Are Chickpeas a Complete Protein? | Chickpea Amino Acid Profile

Are Chickpeas a Complete Protein?

According to the World Health Organisation a complete protein refers to a protein source that “contains adequate proportions of the nine essential amino acids” that the human body is incapable of producing on its own.

Chickpeas are one of the most recommended sources of plant-based vegan-friendly protein, but the amino acid profile of chickpeas depends on where it is grown and their specific strain. 

Sure, chickpeas are a great source of protein for the vegan community, but are chickpeas a complete protein by definition? Is protein from chickpeas competent enough to lend you all the known benefits of plant protein?

To answer that and some more, we will venture into the world of chickpeas: the health benefits of chickpeas and their amino acid profile. But first, let’s begin with the basics!

Understanding Essential and Non-Essential Amino Acids

During digestion, our body breaks down high amounts of protein into amino acids to promote good health and proper bodily functions. Amino acids are primarily of 2 kinds: essential and non-essential. Out of 20 amino acids, 9 are essential, and out of those only 3 are branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs).
Here’s a list of essential and non-essential amino acids:

Essential and Non-Essential Amino Acids

Our body cannot produce essential amino acids by itself so it’s important that we consume them from external food sources. Of the 9 essential amino acids, 3 have a peculiar branched-chain structure popularly known as branch chained amino acids or BCAAs.

These contribute to muscle repair by increasing the rate of protein synthesis which is why Vegan and meat-eating athletes tend to consume it as a supplement.

Although most BCAA supplements on the market are still animal-based, recent developments have allowed for the synthesis of vegan BCAA supplements as well. Certified vegan BCAA supplements are derived from either soy or corn instead of keratin found in animal hair, hooves, feathers and even human hair.

As for non-essential amino acids, they are produced by our body through the 9 essential amino acids, or during the process of protein breakdown.

What Is A “Complete Source Of Protein”?

what is a complete source of protein

To answer “is chickpea a complete protein”, we need to understand what a complete protein is. According to the WHO, a “complete source of protein” will include all the 9 essential amino acids required by the human body for good health. So, make sure you get your proteins from all 9 amino acids.

While omnivores get their protein from animal-based sources such as milk, fish, eggs, cheese, and poultry, vegans have to look toward to plant-based sources of protein such as chickpeas.

Quinoa, buckwheat, rice tofu, soy, hummus and pita, and tempeh are some of the complete vegan sources of protein that are recommended. Any edible item that does not include all 9 essential amino acids will be considered incomplete protein sources.

Are Chickpeas A Complete Source Of Protein?

So, is chickpea a complete protein? Technically, not quite. It is surely a good source of protein, and it contains adequate amounts of no less than 8 out of 9 of the essential amino acids, but what it falls short on is methionine. Chickpeas are still an excellent food alternative for someone who has recently adopted vegan lifestyle, but they are not the definition of “complete sources of protein”.

The institute of medicine has laid out rigid proportions of essential amino acids in any food for it to be called a complete protein. The table below lists the minimum percentage of the total protein content for all 9 essential amino acids in order to label any food source as a complete source of protein, compared to the amount offered by chickpeas. You would note that chickpeas beat the minimum percentage for all EAAs except one, so they remain a healthy dietary option.

Essential Amino AcidsMin. % in a Complete Protein SourceAmount in Chickpeas (%)
Methionine + Cysteine2.51.9
Phenylalanine + Tyrosine4.75.5

As per the nutritional threshold, a complete source of protein must offer a minimum of 25 mg/g of methionine + cysteine, whereas the chickpea amino acid profile promises only 19mg/g of it. For omnivores, cheese, chicken, and eggs are some of the good alternatives to make up for the lost essential amino acid, but if you are vegan, there are alternatives for you as well.

What is Methionine And Why is It Important?

While the health benefits of chickpeas are many, there’s no ignoring the fact that it does lack in methionine. Methionine is one of the 9 essential amino acids that serve as building blocks for our bodies in the protein-making process.

This missing essential amino acid is used to avert the risks of allergies, asthma, depression, liver damage, Parkinson’s disease, and schizophrenia, to name a few. According to ongoing research, methionine aids reduction of radiation side effects, colon cancer, alcoholism, and similar serious ailments.

What Foods to Pair with Chickpea to Make it a Complete Protein?

If you are wondering how to make chickpeas a complete protein, simply throw in some other protein sources that are rich in methionine to compensate for its lack. The table below lists some of the best foods to pair with chickpea to make it a complete protein for vegans. On a sidenote, I’ve prepared a detailed guide on some of the most convenient methionine sources for vegans. You might want to check that out as well.

Food% of Daily Value (Methionine)Amount (Methionine)
Chia Seeds (0.6 cup chickpeas + 0.3 oz chia seeds)18.30.16g
Sesame Seeds (0.6 cup chickpeas + 0.9 tbsp sesame seeds)17.60.15g
Wild Rice (0.6 cup chickpeas + 0.3 cup wild rice)18.20.16g
Hemp Seeds (0.6 cup chickpeas + 0.6 tbsp hemp seeds)18.30.16g
Nori (0.5 cup chickpeas + 15.7 sheet nori)180.15g
White Rice (0.5 cup chickpeas + 0.6 cup white rice)17.90.15g
Cornmeal (0.5 cup chickpeas + 3.9 tbsp cornmeal)18.90.16g
Pumpkin Seeds (0.4 cup chickpeas + 3.8 tbsp pumpkin seeds)17.10.15g
Quinoa (0.5 cup chickpeas + 0.4 cup quinoa)19.40.17g
Carrots (3.3 tbsp chickpeas + 2.4 large carrots)8.60.07

These are 10 of the best foods to pair with chickpeas to make it a complete protein. They are all vegan-friendly and gluten-free options and add to your daily nutritional value.

Also read,

Health Benefits of Chickpeas 

Health benefits of chickpeas

Even though chickpeas do not contain enough methionine to be qualified as a complete source of protein by definition, that does not negate the fact that it is still one of the healthiest, most nutritious food items for the vegan community. Let’s take a thorough look at the health benefits of chickpeas:

1. Rich in Plant Protein

Rich in plant-based protein, chickpeas remain a great alternative for vegans. They promote muscle strength, weight loss, and general bone health. If you are on a weight loss journey, chickpeas are a recommended addition. The protein content of chickpeas surpasses that of other similar legumes, making it one of the most protein-rich plant-based food alternatives.

2. Regulates Blood Sugar Levels 

Both dried and canned chickpeas have a low glycemic index, which ensures that your body absorbs and digests them slowly. Chickpeas also include a type of starch called “amylose”, which takes time to digest. The presence of both these helps maintain your blood sugar and prevents your insulin levels from shooting up. So, for those suffering from or are afraid of diabetes, chickpeas are a good option.

3. Promotes Brain Health 

A good source of choline, chickpeas are known to promote good brain and mental health, in general. Magnesium present in chickpeas is a key ingredient for proper nerve functionality. The presence of selenium, magnesium, and zinc provides relief from chances of anxiety and depression.

4. Protects against Chronic Diseases 

Chickpeas help reduce LDL cholesterol which is detrimental to our body. It keeps a check on heart health and helps avert cardiovascular diseases. The presence of potassium and magnesium prevents high blood pressure. Vitamin B along with magnesium present in chickpeas has been recommended for the prevention of type 2 diabetes.

Moreover, chickpeas promote the production of butyrate in our body which in turn helps avert risks of colon cancer. The presence of several essential vitamins and minerals helps avoid various kinds of cancer, including but not limited to breast and lung cancer.

5. Prevents Iron Deficiency 

A cup amounting to 164 grams of chickpeas contains no less than 26% iron of the daily value, making it one of the iron-rich food alternative for those suffering from iron deficiency or simply looking to avoid it.

The abundance of iron promotes growth, muscle metabolism, brain development, and helps prevent fatigue, shortness of breath, and generalized weakness. Lastly, the presence of vitamin C promotes iron absorption in our bodies.

Check Amino Acid Profiles of other Popular Vegan Foods below:

Verdict | Is Chickpea a Complete Protein?

The short but honest answer is no. Chickpeas lack methionine, one of the 9 essential amino acids required to be present in food to be qualified as a “complete source of protein”.

However, the fact that chickpeas contain every other essential amino acid is terrific, and it makes chickpeas an excellent dietary choice for vegans. Moreover, the health benefits of chickpeas are ample, so pair it with some methionine-rich food item, as listed above, and you should be good to go!

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    1. Hey Schmuck. Hope you’re having a fantastic day! Regarding your query, I can confidently say that chickpeas are not considered a complete protein by most medical and health experts. While you may find sources that claim otherwise, it could be because of the fact that chickpeas are ‘very nearly’ a complete protein by definition. They slightly miss the mark on the EAAs – methionine and cystine. Some sources may call it a complete protein just for the sake of simplifying an already complicated range of information. But in reality, it is just not the case. Further aggravating the already low proportion of methionine in chickpeas, it is observed that the same amino acid has a higher bio-availability (capability of being absorbed during digestion) in rice as compared to chickpeas! So if you’re relying on chickpeas to get your protein, pair it with rice and other high methionine vegans foods to effectively get all your essential amino acids. Here’s a post I wrote listing high methionine vegan foods – Hope this helped 🙂

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