Proteins play an important role in growth and development of children. They are responsible for maintaining cell structure, function, and building the body’s tissues and organs. Since, body growth and development are rapid during the childhood stage, children need adequate supply of proteins during mid-childhood and adolescence.

 

In addition, it is also related to body composition in children. A recent study published in the International Journal of Obesity (2018) analyzes the possible relationship between protein intake (both, animal and plant-based) and body composition in children aged 8-10 years.

The study also made an important point about the type of protein most suited for children. It highlighted that plant-based proteins are more beneficial for children in maintaining a healthy weight.

“Both plant and animal were associated with a higher FFMI (fat-free mass index), but the association was stronger for protein from plant sources,” the researchers write. The study is significant in it that dietary habits in childhood and adolescence are related to one’s overall health and well-being in later life.

Thus, the quantity and quality of protein intake during childhood affects BMI and body fat percentage (BF%) subsequently in life hence optimal nutrition in children (including a balance in animal and plant protein intake) is important for maintaining healthy growth and weight.

It is particularly important in the current scenario when child obesity is on the rise in the country. According to the findings of a research that were published in The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), in 2015, India was home to 14.4 million children with excess weight, the second-highest in the world after China. Another recent study published in January 2018 suggests an incidence of 5.74 to 8.82 percent of obesity among Indian school children.

Some past studies present similar benefits for adults as well. A research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests the beneficial effects of protein from plant-based foods in maintaining healthy muscle mass and strength in middle-aged and older adults. Plant-based protein sources, as the study highlights, help build muscle in people aged 40 years or more, who start to lose muscle mass and strength. Furthermore, the consumption of plant-based proteins is associated with risk reduction of cardiovascular diseases (CVD).

I recommend a rich protein source with benefits including weight-loss and healthy heart health. And you can also look for potent plant-based proteins for meeting requirement as they match animal proteins in protein content and quality, minus the possible side-effects.

While these studies establish a possible association between protein intake and healthy weight, adequate protein supply is essential in childhood for growth and development and maintaining normal body functions.

The National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) also recommends “more proteins” for children. Furthermore, it advises a combination of millets, cereals and pulses for meeting the daily requirement of amino acids. The Recommended Dietary Allowances for protein between 7 and 9 years is 29.5 gram per day (for average body weight of 25.1 kg), as suggested by the NIN.

Since children are generally fussy eaters, parents can also ask their doctor about protein supplementation, especially if children’s daily protein requirement is not met through regular diet. Therefore, I advise parents to opt for protein supplements for their children if they are not getting adequate proteins from their diet. However, it is important to seek expert advice on protein supplementation for children.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Dt. Ritika Samaddar, Regional Head – Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics,

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Max Health Care