Send me Your FREE
Health & Nutrition Updates

Tips on ways to live longer, healthier and happier.
Enter your email below.

Ask Tufts Experts February 2019 Issue

Q. I am a vegetarian. Is it necessary for me to eat certain foods together in order to ensure I get appropriate protein?

rice and beans

It is not necessary to combine foods (like rice and beans) to get all the essential amino acids in a vegetarian diet.

A. Maya Zamek, from Tufts Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, answers: “It is not necessary to eat certain foods together in one meal in order to meet protein needs on a vegetarian diet. According to the 2009 American Dietetic Association Position Paper on Vegetarian Diets, as long as one is eating a varied diet and is meeting energy needs, there is no need to worry about the timing of when foods are consumed.

“In order to build proteins in our bodies, we need to get nine essential amino acids from the foods we eat. The idea of complementary foods comes from the finding that not all protein sources supply sufficient levels of all nine essential amino acids. As an example, beans have low levels of methionine but high levels of lysine; rice has less lysine but plenty of methionine. Eating them together supplies adequate levels of both amino acids. But eating them (or other foods) separately does too. Because metabolism is a dynamic process, with things being broken down and built up constantly, we now understand that strict protein combining at each meal is not necessary. As long as one eats a variety of foods throughout the day, there is no need to worry about eating particular combinations of foods.”

New to Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter? Register for Free!

Already Registered?
Log In