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Protein for Kids – Why Proteins are Crucial for your Child’s Growth

28 January 2022

Ever played with Legos? Or bought your kids any Lego set? Think of these building blocks as proteins that make up the human body, and think of the wheels as carbohydrates, that come along with all the blocks in the Lego set. The wheels help you move, but they do not build structures; you can only build with blocks aka proteins aka amino acids.

Proteins are found in each and every tissue of our bodies including muscles, bones, skin and hair. Even the hormones that regulate all our bodily functions are made up these amino acids, that combined together are called Protein.

We need about 20 of these amino acids, of which our bodies can synthesize 11 (when provided with the right nutrition), while 9 of the remaining amino acids, called essential amino acids need to be consumed in the form of food daily. The key thing to note here is that our bodies don’t store amino acids so it needs to make them from scratch every time and we must focus on including proteins in our diet every single day. This requirement varies at different stages of our life and also during different situations of our lives; a deficiency of which can cause growth defects, weak muscles, reduced immunity, and an inefficient heart and respiratory system.

The second most important thing to note is that it not just the quantity, but the quality of the source of your protein. There is an abundance of both – plant and animal sources of protein, all we need to do is make sure that our diets must be rich in all essential amino acids.

Importance of Protein in the Body

At its absolute primary level the function of proteins in the body is to keep up with the wear and tear by building new cells – from bones to muscles to skin and even our brain. It acts as a catalyst for metabolic reactions in our bodies providing structure to tissues and organs. 

In addition to its essential functions of growth and maintenance, and biochemical reactions driving metabolism, proteins act as messengers in their capacity as hormones triggering communications from one organ to another, in between cells. While travelling through our blood.

In an absence of proteins we would all be a sack of bones, muscles and organs (assuming for a second that the muscles, bones and organs already exist, although that is not possible either without proteins) with basically no structure at all. What keeps us upright or allows us to move are connective tissues and all, I mean ALL connective tissues, for eg – keratin, collagen, elastic which make up our tendons, ,ligaments and skin are all made up of proteins. And that is why the first issues you star observing, with a protein deficient diet are hair fall, dull skin, joint pains and weak muscles. Now imagine how important it is for growing children, because what they eat now is setting them up for the rest of their lives.

You must have heard about pH balance; like the pH of our stomach is 2 while that of our blood is 7.4. What do you think keeps it at these specific values? Why doesn’t the pH vary for different people with different lifestyles? Because these levels are important for our survival and proteins play a crucial role in regulating them in our bodily fluids.

And finally, the buzzword these days – Immunity! It is proteins which help us form antibodies that helps fight viruses, bacteria and other infections. With a lack of proteins, effective antibodies aren’t formed in the cells, allowing the viruses and bacteria to multiply, making us sicker and compromising our immune system every passing day.

But how much protein do our children need?

ICMR, NIN in 2020 recommends a daily allowance of 33gm per day for a girl child between 10-12 years of age.

Proteins for the Indian Diet

Proteins are abundant in a variety of food sources. They aren’t like vitamins and minerals that are rare to come by and concentrated to specific foods only. Then where are we going wrong really!!!

Basically, not many of us focus on A) the variety of protein, remember we need 9 different kinds of them in our food and B) the quality of the protein. And, I like to add a third point as well which is C) Proportion of proteins in our meals.

I could list down, both plant-based and animal-derived, sources of proteins here – pulses, legumes, beans, nuts, seeds, dairy, eggs, meat, fish etc., but you already know that and already eat and give your children most of it, so I’m not adding anything new with this list. Let’s take it to the next step and talk about real and implementable steps towards improving the protein consumption in your child’s diet, taking one point at a time –

  1. Variety This point is especially important for vegans and vegetarians as meat and fish are still complete proteins and contain all 9 essential amino acids however, plant-based sources of protein are incomplete sources of protein and do not fulfill all our amino acid requirements. So start with stocking up a large variety of legumes, beans, grains and pulses and rotate them in your meals.
  2. Quality Not all protein sources are created equal, even the natural and organic ones. First step is to choose a clean protein source, one that is not laden with antibiotics, hormones, pesticides and other chemicals. And secondly, by quality I am referring to the composition of amino acids in the protein source, its digestibility of bio-availability (how much of it do we actually absorb). Studies have found that animal sources of proteins, especially eggs and milk have the highest digestibility and biological value, while, peanuts and wheat gluten have one of the lowest digestibility. 
  3. Proportions in my experience as a nutritionist the most common concern that I see with protein consumption is that people “feel” that they are having enough protein which they actually aren’t. Again, for vegans it is important to know that the plant-based sources of proteins are not a 100% protein. Most pulses, legumes and beans are at max a 30% protein and the rest is carbs. For non-vegetarians, animal-sources of proteins have quite a high percentage of saturated fats in it. Just to put it in a single sentence a 100gm of Moong bean is not a 100gm of protein, it is 24gm; a 100gm of chicken is not a 100gm of protein, it is about 30gm, depending on the part of the chicken you are eating.

So how should a typical day’s meal look like to get 33gms of protein –

Remember, we are essentially made up of proteins! Not fats, not carbohydrates.

Karnica Singh Nandal
Integrative Nutrition Health Coach & Yoga Instructor
Institute for Integrative Nutrition, NY
The Yoga Institute, 500hr TTC, Mumbai
Your cliché Engineer with an MBA degree, a corporate professional turned wellness enthusiast – I empower people to take responsibility for their own health and achievement of their personal wellness goals by educating, motivating, inspiring, and guiding towards long lasting lifestyle changes. 



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