The word protein brings images of strength, muscle and high stature to mind. As such, there is a common notion that children need to eat a lot of protein to grow strong. Although, it is definitely important to include foods rich in protein, there is no need to overdo it. Chances are your child is already getting sufficient protein from a variety of foods including dairy, meat, fish, eggs and vegetarian sources of protein.
Here are a few handy facts to know about protein:
- Chemically speaking, proteins are made up of amino acids joined together to make a chain like structure.
- Human proteins are made up of 22 different amino acids. 13 of these can be produced by the body. The remaining 9 are called essential amino acids which we must get from food.
- 1 g of protein equals 4 calories.
- The daily amount of protein your child needs depends on age, weight and activity level. In general, children 1-3 years old need 0.5 g per pound of body weight, which comes to about 13-16 g per day. Children 4-6 years old also need about the same amount per pound, but since they weigh a little more, the daily amount is about 22 g. The Institute of Medicine has a good resource for recommended daily amounts (RDA) of macro-nutrients such as fat, proteins and carbs.
- Foods that provide all 9 essential amino acids are called complete protein foods. Animal food sources such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs, milk and cheese fall in this category.
- Proteins from plant sources are deficient in one or more of the essential amino acids; that is why they are called incomplete proteins.
- It has been a common belief that vegetarians need to combine various foods to get all the essential proteins. For example, beans should be eaten with rice. Most experts now agree that there is no evidence to support this belief. As long as you are eating a broad range of foods in balance and moderation, you don’t need to worry about such rules!
- The quality of proteins is measured by many different types of indicators which relate to how effectively the body is able to utilize the protein. Biological value is one of these indicators – egg whites are considered a standard with a biological value of 100. It means that nearly all of the nitrogen from its amino acids can be utilized by the body.
- The body cannot store excess protein. Eating more protein than necessary will actually result in more fat!
- Food allergies is a response to specific proteins in different foods. For example, milk allergy is a response to caesin and whey proteins in milk. Another problem protein for a lot of people is gluten, which is found in wheat and causes celiac disease.