Why is it needed?
Our bodies need protein to grow, build and repair cells, fight infections and allow our systems to function smoothly. Proteins are made from chains of amino acids. Our bodies can make some amino acids but need a dietary source of the others. These are known as ‘essential’ amino acids and there are 9 of them. In children, a further set of amino acids are needed (called ‘conditionally essential’) because children are unable to make enough to meet their nutritional requirements.
How much is needed?
For children aged between 1 and 3 years, 1.1 gram is needed per kg of body weight, per day (based on Recommended Daily Allowance). So, for example, if you had a child that weighed around 10kg then you would hope that they would eat a little over 10grams of protein each day. The translates to 1/2 cup beans (e.g. chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans) or 2 slices of wholewheat bread or 1 cup of milk or 1 cup of quinoa.
Different foods contain different amino acids and varying amounts of protein. So called ‘complete’ or ‘high quality’ protein sources include all 9 essential amino acids, in correct proportions. However, there is no need to focus on ‘complete proteins’. A varied vegetarian or vegan diet will ensure that our protein requirements are met. Different proteins tend to complement one another so the amino acids found in one type of food will make up for the limitations of another.
- Legumes ‘protein power-houses’: lentils, chickpeas, pinto beans, edamame (whole, cooked soybeans), winged beans
- Nuts: almonds, peanuts, cashews, walnuts, pistachios,
- Seeds: pumpkin, squash,
- Wholegrains: quinoa
- Soy: tempeh, tofu
- Dairy products
- Nutritional yeast flakes
This list is not comprehensive. ‘Complete’ proteins are in italics.
Vesanto, M et al (2003) The new becoming vegetarian : the essential guide to a healthy vegetarian diet (Summertown, Tenn. : Healthy Living Publications)