Why do we need to give proteins to our children?
Proteins are nutrients that provide energy and required to maintain bodily functions. Protein is a macronutrient that is vital for growth and development.1 Amino acids are the building blocks of protein which are needed for the growth and maintenance of cells.1
Protein has multiple functions in the body. It is essential for cell repair and tissue growth. They are components of many digestive enzymes and hormones involved in different chemical reactions. It also provides antibody support in immune function.2 If the amount of protein given to a child is below the recommended amount, it may lead to slowed growth, immune function becomes compromised, and neurologic development can also be delayed.2 Hence the daily diet of the child should include a good amount of protein. Examples of sources of protein are lean meat, fish, poultry like chicken and eggs, grains, nuts and seeds and tofu.
What is the optimal level of protein for young children?
In the early years of life, the most common source of protein is from breastmilk and dairy for those who are non breastfed. Based on the Childhood Obesity Program (CHOP) Study, children given milk with lower levels of protein had lower body mass index (BMI) at 2 years of age compared to those given higher levels which had higher BMI.2, 3, 4 This study shows that the protein levels in milk increases the risk of a child to be overweight in the early years. Being an overweight child also predisposes him/her to obesity as an adolescent and adult. Hence, it is essential to observe that our children takes in optimal levels of protein in milk.
Innovations in milk technology includes producing the optimized protein. With this comes fractionation for an improved amino acid profile and the lowering of the protein level. This technology aims to lead to a reduction in the chances of obesity and fat deposition later in life hence is an important innovation in nutrition.
Protein plays many vital roles in a child’s growth and development but is also an important macronutrient that has been linked to overweight and obesity risk. However, giving the right quantity and optimal quality of protein in the early years is very crucial in the child’s early nutrition.
1. Corkins M, et al. The ASPEN Pediatric Nutrition Support Core curriculum. 2010. American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition.
2. Kleinman R and Greer F. Pediatric Nutrition 8th Edition. 2020 American Academy of Pediatrics.
3. Luque V, et al. Early Programming by Protein Intake: The effect of protein on adiposity development and the growth and functionality of vital organs. Nutr Metab Insights. 2015;8:49-56.
4. Koletzko et al European Childhood Obesity Project, 2009