Nutritional facts: protein

It’s important for growing children to have a bit of protein every day. The amino acids that protein foods contains are vital for growth, cell regeneration and renewal. There are 22 amino acids in total and are divided into 2 different types:

  • Non-essential: amino acids can be produced by the body.
  • Essential: 8 amino acids can’t be produced by the body so we need to get these from food sources

The best source of all 8 essential amino acids are animal products. Plant proteins also contain many amino acids but no single source contain all 8 so a combination would be needed.

Animal protein sources

  • meat
  • poultry
  • fish
  • eggs
  • dairy products (milk, yoghurts and cheese)

Oily fish (salmon, sardines, trout, tuna) is a good source of protein. It has the added advantage of being high in types of fatty acid that provide protection against heart attack and to some extent stroke.

Oily fish contain up to eight times as much omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids as lean fish (cod, haddock, skate).

Vegetable protein sources

  • legumes (peas, green beans)
  • cereals
  • beans
  • pulses
  • grains
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • soya products
  • vegetable protein foods such as Quorn or veggie mince.

Plant based proteins are healthier for us as they are generally low in saturated fat, and contain the most vitamins and minerals, as long as they’re eaten in combination. Such as nut butter and hummus on brown toast, or vegetables with lentils. Soya products are an excellent source of vegetable protein.

Some additional protein facts

  • Plant based proteins are also high in fibre.
  • Animal proteins are healthy as long as they’re not cooked in large amounts of fat, and the dairy sources are eaten in low quantities.
  • Fish is the healthiest source of animal protein due to the high levels of omega fatty acids (essential for brain function and development).
  • Too much protein can put quite a bit of strain on a child’s developing kidneys and inhibit bone growth so it should be fed daily, but in moderation.
RDA of protein for young children (plus calorie intake)*

Ages 1 to 3 – 1300 calories and 16 grams protein
Ages 4 to 6 – 1800 calories and 24 grams protein
Ages 7 to 10 – 2000 calories and 28 grams protein

*according to National Academy of Sciences


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