As a parent, you are constantly thinking about the wellbeing of your little ones and take every step to ensure your child gets the best start in life. Be it education or health - everything that encompasses the foundation for a good beginning has to be considered, evaluated and taken care of in a holistic manner. Naturally then, ensuring the right nutrition, with protein as a prime component in it, comes on the top of every mother’s priority list.
What is Protein and Why Does Your Baby Need It?
Protein is a macronutrient that is essential for a wholesome and proper physical as well as cognitive growth/development for your baby. It is an important structural component of muscle tissue and helps in the repair, increase and maintenance of muscle mass. Research has shown that babies who do have adequate intake of the nutrient in their diets, can experience problems ranging from malnutrition, stunted growth, irreversible mental/physical damage, fatigue etc. to name a few.
Let’s talk a bit about the science behind your baby’s need for this building block of growth - Dietary nutrients are generally absorbed and digested into amino acids that are then used in the making of body proteins. This helps in the growth and maintenance of your baby’s bones, muscles, skin, blood, organs etc. Out of the 22 amino acids that a human body requires for optimum functioning, your little one can make 13, thus needing the remaining 9 to come from other nutrition-rich foods like, breast milk, cereals, formula, dairy, beans, meat, eggs etc.
Thus, especially due to the demand for growth and development, it is particularly important for your precious little angel to get an adequate amount of the protein in their diet.
Essential Requirements for your Baby
For infants, protein is quite essential, as the body-weight of a baby tends to double by the time they hit 6 months. Protein in milk, be it from breast milk or formula milk, supplies the adequate amount of the nutrient needed until then (4-6 months roughly). Post 6 - 8 months, nutrition dense solid foods should start supplementing the breast milk for your little one. Foods like mashed beans, cottage cheese, yoghurt, mashed eggs, maybe a little bit of chopped and strained meat, can augment your baby’s diet.
Once your little one reaches the 10th-12th month mark, they can eat similar foods as the rest of the family, provided that they are soft and in small pieces. It is imperative that your baby gets this protein every day, as their body doesn’t store the nutrient in the same manner as it does fats and carbohydrates.
As your baby hits the 1-year mark, you will see a rapid increase in their growth and development. Protein, here, becomes really important for toddlers because walking and moving means that muscles require power, which can only be supplied through dietary intake. Apart from this, since this is the time that speech and cognition start increasing, the brain cells, thus, need nutrients that help in learning speech, as well as language skills. A healthy 1-3-year-old generally needs almost a gram of protein per kg of their weight daily, that means a healthy average sized toddler should get 14-16 gms a day in their diet.
The Amazing Benefits for Babies:
Here are a few fun facts about protein and the benefits of a nutrient-rich diet for your baby:
Building Muscles: Often called the building block of life, it helps in the building, maintenance and replacement of tissues in the body. Apart from this, it also assists in maintaining your baby’s immune system, as well as, all the organs in their body.
Cell Growth: It is really essential for cellular growth. In fact, it helps in replenishing blood, healing wounds and also helps in the growth of your baby’s hair, nails etc.
Healthy Metabolism: Metabolism is the process through which the body breaks down the food that we eat and converts into energy that is so essential for our bodies. For babies, protein, in the form of hormones and enzymes helps in keeping the metabolic process of your little one’s body healthy and give them the bundle of energy that is needed to keep they active and healthy.
Boosting the Immune System: Babies are quite prone to bacteria and infections due to their fragile immune systems. A nutrient-rich diet ensures that their body’s immune system is ready to fight illnesses, by producing antibodies that help in keeping the immune system healthy.
Providing Calories: Protein does wonders for your baby’s body when sufficient carbohydrate is not available, as the body then tends to use the nutrient, present in the body, to get calories which provide energy to your baby’s body. Generally, 5-20% of your baby’s daily calories need should come from nutrient-dense sources to keep them healthy.
Producing Haemoglobin: Everyone knows how essential oxygen is for our bodies and for oxygen to travel to all parts of the body, the body needs haemoglobin. Protein, here again, comes to the rescue, as it assists in the production of haemoglobin that helps your baby’s body function at its optimum best.
Choosing the Right Kind of Nutrient-Source:
Generally, protein that is sourced from animals, like protein in milk, meat, eggs etc. is considered to be a complete source of the nutrient, since it has all the essential amino acids in it. Mostly vegetable sources are considered to be incomplete in that aspect, as they tend to lack one or the other essential amino acid. To balance this out, especially if you consume a vegetarian diet, it is advisable to have a combination of nutrition-rich vegetarian variants.
Varied foods have varying amounts of protein in them for example, a cup of milk has about 8 gms of protein in it while a cup of beans has 16 gms. You can make combinations of foods so that your toddler gets a complete set of nutrients that can provide all the essential amino acids that we mentioned earlier, that is so essential for your baby’s well-being.
An essential trait that can be inculcated early on, is to make your baby eat everything so that they do not grow up to become fussy-eaters. They should learn how to eat all kinds of food, in order to stay healthy and happy. As parents, we can serve as role models to this end and make sure that all kinds of food are served at the family dining table. This will really help your baby to grow up to be a healthy eater.
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