In an effort to help parents feed their children healthy and nutritiously balanced meals, the U.S. Department of Agriculture created the “MyPlate” nutrition icon. The icon divides a typical dinner plate into four sections for grains, proteins, vegetables and fruits. The USDA recommends that just less than one-quarter of a child’s meal come from protein. Although protein is essential for proper growth and functioning, eating too much protein can be dangerous.
Every cell, tissue and organ in the body contains proteins that are constantly being broken down, removed and replaced. Made up of amino acids, proteins are the foundation of nearly every structure inside the body. They are particularly important for maintaining muscle mass, heart health, respiratory function and a healthy immune system.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that roughly 10 to 35 percent of an adult or child’s daily calories come from protein. So, if your child consumes 2,000 calories per day, 200 to 700 of those calories should come from protein. More specifically, children ages 1 to 3 require 13 g of protein per day, while children ages 4 to 8 need 19 g of protein every day. The recommended protein intake increases dramatically for kids age 9 and older. For kids age 9 to 13, the daily protein intake should be roughly 34 g. From ages 14 to 18, females need 46 g of protein and males need 52 g of protein every day.
Excess Protein Dangers
Although protein is essential for proper body functioning, eating too much protein can actually harm the body. Excess protein intake can lead to dehydration, loss of calcium and kidney dysfunction. Foods high in protein also contain a high amount of nitrogen. When this nitrogen is consumed, the kidneys must work harder to excrete the excess nitrogen from the body through urine. In some cases, this increased workload can place stress on the kidneys, causing them to dysfunction. An excess protein intake also triggers the body to eliminate higher amounts of calcium than usual. As the body’s calcium stores diminish, the bones become weaker and more brittle. The increased protein levels combined with the lowered calcium levels also places the body at risk for the development of kidney stones.
To make sure your child doesn’t get too much protein, it’s important to understand which foods contain protein. Meats, poultry, fish, legumes, tofu and eggs contain a significant amount of protein. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, 6 oz. of steak has roughly 38 g of protein, 6 oz. of salmon has about 34 g of protein and 1 cup of cooked lentils has roughly 18 g of protein. Nuts, seeds and dairy products often provide a moderate amount of protein, while whole grains, some vegetables and some fruits provide a small amount of protein. If you are concerned that your child is getting too much protein, focus on reducing her intake of high-protein sources.