Protein Excess In Pediatric Age

Protein is an essential nutrient, but excess protein in children’s diets can have major risks. Let’s see what they are. Fundamental to all ages, but especially in children, proteins with their plastic function represent the “building blocks” needed to build new tissues and repair damaged ones. Therefore, they have an extremely important function. Not everyone knows that an excess of protein in children causes kidney overload and predisposes them to obesity and other diseases.

What Are Proteins, And What Are They For?

Protein is one of the three essential macronutrients that our body needs to survive in nutritional terms. Unlike other macronutrients and micronutrients, the body cannot store protein, which is why you have to get it through food daily. Proteins are ubiquitous in our body and are used for practically every activity carried out within it; they are involved in the transport of oxygen throughout the organism, build and repair tissues, and participate in the synthesis of enzymes, hormones, and other chemical compounds.

Where Are Proteins Found?

Foods rich in proteins are meat, fish, eggs, milk and cheese. However, alongside the proteins of animal origin, vegetable origin proteins are present in legumes, cereals, nuts, seeds, and soy products. But beware, not all proteins are the same. Proteins of animal origin are defined as complete: they contain all the essential AAs in balanced quantities and ratios. Vegetable proteins are defined as incomplete: since they do not contain all the essential AAs. 

These deficiencies can be overcome simply by using appropriate food associations, a classic example being the association between cereals and legumes. It is strongly recommended to consume only one source of protein at each meal, trying not to combine them in the same meal. This is particularly important in children’s nutrition as the combination of different protein sources alters the trace elements’ bioavailability.

In a balanced food plan, the protein sources should be 50% of animal origin and 50% of plant origin. Generally speaking, a meal plan for a child should follow this breakdown of protein sources: 4/5 servings of legumes, 3/4 of fish, 1 egg per week, 1 serving of red meat, 2 servings of white meat, 2 servings of cheese.

Proteins And Children

The protein requirement of a child is not as high as we think. Moreover, in recent years, the estimates have been re-evaluated and reduced. Excess protein in the diet is a common problem at all ages, but it affects children between one and three years old. Starting from the second semester, coinciding with weaning, more than 50% of babies eat more protein than they should. Between twelve months and three years of life, it is estimated that all children consume an amount of protein over the recommendations.

The recommended protein requirement for a baby between 6 and 12 months is 11 g of protein. The protein requirement for a child between 1-3 years is 14 g. Analyzing proteins on a typical day of a child:

  1. Morning: milk 6 g of protein on 200 ml
  2. Lunch: a complete dish with proteins: 6 g per jar of baby food or 20 g of fresh meat/fish
  3. Snack: yoghurt in the afternoon 3 g of protein,
  4. Dinner: a complete dish with 3 g per jar or 20 g of fresh product.

If we add the classic sprinkling of Parmesan, which is usually added to every dish, we note that the total proteins will be 18 g against the 14 g required. 

Milk’s Proteins

The main problem comes from milk. Milk is a superfood in the pediatric age, taken in adequate quantities. It alone covers a large part of the protein requirement: from 100% at six months to about 20-80% at three years, depending on the type and quantity of milk. To avoid exceeding the baby’s protein needs, it is recommended to use, where breastfeeding is not possible, milk formulas with a protein content more similar to that of breast milk and not cow’s milk. Analyzing the different types of milk from a protein point of view:

  1. In breast milk, we find 0.9 grams of protein per 100 ml
  2. In milk, 1.9 grams of protein grows per 100 ml
  3. In cow’s milk, 3.3 grams per 100 ml.

We note a huge difference between cow’s milk and mother’s milk. The protein content has almost tripled. For this reason, cow’s milk should always be avoided in the first year of life and possibly also in the second. Furthermore, cow’s milk has less iron, but above all, it is less bioavailable than that present in breast milk or baby milk and this risks leading to a deficit.

Problems Arising From Protein Excess

The consequences deriving from excessive protein intake are an increase in the work of the kidneys with consequent overload and a greater risk of developing obesity, type 2 diabetes and inflammatory states in response to the stimulus to secrete hormones such as insulin and Igf1. These hormones stimulate the deposition of new tissue and therefore stimulate the growth of both height and weight of children, but also the differentiation and maturation of adipocytes through the direct induction of cell multiplication and the inhibition of the feedback of the lipolytic effect of the growth hormone predisposing the child to obesity. 

Therefore, it is important to reduce the intake of proteins in children, both of animal origin and vegetable origin. However, let’s not forget that they contribute to the maintenance of a good state of health and are fundamental in the growth process. Therefore, attention must be paid to the frequency of rotation of protein sources and the consumption of balanced portions to preserve and promote health—some children.


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