Protein has long been considered an important nutrient in the human diet. So, what are proteins? Proteins are the building blocks of body tissues. They help repair and maintain vital tissues and, are crucial for the growth of all organs systems including bones and muscles. Proteins in the body also work as enzymes, immune molecules, hormones and cellular messengers. Therefore, proteins are vital for the growth and development of every child1.
A less well-known fact about proteins in the human body is that they are made up of 20 amino acids. 9 of which are considered essential as they can only be derived from our diet. And only specific dietary sources of protein can deliver a full complement of these essential amino acids.
High quality proteins include milk and milk products such as yogurt and cheese, eggs, meat, poultry and fish. “Many sources of high quality protein also provide important nutrients like vitamin E, B vitamins, zinc, iron and magnesium,” says Jennifer Williams, Masters in Public Health, nutrition research scientist with Abbott.
Quantity Matters Too
Know the Protein Goal
Total protein needs of a child increase with age. The Recommended Dietary Allowances by the Health Promotion Board of Singapore details the protein goals per day for children2.
Calculate Protein Intake
Finding it hard to calculate the amount of protein found in your child’s diet? Here is a ready reckoner of protein content of common food items3.
Make it Simple
If these numbers seem hard to achieve each day, the Health Promotion Board’s Healthy Plate recommends, that as part of a well-balanced diet, a ¼ of the plate should be reserved for lean meat or other protein-rich foods. Children should also drink 2 – 3 glasses of milk (500 – 750 ml) each day as it is a good source of protein and calcium.
Picky Eaters Prone to Lower Protein Intake
1 in 2 parents in Singapore identify their children as picky eaters, and picky eating is first noticed as early as one year old1. A recent study conducted among healthy 3-7 year old children in China, found that over half the children displayed picky eating behaviors which was negatively associated with growth. These children were found to consume less protein intake compared with peers who were normal eaters4.
Williams added that children who do not get enough protein may experience health issues, including fatigue, poor concentration, slowed growth, bone and joint pain, delayed wound healing and decreased immune response.
Practical Primer for Meeting Protein Goals
- Include one protein-rich food choice at every meal
- Tuck in an egg at breakfast occasionally
- Accompany lunch and dinner choices with a portion of cooked chicken, fish or meat
- Power up protein in snacks
- Add cheese or a spread of peanut butter to bread or bun
- Offer a cup of yogurt or milk
- For children who are picky eaters and growth compromised
- Include 2 – 3 servings of a complete and balanced oral nutrition supplement along with a well-balanced diet to support catch-up growth
1. Abbott Nutrition News. (2018, 8 August). Abbott. Retrieved from http://www.nutritionnews.abbott/nutrition-as-medicine/why-is-protein-important-for-kids--growth-.html
2. Health Hub. (2018, 29 January). Health Promotion Board. Retrieved from http://www.healthhub.sg/live-healthy/192/recommended_dietary_allowances
3. Energy and Nutrient Composition of Food. (2011, 14 March). Health Promotion Board. Retrieved from http://focos.hpb.gov.sg/eservices /ENCF/foodsearch.aspx
4. Xue, Y., et al. (2015, 13 April). Growth and Development in Chinese Pre-Schoolers with Picky Eating Behaviour: A Cross- Sectional Study. PLOS ONE. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0123664