Protein for growth

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Protein for growth

Nutrition needs to be age-appropriate for children to grow up in a healthy manner. It is important for parents to understand the requirements of the child at different stages of their development. Right nutrition plays a critical role in ensuring optimal growth of the children during growth spurts.

A growth spurt is a period when there is a rapid increase in the height and weight of a child. The first growth spurt occurs between the birth and the twelfth month of life. During this period, the child triples his or her birth weight and grows taller by 50%. Adolescence, a transitional phase between childhood and adulthood, brings about the second growth spurt. Besides an increase in height and weight, other changes including cognitive development as well as psychological and sexual maturity occur during this period. While the onset of the second growth spurt begins around the age of 10 in girls, in boys it starts around 12.

The second growth spurt marks the onset of puberty, and is characterised by biological changes including sexual maturation, significant growth in the skeletal mass and marked alterations in the body composition. Around 50% of adult weight and muscle mass is attained during adolescence. Interestingly, a child completes 80% of his or her overall growth between 10 and 15 years of age.

Optimal nutrition becomes critical for achieving the full growth potential of the child, especially during this period. An incomplete or imbalanced diet could result in poor growth. Protein, calcium, iron and certain vitamins are indispensable nutrients needed in this period.

Protein power

Protein requirement doubles by the time the child reaches 10 years of age. This requirement is often unmet with the regular diet. In some cases, even when the requirements are met, the quality of proteins may not be up to mark. For appropriate growth, both quality and quantity of protein consumed is extremely important.

Studies suggest that there is an association between protein intake, growth and IGF 1 hormone, which helps in building up of bones and in the overall growth of the child. Dietary protein deficiency leads to a decrease in IGF 1 concentration which may impact growth.

A child’s diet must be enriched with adequate proteins, along with other nutrients such as calcium, iron, and vitamins A, D and C to ensure healthy growth. Often when it comes to proteins, parents may need to go that extra mile. It is prudent to choose food sources that contain all nine essential amino acids, often referred to as good quality protein, to improve the overall protein quality in the diet. Milk and milk products, egg, soy protein and lean meats are some great natural and good quality sources of protein. Parents need to ascertain that their children get the right nutrition, especially during stages of growth, for optimal development leading to a healthier adulthood.

(The author is head, Health & Nutrition Science, Danone India)

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