks again . . .

Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you 2besure for reading and commenting on this article. Glad you enjoyed!

Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Natasha, thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts on this issue. Agree, most people DON'T know that some proteins are not complete and that incomplete proteins cannot be utilized by the body as protein.

diogenes profile image

diogenes 3 years ago from UK and Mexico

As this appeared again in my inbox, I reread it with more interest and less intent to make a dumb comment. I had stir-fry, a small baked spud and a can of tuna in tomato sauce just. Pretty good. Do you follow your own advice, dear?

Yeah! Landlord...I heerd dat afore, too!

Keep on truckin'


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you Peggy W for sharing this article. Indeed, it is less expensive and more efficient to eat the veggies before running them through an animal. Vegetable protein is just as nutritious as animal protein, and often more healthful because it has fewer diseases associated with it, Rice and beans can be prepared a number of different ways and they are a great source of high quality protein when combined.

Schoolmom24 profile image

Schoolmom24 3 years ago from Oregon

This has some great info! I have been trying to eat healthy and help my family to, as well. I knew about adding more fruits and veggies (I wrote my first hub on that!) but I didn't know about the complete vs incomplete proteins and how we can combine them! My kids don't like to eat meat very much so am trying to find healthy alternatives. Voted up!

heidithorne profile image

heidithorne 3 years ago from Chicago Area

Great hub! I try to cut back on meat products whenever possible. I was aware of the incomplete protein issue, but wasn't sure what combined with what to make them complete. Glad you addressed that. Thanks for sharing this great information! Vote up, useful, interesting and shared!

2besure profile image

2besure 3 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

Excellent Hub on alternative proteins to meat. We have cut back on meats especially red! Good health choices improve and extent life!

Natashalh profile image

Natashalh 3 years ago from Hawaii

Thanks for pointing out the necessity of getting complete proteins! I think a lot of people fail to realize that most non-animal sources of protein are not sufficient, alone.

Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 3 years ago from Houston, Texas

Will share this useful hub again because in this day and age when people might be counting their pennies they can save money by combining these foods and be eating nutritious meals at the same time.

Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you Peggy W for tweeting this hub!

Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 3 years ago from Houston, Texas

Going to give this most helpful and informative hub a tweet. Hope that you are having a good day today! :)

Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Thanks for stopping by Glenda. This article is primarily for people who want to go vegetarian and don't know what foods to combine in order to get sufficient protein. It could also be helpful to people on a tight budget who can't afford meat, and want to stretch their money eating vegetable protein.

Glenda 3 years ago

This is an interesting and informative article and I know that I do not eat right, but I will follow some of the suggestions in your article.

Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Peggy W, thank you for pinning this article! It is most useful to people who want to be vegetarian. Thank you for brightening my day!

Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 3 years ago from Houston, Texas

Hi Au fait,

Going to pin this to a new board that I just created called Useful Tips and Ideas. Hope you are having a wonderful day today.

Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you joecseko for reading and commenting on this article.

Protein is the building block of new cells and body repair, etc., but carbohydrates are what give the nervous system and the brain the fuel needed to think and process. I learned this in my nutrition class at the university.

I'm not a vegetarian, but I know lots of people who are. Sometimes it's nice to save money by not buying meat and of course meat has all manner of problems that vegetables do not. It doesn't last long in the frig, it's more likely to be infected with a food born disease, could even be spoiled when you buy it.

Properly combined, vegetables provide the highest quality protein without running it through an animal first. Vegetable protein is more efficient and less expensive, just as healthful as meat.

Indeed, Christians who read their Bibles know that God didn't give permission to eat meat until after the flood. Humans were never meant to eat meat. Since they've been doing that no one lives even close to as long as Methuselah did.

When following Moses through the desert for a while the Israelites began whining and complaining because they had no meat like they were used to having in Egypt. Finally God tired of their grumbling and provided them meat -- hundreds of them died. Probably because they failed to cook the meat properly or saved it without benefit of a frig.

Amino acids are proteins. But as you say, plant sources of protein are rarely complete proteins and expecting one's body to utilize the incomplete protein in any plant source is like expecting to bake a lovely cake with no sugar, or with some other important ingredient missing. Doesn't work. The body cannot utilize any of the protein in a food where that protein is not complete.

joecseko profile image

joecseko 3 years ago from New York, USA, Earth

While I think a diet consisting of solely plant products is, well, stupid, this is great information for those that do to have. People make the mistake of thinking protein is for building muscle alone. Well, your brain and immune system require amino acids (the building blocks of proteins bonded by peptide bonds) to function, and synthesize all of the proteins that your body needs.

This is a good reference for anyone wanting to "limit" the amount of animal products they consume. Again, I'd never advocate a diet based on vegetarianism.

Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you Peggy W for reading, commenting, voting on and especially for sharing this hub. It is much less expensive and more efficient to eat the vegetables and protein foods without first running them through an animal. This is a great way to get enough high quality protein without eating meat whether because one is vegetarian or because one cannot afford meat.

Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you Marntzu for reading and commenting on this hub and for voting it up, etc. Very interesting about the archeology too.

profile image

Marntzu 3 years ago

Good article on the subject of amino acids. Reminded me of when I took my Archaeology classes in college. We discussed how certain combinations of crops gave societies everything the body needed to survive and the societies that had those crop combinations gave rise to civilization. The corn and bean one in particular stuck out to me. My teacher referred to the "new world trinity" a lot when talking about pre-columbian American civilizations (Corn, Beans and Squash) as being the building blocks that allowed those societies to thrive. Voted up and interesting

Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you rajan jolly for reading and commenting on this hub, and for voting on it and especially for sharing it! I wrote it in hope of helping people who want to become vegetarian but aren't confident about getting enough protein on a vegetarian diet.

It was very difficult finding the information because now nutrition specialists just say eat a variety of foods and you will ultimately get enough protein. I think they haven't seen what some people call a variety of foods. Processed cheese sandwich on white bread with French fries? Dill pickle on the side. That's a meal for many children. I think people do need to know how they can get sufficient protein even when they do not or cannot afford to eat meat.

Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 3 years ago from Houston, Texas

This is a wonderful hub for those wishing to not only eat healthier meals, but also save money when it comes to providing good meals with enough protein. Many people do not know that by combining simple ingredients together in a meal...even without meat...a complete protein can be accomplished. UUI votes and will share.

rajan jolly profile image

rajan jolly 3 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

I'm glad I always take a combination as suggested. Voting this up, useful and sharing too.

Au fait profile image

Au fait 4 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you for reading and commenting, Shyron. People would be a lot healthier and spend far less money if they ate more of these foods.

Shyron E Shenko profile image

Shyron E Shenko 4 years ago

voting you up and useful, I think we manage to eat reasonably healthy. But, your hub reminds me of some other things we can do to add protein.

Thanks for the info.

Au fait profile image

Au fait 4 years ago from North Texas Author

A bacon diet? Thought you were trying to LOSE weight . . . doesn't bacon adhere to one's, ahem, backside, even if all one does is think about it?? ;)

You would have to pass my landlord's background check in order to move in. He's pretty tough. If I protect you from yourself, who will protect me from you? ;)

Yes, I've heard that song before . . . about not being able to do . .

Thank you for reading and adding at least a few relevant comments. :)

diogenes profile image

diogenes 4 years ago from UK and Mexico

Hey ho, Misty. Once again I am reminded of my complete ignorance or anything any good for me. I am on a bacon diet at the moment and feel like shit (yet can't).

If I keep bread, butter and cheese in the house I am a gonner. Same for peanut butter, and lentils are bad for gout, under, or overcooked. Maybe I'll move in with you and you can protect me from myself...and we can talk about sex again. Talk will about be all I can do.


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