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Protein Requirements for Nine-Year-Old
Q: What are the protein requirements for my nine-year-old child? My son eats no red meat and a limited amount of chicken. He drinks milk and eats peanut butter and cheese. Are these adequate protein sources? Are pasta and cereal products good protein sources?
A: Protein is an important part of any child's diet, as it helps the body build tissue and make antibodies that fight infection. Red meat is one example of a high-protein food, but there are varieties of other foods that are also considered good protein sources. The foods you mentioned such as chicken, milk, peanut butter, and cheese are high in protein. Fish, cooked dry beans and peas, whole grains, seeds and nuts, yogurt, and eggs are also good sources. Pasta and cereals do not have much protein, but whole grain versions of these foods, such as whole-wheat pasta or oatmeal, can help supply adequate protein.
Since protein can be found in a variety of foods, it makes it easy to meet the recommended daily allowance in the diet. However, if your son does not eat meat frequently enough he runs the risk of becoming iron deficient. Red meats are particularly good sources of iron, as the body most easily absorbs iron from animal products. But red meats are not the only source. Beans, nuts, and dried fruits are also good sources; other high-iron foods include iron-fortified cereals, whole grains (oatmeal, bran flakes), leafy green vegetables, eggs, and peanuts.
Children under 10 years of age are recommended to receive 10-12 milligrams of iron each day. Once your son is older than 10, his iron requirement increases to 15 milligrams per day. Iron deficiency can cause fatigue, irritability, headaches, and lack of energy, so it is important to add other foods high in iron to his diet.
In addition to protein and iron, be sure your son is getting a balanced diet. This includes all of the foods groups: three to five servings of both fruits and vegetables; five to six servings of bread, cereal, or pasta; two to three servings of dairy; and small amounts of fats, oils, and sweets each day. Overall, a healthy diet is one that is low in sugar and fats and includes a variety of foods from each of the five food groups.
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Henry Bernstein, M.D., is currently the associate chief of the Division of General Pediatrics and director of Primary Care at Children's Hospital, Boston. He also has an academic appointment at Harvard Medical School.