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Macronutrient 101: Protein



by Shin Jie - 19th Jun 2019

The importance of proper nutrition during early childhood can’t be overstated, but do you know why it is important for your kids to eat the food that contains all the right nutrients? Or how to entice them to eat it?

 

Protein is one of the nutrients your kids need especially when they are growing.

Do you know why?

Firstly, protein helps to build and repair musclesm as our muscles constantly undergo wear and tear. Hence, in order to ensure proper growth development, adequate protein intake is required.

Secondly, kids are more vulnerable than adults to environmental risk causing them to fall sick easily as their immune system is still developing. Antibodies in our body are protein which play a role in our immune system. Therefore, it is important to suffice your kids with adequate protein to protect them against sickness.

Lastly, some of the little minions working in your kids’ body such as haemoglobins (red blood cells) which carry oxygen in the blood are made up of protein. Haemoglobin ensure all parts of the body, especially the brain, gets enough oxygen to function so that their learning experience can be maximized. Yes, the cells in your body needs oxygen too!           

 

                                    

 

Protein is available in a variety of foods and is ample in the Malaysian diet. Protein can be derived from two sources, namely animal and plant products. Food sources like poultry, fish, beef, milk, cheese, yoghurt and eggs are examples of animal-based protein. While legumes, tofu, tempeh, nuts and seeds are example of plant-based protein.

 

 

You might ask, which protein source is better? Protein from plant source or animal source?

Before I answer to your curiosity, let’s learn about how protein is formed. Protein are made of amino acids. Just like your kids’ building blocks or Legos, to build a house you need to stack a few Lego pieces together. Therefore, to produce a protein, many amino acids must link together. These amino acids can be further categorized as essential and non-essential.

Essential amino acids are those which your body is unable to make. This can only be obtained through your diet and there are 9 essential amino acids that your kids need to obtain from their food. While, non-essential amino acids are those which your body is able to make. 

 

Animal-based proteins are referred as “complete protein” as it contains all the essential amino acids. On the other hand, plant-based proteins, not all but some, are referred as “incomplete protein” as it lacks one or more essential amino acids.

With that being said, you might think animal-based protein would be a better choice for my kids since it is a complete protein. But what if we are vegetarian or vegans? Does that mean my kid and I will be deprived of protein? The answer is NO.

If plant-based protein is taken in combination, for an instance consuming beans with grains, nuts or seeds, this will help to compensate the missing essential amino acids ensuring your kids are getting the 9 essential amino acids. Also, do take note that it does not have to be taken in a single meal which means your kid does not have to feel like a puffer fish consuming all the plant-based protein in one sitting along with other food groups. It can be taken throughout the day.

 

 

Despite having all of the essential amino acids, excessive animal-based protein intake such as red meat and full-fat dairy products is not encouraged as it poses a risk towards your kids’ health as it may lead to unhealthy weight gain and increased risk of cardiovascular diseases later in life, due to its high saturated fat content.

In a nutshell, neither the plant nor animal-based proteins are better then the other. As long as it is taken in moderation and in combination with plant-based protein to ensure all of the essential amino acids are obtained - you're good! 

 

 

PROTEIN INTAKE IN MODERATION

Protein requirement depends on growth, food protein quality, health status and the availability of Carbs as an energy source. Moderation is being emphasized on protein intake. But how much is considered as moderate? If taken excessively, similar to Carbs, it will be stored as fat leading to unhealthy weight gain. On the other hand, deficiency results in poor growth and interference of brain development. The table below shows how much exactly your kid should be eating in a day based on serving sizes (box in red). Protein requirement differ by age group as total protein needs increase slightly with age.

 

Examples of 1 serving of:

  1. Egg = 2 whole
  2. Chicken, drumstick = 1 piece
  3. Fish = 1 whole (length of hand-wrist until tip of middle finger)
  4. Tauhu = 2 pieces
  5. Milk = 1 glass (250mL)
  6. Cheese = 1 slice

 

TIPS TO ACHIEVE RECOMMENDED PROTEIN INTAKE

  • Serve protein foods to your child according to the recommended serving size
  • Serve sardine or tuna occasionally as a dish or fillings (e.g. sandwich, pie or bun).
  • Avoid processed fish products such as fish ball, fish nugget and fish cake due to the high content of salt and preservatives.
  • Avoid processed poultry or meat such as chicken ball, meat ball, nugget or burger patties, due to the high content of salt and preservatives.
  • Choose lower fat cooking methods such as poaching, steaming, boiling, braising, grilling or roasting.
  • Use herbs, spices or lime to add flavour in fish, meat and poultry dishes, while reducing the use of salt or sauces (e.g. oyster sauce, fish sauce or tomato sauce).
  • Choose lean cuts of meat or skinless chicken parts.
  • Choose unsweetened and unsalted nuts as well as seeds (e.g. sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds) as snacks [However, be careful of choking!]
  • Avoid sweetened condensed milk and sweetened condensed filled milk as they are not considered as milk.
  • Drink milk as a snack to replace other sweetened beverages.
  • Pack UHT milk for children to consume at school.
  • Chill milk to encourage children to drink milk.

 

 References:

  1. Ministry of Health Malaysia, National Coordinating Committee on Food and Nutrition. Recommended Nutrient Intakes for Malaysia. 2017
  2. Ministry of Health Malaysia, National Coordinating Committee on Food and Nutrition. Malaysia Dietary Guidelines for Children and Adolescents. 2014
  3. Protein Complementation [Internet]. American Society for Nutrition. 2019 [cited 10 June 2019]. Available from: https://nutrition.org/protein-complementation/

 

Article originally written by Shin Jie for Vease Nutrition. 

Article edited by Jowynna Yeo, Founder & Dietitian at Vease Nutrition 



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