Protein is as essential to your body as soil is to a well-maintained garden. Since protein is made up of components called amino acids, the issue of how to get enough protein into your diet can get confusing, so let's clarify a couple of things before we start looking at inexpensive ways to shop for protein-rich but budget-friendly foods.
There are 20 amino acids, and nine of them make up what is known as a complete protein, one that provides the essential amino acids the body needs to maintain itself. The most common complete proteins are animal products like meat, fish and dairy. These are often the most expensive proteins at the market, too. Complete proteins aren't the only dietary option, though. Complementary proteins can also provide all the essential amino acids -- with a little planning and some creative meal preparation.
Complementary protein sources are foods that contain some but not all of the essential amino acids. When grouped in twos or threes and eaten at the same time, or within a few hours of one another, they can also provide all the amino acids that a complete protein would provide -- often at a much lower price. Beans and rice are a good example. Separately, they lack essential amino acids, but combined, they offer all nine essential amino acids. They offer some other benefits, too, like fiber, vitamins, minerals and a protein source that can be lower in fat than an animal-based product.
Let's head over to the market to take a look at a number of protein-rich menu options that are nutritious as well as inexpensive. These foods are good for you and full of flavor. Choosing one over an expensive cut of meat won't be much of a sacrifice. We promise.