By Dr Ritika Sammadar,
Regional Head- Department of Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics, Max Healthcare
Children are unstoppable, thanks to the infinite reserves of energy, which keeps them in motion almost all the time. So, where do they get their strength and energy from? From the food they eat?
Well this is the half-truth. Food supplies the body the essential nutrients that, in turn, give body the strength to perform its functions. Since, the growth rate is maximum during childhood and early adolescence; nutritional requirements are maximum in these stages.
Children of school-going age, especially between 6 and 12 years grow significantly in height, weight, and build. Children gain about 3 kg weight on average and grow about 6 cm in height every year until the age of 18. Significantly, children need a healthy balance of all dietary nutrients including carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and proteins. However, protein requirement is inevitable during growing years, especially when Indian staple diet is not adequate to meet it.
Proteins for growth
Proteins form the primary structural and functional blocks of all living cells. Nearly half of the protein content in our body is present as muscles while the rest of it exists as bone, cartilage and skin.
Proteins help in the growth of the body and also helps maintain the muscle strength among school-going children. The daily requirement of protein increases as your child grows older.
Proteins are made up of different amino acids. Certain amino acids, referred to as “essential”, are not synthesized in the human body and have to be obtained from diet. Therefore, it is very important to pick right protein sources, especially the plant-based foods that make the major part of Indian staple diets. The best plant-based proteins include soy product, grains such as quinoa, and seeds such as chia seeds and hempseeds. Also, the right plant-based supplement can be recommended as it is an excellent sources of protein and other nutrients.
Here’s an overview of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for children during their school-going years:
Protein and Calcium
Adequate protein in your child’s diet also increases calcium absorption. Bones aren’t just calcium; a significant part of your bone is actually protein. Protein also is the major component of growth hormones that influence growth in school-age children. Protein deficiency at a young age can cause osteoporosis and fractures. Include a wide variety of plant and animal sources of protein.
Protein is important for normal physical growth and formation of body tissues. Include two to three servings of protein in your child’s diet daily. Adequate protein intake makes bones healthy. However, protein also increases the rate at which calcium is lost from the bones. To make up for this loss, include enough calcium in your child’s diet.
Make a Choice
It has been observed that persistent undernutrition during the growing year’s leads to short stature in adults. The National Nutrition Monitoring Board has been studying protein intake in urban and rural India for over 25 years. “It is likely that about one-third of sedentary rural population is at risk of not meeting their requirements. These levels of risk of deficiency are in a population with relatively low BMI, whose diets are also inadequate in fruits and vegetables,” says the Board. A majority of the total calorie intake in rural India comes from cereals and millets.
The following are some food items rich in proteins. It is advisable to add these to everyone's diets, especially to those of children: Nuts, Oats, Poultry, Dairy, Broccoli, Quinoa, Tuna, and Lentils
From an early age, children should learn about nutrition, healthy food choices, and the importance of exercise. This way, you can steer your child clear of junk food and a sedentary lifestyle. Motivate your growing child to eat things that contain enough calcium and protein to meet the Recommended Dietary Allowance.
Let your children understand what happens to the food they eat. When they are able to understand the process properly, motivate them to decide what they would like to eat or drink. When your child is older, encourage them to help you prepare nutritious food with ingredients that include calcium and other minerals.
Dr Ritika Sammadar is a Regional Head – Department of Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics, Max Health Care. She has a Masters in Therapeutic Nutrition from Lady Irwin College. She is also a trained Bariatric Nutritionist from Hermann Memorial Hospital, Houston, USA