Many parents have questioned if supplementing their children’s diet with protein powder is good or bad. Generally, kids get the protein needed from a regular balanced diet. However, if your child has a food intolerance or chronic illness, protein supplements may be a useful alternative. But, consuming too much protein can be bad too.
The following explains both the possible benefits and risks associated with giving children protein powder. Also, it will describe the number of protein kids and teens require in a daily diet.
Is Protein Powder Safe For Children?
According to a 2015 review, a lack of beneficial evidence exists for providing protein powder to children. However, most studies on this have only included a few participants and been small test groups.
These studies reviewed the evidence protein supplements have on children living with chronic illnesses, like pediatric cancer and cystic fibrosis. These types of illnesses commonly prevent the adequate nutrition children need because of dietary preventing nutrients from being absorbed.
The results were that providing children with protein powder did not have a significant improvement in nutritional status, weight, or height. However, it should be noted that the findings were not focused on healthy children.
In the United States, protein deficiency is not common. Healthy children often do not need additional protein supplements. Researchers suggest caution in giving protein powders and other supplements to children until a more in-depth study can be done to determine potential effects.
How Much Protein Do Children Require?
The answer to this question varies based on the age, sex, and activity level of the child. According to the Department of Agriculture’s 2015 to 2020 dietary guidelines, the following amounts of protein are required:
- Age 1 to 3 years: 13g
- Age 4 to 8 years: 19g
- Age 9 to 13 years: 34g
- Age 14 to 18 (female): 46g
- Age 14 to 18 (male): 52g
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children who are more active can require higher amounts of calories and slightly higher protein consumption. The best way to determine a child’s protein consumption, look at the nutrient levels.
What To Watch For In Protein Powder
The best sources of protein are whole foods, including eggs, fish, or plant-based options like beans. If your child is not getting the recommended protein from these sources, you may want to speak to a pediatrician or dietitian about supplements.
It is common for a protein powder to be made from dairy or plant sources, such as:
- Pea Protein
- Whey protein (dairy)
- Brown rice protein
However, keep in mind that the FDA does not regulate protein powder. Therefore, they may contain a large variety of other ingredients. These additional ingredients may include nutritious minerals or vitamins but may use less healthy ingredients like sugar.
If you are suggested to provide a protein powder to your child, you want to look for a type that is providing the correct amount of protein for your child, and that is healthy.
Consider a protein powder that based on:
- It does not have high amounts of minerals, vitamins, or other nutrients added
- Does not have added sugars
- Has the least ingredients possible
What Are The Risks Of Protein Powder?
There have not been studies about the risks of providing protein powder to children. Although, a 2013 study on adults discovered health issues associated with consuming too much protein from supplements and food over long periods could result in an increased risk of:
- Liver dysfunction
- Kidney stones
- Bone disorders
- Coronary artery disease
Additionally, the study concluded protein powders could result in adverse effects, including:
- Preventing developmental health in children with eating disorders
- Replacement of whole foods in child’s diet
- Physical side effects, including diarrhea or bloating
Also, too much protein may result in issues with nutrient absorption. Therefore, it is just as important to ensure children are not consuming too much protein.
Additional Protein Sources
The source for protein can come from many places, including:
- Fish also contains high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids
- Meat also contains iron, zinc, vitamin B12
- Certain dairy products, also containing calcium
- Eggs, also containing choline and vitamin D
- Quinoa also containing essential amino acids
- Nut butter containing vitamin E
- Legumes, including peas, beans, and lentils – also high in fiber
- Certain vegetables like broccoli
There are many options for natural protein for parents with children on dietary restrictions or who are simply picky.
Vegan and Vegetarian Sources
If your child is on a vegetarian diet, plant-based proteins include:
- Nut butter and seeds
- Soy milk and tofu
- Peas, lentils, beans
- Wild rice, quinoa, brown rice
Cottage cheese and eggs are other high-protein options.
The dietary options include the same options as vegans above but may be able to consume small amounts of dairy. Soy milk contains a high amount of protein, but other options like almond milk usually don’t.
There are many ways to sneak in protein with picky eaters, including:
- Switching dips with hummus or cottage cheese
- Exchanging pretzels or chips for nut butter or roasted chickpea treats
- Greek yogurt instead of sweet desserts or yogurt
The majority of children in the U.S. will not require a special diet that includes protein powder. Unless your child has a specific dietary need for protein supplements, it is best to ensure they are consuming natural sources such as those mentioned above. Consuming too much protein can cause negative side effects as well.
If you are unsure whether your child needs additional protein in their diet, it is recommended to speak with a doctor. If you are recommended to provide a protein supplement, look for one with limited ingredients that do not contain added sugars.