Protein is required to build and repair body tissue of our growing and developing kids. Studies show that optimum daily intake, including the right amount of protein along with carbohydrates and fats, helps our children function better, but with all the recent talk over high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets, many parents wonder how much protein their child actually needs.
>b?What is protein?
Protein is a nutrient that is essential for life. In fact, new tissue is actually made from proteins; therefore, any type of growth or regeneration requires protein. In addition to promoting growth and development, protein also strengthens the immune system, manufactures hormones, helps antibodies fight infection and preserves the acid-alkali balance in the body. Studies show feeding our kids the right amount of protein, along with carbohydrates and fats, helps make them less susceptible to illness and increases their physical activity. Kids who eat enough protein also demonstrate improved behavior and performance at school.
Types of protein
Proteins are made up of units called amino acids. There are 22 amino acids in total. Nine of the amino acids are essential—meaning the body cannot make them so they need to be supplied by the diet. The remaining 13 are nonessential, which means the body can make them and they do not have to come from the diet. Proteins are then divided into two categories:
1. Complete proteins: These protein sources contain all the essential amino acids. They include meat and other animal products including beef, lamb, pork, poultry, fish, eggs, milk and milk products.
2. Incomplete proteins: These protein sources do not contain all the essential amino acids. They are found in grains, legumes, beans, nuts and seeds, fruits and vegetables. Incomplete proteins can be combined to make complete proteins, for example: rice and beans, cereal and milk, beans and tortillas, pasta and cheese and tofu and sesame seeds.
How much protein do children need?
To feed their growing bodies and minds, children should eat following a 50:25:25 plan. In other words, 50% of calories should be derived from carbohydrates, 25% of calories should come from protein sources and 25% of calories should come from fats. To figure out how many grams of protein that equals, follow this example for a child who consumes 2,000 calories per day:
2,000 (calories) x 0.25 (25% of calories from protein) divided by 4 (calories per gram) = 125 grams of protein per day
The 50:25:25 plan for kids differs from the adult 40:30:30 plan mainly because a slightly higher carbohydrate to protein and fat ratio is needed to meet the high energy needs of children. Therefore, to promote optimum growth and development, kids should not follow a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet. If your child is overweight and you are looking for a weight loss plan, see The Right Diet for Overweight Kids.
A balanced diet with adequate amounts of protein is essential for optimum health. Try to include a wide variety of lean protein sources in your child’s diet, including:
Cold-water fish such as salmon, tuna and halibut, which are rich in protein and filled with omega-3 fatty acids necessary for brain growth and development;
Chicken, turkey, lean beef, omega-3 eggs, lowfat dairy products, soy, tofu, dried beans, lentils and legumes.
Try to avoid protein sources that are high in saturated “bad” fats, such as beef, steak, ribs, hamburgers, pork, full-fat dairy products and butter. Also, limit the amount of luncheon meats, hot dogs, bacon and sausage your children eat, as these foods contain harmful preservatives called nitrates. Nitrates are added to these foods to help meat keep their pink color, but have been found to be carcinogenic (cancer causing) when tested on animals. Switch to healthier imitation meats such as veggie cold cuts, hot dogs and pepperoni.
It’s not just about protein
Remember, protein is not the only important nutrient for the body. At each meal, protein should be accompanied with low glycemic carbohydrates such as some fruits and vegetables, beans, legumes and some healthier grains (spelt and kamut) and healthy fats, such as olive oil, avocado, flax, nuts and seeds, to maintain hormonal balance. Read more about our meal plans for more information.
Here are some protein balanced snack ideas for your kids to enjoy:
Pepperoni pizza bites
Soynut and fruit trail mix