When diets are deficient in any component, macro or micro, supplementation is warranted to avert any physiological imbalance which could have avoidable consequences. This gains more significance in the growing years of a child when his / her physical and mental attributes are determined. Ideally, a growing child’s daily diet should suffice for optimal development but that seldom is the case.
Protein is a macronutrient that is vital for child growth and development. Yet, research amongst American kids suggests that 1 in 7 school aged children do not meet their daily intake goals. This number could be higher for India. Milk, the go-to protein source for children may not always be acceptable. Protein supplementation is now an accepted norm for most pediatricians.
The protein source for supplements which was hitherto confined to whey / casein has now widened to include other sources, especially plant-based proteins. There are a host of plant sources for proteins such as tofu (soya), chia, hemp, rice, peas, chickpeas, lentil and a few more, while formulating a plant protein for kids, a few additional boxes need to be ticked.
*First, is that source a staple for the geography?
Is the child when he turns into an adult going to consume the same? For example, lentil or daal, our subcontinental regular. Any Indian mother would be happy to learn her child is being fed the equivalent of a cup of daal through the supplement.
*Two, the quality of the plant-based protein
How does it compare with whey in terms of its digestibility (PDCAAS score), amino acid profile (is it a complete protein?) and the quantum of BCAA’s. And of course, most importantly, is the total quantum protein delivered in a serve enough to fill the deficit gap?
Children can be fussy eaters and taste is generally the basis of acceptance or rejection of an offering. Plant based sources have distinct odours and aromas (as opposed to whey) which need to be skillfully masked without compromising the overall nutritional value of the formulation. Kids plant proteins even of the highest quality would find scant acceptance even if slightly off-putting, taste wise.
*Four, the other ingredients.
While a whole bunch of micro-nutrients can be added to a formulation of plant protein for kids, they should be relevant for the growth of a child. Vitamins and minerals can and are added to many a formulation child specific ingredients like Taurine and Carnitine would go a long way in adding value.
*Five, a universal serve size.
The protein needs amongst children varies as per age group. For 1-3 years it is 13 gms per day, 4-8 years 19 gms per day and 9-13 years 34 gms per day. The serve size should cater to different age groups with a suggestion to add an extra serve, if need be, as per age.
Suffice to say that formulating a good plant protein for kids is no child’s play. A lot of thought and nutritional planning goes into it as highlighted by the points above but rest assured, they are as effective as any whey-based product.