Proteins are long chains of amino acids that are essential for all of our bodies’ processes. Amino acids work to build up, break down, transport, and store nutrients throughout our body.  The body can make some amino acids on its own, but it needs to get the others from food. These amino acids are called essential amino acids, because they are essential to our diet. Certain foods contain all of the essential amino acids we need. These are known as Complete Proteins. Other foods give us the essential amino acids when they are paired together. These are called Incomplete Proteins.

Complete Proteins

Animal meat complete protein options:

  • Grass fed beef, grass-fed lamb, pasture raised pork, bison, venison, elk (if grass-fed isn’t an option, look for organic)
  • Pasture-raised or organic chicken, eggs, duck, and turkey
  • Fish – salmon (wild caught), mackerel (Atlantic or Pacific), herring (wild-caught), sardines (canned or fresh), tuna (wild caught – limit to one time per month)
  • Raw unpasteurized dairy products like grass-fed yogurt, kefir, and raw cheeses! Choose whole fat yogurts without added sugars.

*We recommend protein from Your Dekalb Farmer’s Market, Carlton Farms (, or the organic options from local grocery stores such as Sprouts or Whole Foods.

Non-animal meat complete protein options:

  • Quinoa
  • Buckwheat
  • Tempeh
  • Natto
  • Amaranth
  • Hemp seeds
  • Spirulina

Incomplete Proteins are foods that are high in protein, but do not have all of the essential amino acids our bodies need. This is where food pairing comes in. By combining certain foods, we can create a complete protein. Combine any of the options in categories A and B to create a complete protein.

A. Legumes                   B. Nuts

Fruits                          Grains

Vegetables                   Seeds

  • Legumes are vegetables like peas, beans, chickpeas, and lentils.
  • Seeds with high protein (but not complete protein) are flaxseed, chia seed, and pumpkin seeds. Add flaxseed and chia seed to salads or smoothies J
  • Vegetables with high protein are green leafy vegetables like kale, broccoli, collard greens, beet greens, and brussel sprouts (yum!). Also, zucchini, cauliflower, broccoli rabe, bok choy, and okra to name a few!

Some ideas for pairing foods to create a complete protein:

  • A handful of nuts and a piece of fruit. Walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios, hazelnuts are great choices. Pair with fruit like green apples, red apples, bananas, berries, kiwi, grapefruit, peaches, pears, watermelon, and oranges.
  • Hummus, made from chickpeas and tahini, is a complete protein. Make sure to grab the hummus has the fewest ingredients. Basic hummus recipes contain six healthy ingredients: chickpeas, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, sea salt and tahini. You can also make your own. Dip with veggies like carrots, cucumbers, and celery.
  • Gluten free rolled or steel cut oats with no sugar or flavors with almond milk, cashew milk, or raw milk with fruit.
  • Nut butters such as almond butter, cashew butter, or peanuts spread onto cucumbers, celery, or apples. Make sure to buy organic and avoid nut butters with added oil.