(BPT) – A new University of Illinois study reveals U.S.-grown roasted pistachios meet the generally accepted definition of a complete protein for people over 5 years of age. This means pistachios now join the ranks of a small number of plant proteins — including quinoa, chickpeas and soybeans — that have become popular animal protein alternatives among vegetarians and health-conscious consumers.

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and while the body can naturally produce 11 of them, there are nine essential amino acids the body cannot make and therefore must obtain through food. Roasted pistachios have been determined to possess adequate levels of all nine of these essential amino acids based on a Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS). As such, roasted pistachios meet the Food and Drug Administration’s definition of a complete protein.

Most other sources of complete proteins are meat, fish, eggs and dairy products. While quinoa, chickpeas and soy are plant-based proteins, cited by the FDA as a complete protein, “The vast majority of plant-based foods are ‘incomplete’ proteins, meaning they are deficient in one or more of the essential amino acids,” explained Dr. Arianna Carughi, Science Advisor to American Pistachio Growers, the trade association for the U.S. pistachio industry. To create a complete protein would require combining two incomplete proteins at once or within a day.

Reacting to the announcement of the study findings made at the American Pistachio Growers Annual Conference recently, Dr. Mehmet Oz said, “The revelation that pistachios are a complete protein is important because it means you don’t have to combine pistachios with any other good source of proteins to already get what your body desires.”

Protein helps repair and build tissues, allows metabolic reactions to take place and coordinates bodily functions, in addition to maintaining proper pH and fluid balance in our bodies.

“This news is particularly exciting for active adults and athletes who want the convenience of a complete protein that’s portable and doesn’t require cooking,” said Registered Dietitian Nigel Mitchell, author of “The Plant Based Cyclist” and nutritionist for multiple pro and British national sports teams. “As a complete protein, roasted pistachios contribute to the varied and balanced diet and healthy lifestyle important for good health.”

For more information, visit AmericanPistachios.org.