Protein For Child Growth: Know These 6 Proven Benefits

Role Of Protein in Growth & Development

Protein is one of the most important nutrients for the human body. It plays a major role in building blocks of muscle tissue in the body. Protein can also serve as a source of fuel for the body. In this regard, protein provides the body with as much fuel as carbohydrates. The fuel provides energy to the body and helps in its adequate growth and development. Therefore, parents should seriously consider protein for child growth.

Proteins are made of amino acids:

The essential nutrient Proteins are made up of building blocks called amino acids. There are about 20 different amino acids present in the body that joins together in different combinations. Our kid’s body uses them to make new proteins, such as muscle and bone, and other compounds such as enzymes and hormones. 

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Why Is Protein Important For Childhood?

Proteins help in building, maintaining, and repairing the tissues in the child’s body. It is especially important for the growth and development of children. Though most of the children do not suffer from lack of dietary protein still it is really important to encourage them to eat two to three servings of meat, fish, poultry, or other protein-rich food each day. Milk and other dairy products also are good protein sources for children.

Here are some benefits of protein for children that justifies why is protein very important for growing bodies?

1. Muscle Building

Protein helps in building, maintaining, and replacing tissues in the body. Protein is the building block of life and the most important nutrient for building muscles.

2. Helps In Growth Of Cells

Protein is a necessary nutrient for the generation and regeneration of cells in the body. It helps in blood replenishment, healing of wounds, and also regulates the growth of hair and nails.

3. It Boosts Metabolism In The Body

Protein in the form of enzymes and hormones. It ensures that the metabolism of the body remains in a healthy form.

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4. Strengthens The Immune System

Protein helps to keep the immune system of our kid’s body strong and fight against disease-causing bacteria and viruses. Protein works as antibodies that provide assistance to the immune system.

5. Helps In The Production Of Haemoglobin

Protein also helps in the production of haemoglobin which is an important component of the blood as it helps to carry oxygen to all organs of the body.

6. Protein Is A Calorie Mine

The kid’s body needs carbohydrates to produce energy. When there is a lack of carbohydrates, the body can also use proteins to get calories and produce energy for its functioning.

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Who Needs More Protein: Children or Adults?

As a parent, we should be aware of the requirement of protein for our child. Children need relatively more protein than adults. This is because children need it for their healthy growth. 

Children are growing and accumulating extra lean tissue. This results in an increased requirement of protein by them as they get bigger.

Children, therefore, need to eat enough protein food not only to replace their losses and keep them in protein balance but also enough to allow for extra protein to accumulate in tissues and organs as they grow.

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The Daily Protein Requirements For Children

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine says that 10% to 30% of the calorie intake should come from protein. It varies with the age of the kid. Children age between 4 to 9 years require 19 grams of protein every day. Those ages between 9 to 13 years require 34 grams of protein every day.

But there is advice for all you mothers, don’t think that more protein will mean stronger child. A sports nutrition specialist Diana Schnee says that overdose of protein may lead to long term health problems in your child.

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How To Assess Nutritional Value Of Protein For Children?

The nutritional value of a protein is evaluated by the number of essential amino acids present in the protein.

Food items contain different amounts of essential amino acids. In general:

  • Animal products (such as chicken, meat, beef, or fish and dairy products) have all of the essential amino acids and are known as ‘complete’ protein. It is also termed as ideal or high-quality protein.
  • Soy products and the seed of a leafy green also have almost every essential amino acid in it.
  • Plant proteins such as beans, lentils, nuts, and whole grains usually lack at least one of the essential amino acids and are considered ‘incomplete’ proteins.

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Protein Rich Foods For Child Growth And Development

There is a list of protein food items that can be given to kids:

  • lean meats – beef, lamb and pork
  • poultry – chicken, turkey, duck, emu, goose and bush birds
  • fish and seafood – fish, prawns, crab, lobster, mussels, oysters, scallops, clams
  • eggs
  • dairy products – milk, yoghurt (especially Greek yoghurt), cheese (especially cottage cheese)
  • nuts and seeds – almonds, pine nuts, walnuts, macadamias, hazelnuts, cashews, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds
  • legumes and beans – all beans, lentils, chickpeas, split peas, tofu.
  • Some grain and cereal-based products are also considered as a source of protein, but they are not as high in protein as meat and meat alternative products.

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What Happens When Your Body Is Low In Protein?

  • Protein deficiency means not getting an adequate amount of protein in the diet.
  • Protein deficiency may occur in people with special requirements, such as older people and people following strict vegetarian or vegan diets.
  • It is not usually seen if a child is having a variety of foods and is not suffering from any medical condition that might keep him away from taking in enough protein.

Protein Deficiency Symptoms Include:

There are few signs and symptoms that are seen in kids suffering from the problem of protein deficiency:

  • The muscle tissues start shrinking.
  • The fluid starts building up especially in the feet and ankles of children.
  • Anaemia – the blood is unable to deliver a sufficient amount of oxygen to the cells.
  • slow growth and development of children.

The exact cause of the condition is not clear, but experts have associated it with diets consisting mainly of maize, cassava, or rice. A lack of dietary antioxidants may also contribute.

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Protein Supplements For Kids

For most of the children, protein powder supplements are not required because they are already getting more than enough protein through their meals.

Side Effects Of Protein Supplement In Children:

  • There are the countless number of side effects that your child may experience if you are giving him/her protein supplements when their body does not require them. Specifically, a child could experience weight gain from the excess calories and sugar the protein powder supplies to their body.
  • Another potential risk of unnecessary protein supplement is organ damage since high protein levels can create kidney stones. This can also cause the problem of dehydration because all of that excess protein can cause a child’s kidneys to work harder.
  • High protein levels also put a strain on the child’s liver as processing it creates a nitrogen build-up.
  • Some protein powders and shakes also weaken the immune system of kids.
  • Another side effect of giving your child protein supplements is that the child may get habitual of drinking their calories and lose interest in eating foods which is very important for the body. This side effect of protein is mostly ignored by the parents but it is a matter of concern.
  • The taste of protein powders and shakes attracts the kids and simultaneously keep them away from healthy food items. This may result in an excess of protein and a lack of other nutrients in their body.

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Kwashiorkor: Protein Malnutrition

Kwashiorkor is an acute malnutrition disease that occurs due to protein deficiency.

Kwashiorkor is a serious problem that occurs because of an insufficient amount of protein consumption. Major protein deficiency will result in fluid retention in the body. This will make the stomach look bloated.

Kwashiorkor is mostly seen in children and not adults. This especially happens to kids if they are not getting an adequate amount of nutrition soon after they stop breastfeeding. If a child experiences kwashiorkor, they will require an immediate medical attention.

Causes Of Kwashiorkor:

As we know, Proteins are responsible for maintaining fluid balance in the body. An insufficient amount of protein levels causes fluid to move to areas of the body that it should not be in, where it accumulates in the tissues. This fluid imbalance can result in fluid retention or oedema.

The experts have associated this condition with diets consisting mainly of maize, or rice. A lack of dietary antioxidants may also contribute to kwashiorkor.

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Symptoms Of Kwashiorkor:

Children with kwashiorkor not always but most of the time have little body fat.

The child may look like having an ideal weight or even on the plump side, but this appearance is swelling due to fluid retention and not due to the presence of fat or muscle.

The symptoms of kwashiorkor also include:

  • change in skin and hair colour (to a rust colour) and texture
  • fatigue
  • diarrhoea
  • loss of muscle mass
  • failure to grow or gain weight
  • oedema (swelling) of the ankles, feet, and belly
  • the damaged immune system, which can lead to more frequent and severe infections
  • irritability
  • flaky rash

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How Is Kwashiorkor Diagnosed?

If kwashiorkor is suspected, your doctor will first examine you to check for an enlarged liver (hepatomegaly) and swelling. Next, blood and urine tests may be ordered to measure the level of protein and sugar in your blood.

These tests include:

  • arterial blood gas
  • blood urea nitrogen (BUN)
  • blood levels of creatinine
  • blood levels of potassium
  • urinalysis
  • complete blood count (CBC)

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FAQs On Protein For Child Growth

  • Q: How much protein does my child need?
  • A: As a rule of thumb, you can determine your child’s recommended daily consumption of protein (in grams) by taking his or her weight (in pounds) and dividing it in half. For example, if your child weighs 40 pounds, he or she should intake about 20 grams of protein per day. In most cases, your child’s protein needs can be fulfilled by incorporating protein-rich dairy and whole grains into a well-balanced diet.
  • Q: What stands out as the best source of protein for my child?
  • A: This question does not have a definitive answer. Any food item that contains an adequate amount of all nine of the essential amino acids is considered as a ‘complete protein’. These are deemed ‘essential’ because the body cannot produce them on its own. Animal protein sources like milk, eggs, fish, and meat are deemed complete proteins, containing all of the building blocks that your child’s body requires.  
  • Q: Can my body only process a certain amount of protein at once? 
  • A: Everyone processes protein differently. Some research suggests you can only assimilate a certain amount of protein per eating, but the jury is still out. Your tummy is not counting grams of protein — that’s your job. Most likely, the amount of protein you take in is the amount of protein that your body is going to process. Keep it to a reasonable level and enjoy the benefits of protein without going overboard – otherwise, you could end up eating more calories than you need for your daily intake.
  • Q: What’s the difference between animal and plant-based protein?
  • A: Animal proteins like those from meat and eggs, along with plant proteins like those from soy, nuts, and vegetables are both important to a well-balanced diet and both have health benefits. But there are some differences. For example, animal protein tends to contain more saturated fat than protein from plants, which mostly contain unsaturated fat.

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  • Q: Does Protein help in keeping my child’s hunger satisfied?
  • A: Apart from your muscle health and recovery of the child, protein can also help keep you full for longer. Do they ever come home after playing outdoors and feel starved? Drinking a protein-rich drink not only helps their muscles to recover and rebuild immediately, but it also helps to keep them full longer, to help prevent snacking in between their meals.
  • Q: What happens if my child lacks protein?
  • A: If your child is not getting sufficient amount of protein, it can lead to more serious side effects in the future but initially, without enough protein in their diet, your kid may experience the symptoms like fatigue, lack of concentration, slowed growth, lowered immunity. decreased muscle development, slow wound healing, and bone & joint pain.
  • Q: My child is suffering from kwashiorkor, how can this be treated?
  • A: Kwashiorkor can be corrected by giving your child more protein and more calories overall, especially if treatment is started early. They will first be given more calories in the form of carbohydrates, sugars, and fats. Once these calories start providing energy, the child will be given foods with proteins. Foods must be introduced and calories should be increased slowly because he/she may be getting the proper nutrition for a long period. Their body may take time to adjust to the increased intake. The doctor will also recommend long-term vitamin and mineral supplementation to be introduced in their diet.

Additional Resources:

Smit Kumar

Health & Wellness Coach: Smit Kumar believes in the philosophy of successful nutrition hunting mindset for the healthy body, mind and spirit.

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