The "Protein Combining" Myth

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"Protein combining," a diet trend that became popular in the 1970s, was based on the misconception that vegan diets provide insufficient amino acidsContrary to what we've been taught, there is no need to combine plant proteins in order to form a "complete" protein. Proponents of the "protein combining" diet warned that plant proteins must be combined in certain ways to ensure that you're getting the same "complete" protein that you'd get from an animal.

"Protein combining has since been discredited by the medical community, but there are still people out there who adhere to this practice, and even more people who still believe plant-based protein is incomplete," says Kristen Aiken of the Huffington Post.

So what exactly is a complete protein?

A complete protein is one that contains all nine essential amino acids that our bodies require: tryptophan, threonine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine+cystine, phenylalinine+tyrosine, valine and histidine. Our bodies cannot manufacture these amino acids, so they must be obtained through diet. Because animals obtain the same amino acids that we do from plants, animal protein is not more complete than plant-based protein.

Dr. Michael Greger of NutritionFacts.org explains how the body handles proteins: “It maintains pools of free amino acids that can be used to do all the complementing for us. Not to mention the massive protein recycling program our body has. Some 90 grams of protein is dumped into the digestive tract every day from our own body to get broken back down and reassembled, so our body can mix and match amino acids to whatever proportions we need, whatever we eat.”

Turns out, there's no such thing as incomplete plant-based protein. According to Dr. Greger, the only incomplete protein in the food supply is gelatin, which lacks tryptophan.

The history of "protein combining"

"Protein combining gained popularity in 1954 with the publication of Adelle Davis’ book Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit," says Aiken. "The concept gained even more steam in 1971, when Frances Lappé published the best-selling book Diet for a Small Planet, which echoed the same idea. Vogue and the American Journal of Nursing even talked about protein combining in 1975. By then, America was on board."

In 1981, Lappé published a revised edition of her book, in which she changed her position on protein combining and apologized for reinforcing a myth.

In 2002, Dr. John McDougall issued a correction to the American Heart Association, which had published information about protein combining. "To wrongly suggest that people need to eat animal protein for nutrients will encourage them to add foods that are known to contribute to heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and many forms of cancer, to name just a few common problems," said McDougall. The medical community was soon in agreement.

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Source: Huffington Post

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