Plant-based protein. Protein is critical for growth, development, and health. Understanding what protein does and best plant sources of protein can help make sure everyone in your family is meeting their protein needs.
Protein is one of the most frequently talked about nutrients in Western culture.
And while it’s certainly an important part of your family’s diet, it’s easy to get enough of it – even on a predominantly plant-based diet. In fact, most of us eat more protein than we need.
So what is protein and how much do you need? What are the best plant sources of protein for your children? We’re covering all of these questions and more in this post.
What is protein?
Protein is a component of every cell in your body, including your nails and hair.
It’s used to build and repair muscles and tissues, as well as to make enzymes and hormones, and as a building block of bones, cartilage, skin, and blood.
So not surprisingly, we need protein to survive and grow properly. How much? As it turns out, not as much as you might think.
How much protein do you need?
While much of Western culture loves to obsess over getting “enough” protein, the truth is that in our protein-focused world, it’s very, very unlikely to become protein deficient.
The DRI (Dietary Reference Intake) is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or 0.36 grams per pound.
Even at a fairly conservative number, this equates to about 56 grams of protein per day for the average adult man, and 46 grams for the average adult woman.
A little more is needed for active lifestyles or someone with a wound that needs healing.
If you were to add up how much protein you eat in a day, I would bet that you get almost double the amount you actually need.
As for babies and young kids, the DRI for protein are as follows:
- 0-6 months: 9 grams/day
- 6-12 months: 11 grams/day
- 1-3 years: 13 grams/day
- 4-8 years: 19 grams/day
- 9-13 years: 34 grams/day
It’s important to stay within general protein guidelines.
Eating too much seems to promote higher rates of both disease and aging, especially when it comes from animal vs. plant sources.
3 Tips for Meeting Baby’s Protein Needs
While most people are aware of animal-derived sources of protein (e.g., milk, fish, eggs, dairy), there may be more questions about meeting baby’s needs on a plant-based diet.
Here are a few tips to help make sure babies and younger kids gets all of the protein they need.
1. Offer protein-rich plant foods regularly.
As we always say, nutrition is a long game.
This means that kids aren’t always going to be keen to scarf down – or even try – every food offered to them.
Incorporating protein foods into all of the meals and snacks you offer your child is the best way to make sure protein is always available.
Some great plant based protein sources include:
- Whole soy foods, like tofu, tempeh, and edamame
- Legumes, including beans, peas, and lentils
- Nuts, seeds, and their butters
- Veggie burgers and seitan
- Whole grains, like quinoa, whole wheat pasta, and oatmeal
2. Offer lysine-containing foods regularly.
Lysine is an essential amino acid. This means that your body cannot make it on its own, and you therefore have to get it from your diet.
The body uses amino acids to build protein and perform numerous other functions for life.
But lysine tends to be limited on a primarily plant-based diet.
This just means that it’s important to be aware of lysine-containing plant foods and include them throughout the day.
Good plant sources of lysine include soy, seitan, quinoa, pistachios, beans and legumes or pumpkin seeds.
3. Track protein intake if needed.
Odds are good that your baby is getting enough protein, as long as it’s being offered.
That being said, if you’re concerned about the possibility, we recommend using a simple nutrition tracker for a couple of days.
Using these tools, you can easily plug in what your baby eats and it will tell you his protein intake.
From here, you can determine where protein offerings may need to be adjusted.
Plant-based protein is easier to find than you may think. Even though we have a cultural obsession with protein, it turns out that it’s not hard to get enough to meet protein needs. The best plant sources of protein are foods you can easily incorporate into everyday meals and snacks.
Chime In: What plant-based protein sources does your babe like to eat?
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