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do kids really need to eat protein enriched snacks we asked dietitians
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Do kids really need to eat protein-enriched snacks? We asked dietitians

Protein is an important part of a child’s diet, so it’s understandable parents may be tempted by products marketed as having added protein. Some muesli bars, for example, are labelled “protein bars” and contain products such as soy protein or milk powder. But do kids need this “extra” protein? And are protein-infused foods or supplements like powders the best way to get it? Most Aussie kids already get enough protein Evangeline Mantzioris is the program director of the nutrition and food sciences degree at the University of South Australia. She says most healthy Australian kids are getting more protein than they need. For example, ABS data shows boys aged nine to 13, who need 40 grams a day of protein, are consuming 86 grams per day. For girls in the same age group, who need 35 grams, it’s 73 grams. “Most healthy children will be getting enough protein in their diet and not needing extra sources,” says Dr Mantzioris, who is also an accredited practising dietitian. She says sick children, like those with chronic conditions, may not be getting the protein they need, but parents would likely be working with medical professionals to address this. “If you do have a child like that, you won’t be guided by what marketing companies tell you.” Watch for displacement of other vital foods Because the data shows most children are eating more protein than they need, you might be wondering if that’s a problem. Accredited practising dietitian Clare Dix, who is the principal project officer at the School of Human Movement and Nutrition Sciences at the University of Queensland, says too much protein can displace other vital foods. “Vegetable and fruit intake is quite poor in children — and it’s very easy to give them more of those meats and dairy foods, which are highly palatable and yummy due to the salt and sugar we add to protein food,” Dr Dix says. “They will eat them over the veggies … and unfortunately, you’re not getting that balance.” While not necessarily harmful on their own, Dr Dix warns protein-infused snacks could cause kids to “fill up” and miss out on other nutrient-rich foods. In rare cases, extra protein may be beneficial So is it ever necessary to reach for protein-infused foods or supplements aimed at healthy children? Both of our experts agreed there may be some circumstances where they could be of short-term help. For example, with picky eaters or children with sensory processing issues. “There might be reasons like they can’t eat easily, like physical disabilities,” says Dr Dix. “But families would be interacting with health professionals who would be guiding them on what to use.” Dr Mantzioris says she would always try to find an alternative to supplementing protein first, adding the best way to get protein is from whole food sources. “Maybe they don’t like red meat because it’s too chewy, so try them on chicken or fish,” she says. “Maybe they don’t like fish with bones in it, but they might like eating sushi rolls.” This is general information only. For detailed personal advice, you should see a qualified practitioner who knows your child’s history.

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