Is Your Child Getting Enough Protein?
I often have parents ask me what they can do to ensure that their children are “getting enough protein”. This comes from parents of omnivores as well as vegetarian and vegan children. Protein has become a big concern for many in our culture.
The good news is you can take a big sigh of relief! There is no need to worry!
The truth is that protein deficiency is very rare and it’s really not something that I am concerned about with normal, healthy children. What may shock you is that, in general, we may actually be consuming too much protein in North America. A high protein diet may be associated with increased risk of cancer and other diseases and may actually decrease our longevity.
So how much protein does a child need?
The WHO recommends that healthy children consume around 1 gram/kg per day. Babies need a tad bit more. Even if your child eats only plants (or a vegan diet) their protein intake will be well above this. All whole plants are a combination of all the macronutrients: carbohydrate, protein and fat. It is refined foods that tend to be lacking in one area or another such has table sugar which is 100% carbohydrate or oil which is 100% fat. The key is to focus on the whole foods. It may surprise you to learn that broccoli actually derives 30% of its calories from protein!
For infants from 0-6 months of age I recommend exclusive breast feeding if it is possible for the mother and child. Did you know that breast milk only contains about 1 gram of protein for every 3 oz.? But this provides all the protein that the little baby needs! A 3 month old baby who weight 6 kilograms and is taking 24 oz of breast milk per day is getting about 8 grams of protein which is about 1.33 grams per kilogram for the day. As humans our protein needs are not as high as many think in order to maintain normal, healthy growth.
What I encourage parents to focus on instead of “protein” is increasing the whole plant foods in their child’s diet including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and lentils and nuts and seeds. In addition, I encourage you to place less emphasis on the intake of meats, dairy, eggs and processed foods. It doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing, but begin to shift the diet in that direction. I also recommend taking a daily multivitamin.
If you are having trouble thinking of yummy kid-friendly recipes that highlight whole plant-foods just explore my website and videos for inspiration.
Remember that YOU are the nutritional gatekeeper on your home and the habits that you instill in your children now may last them for decades. Keep up the excellent work!