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Protein Deficiency: Symptoms and Protein-Rich Foods to Fix the Problem

kid eating healthy proteins

Parents must provide their children with a healthy balanced diet for their growth and development. And a large part of that diet is composed of protein. Proteins are vital for your child's growth and development and contribute to many bodily functions.

Lack of enough protein in your child's body can have severe side effects, stunting their brain and body development. It can also cause the development of serious ailments, such as marasmus and Kwashiorkor. But before that, your child will display symptoms such as fatigue, slowed growth, and compromised immunity. If your child shows signs of protein deficiency, what can you do to fix it? Read on to find out. 

What Do You Understand by Protein Deficiency?

Protein deficiency occurs when you consume lower protein content than your recommended daily intake, meaning you cannot meet your body's needs. This condition is mainly observed among low-income families as they don't have enough to eat, let alone proteins, but it can be seen among other socio-economic classes as well. 

One of the things you can do to battle protein deficiency is to introduce kid-friendly protein shakes into your child’s diet. But before we dive into all the remedies to this problems, let’s discuss a bit about why it happens and what are its symptoms. 

What Causes Protein Deficiency in Kids?

There are many causes of protein deficiency in kids, with the main one being:

  • Insufficient Protein in the Diet

Your child can have protein deficiency if they do not consume protein-rich foods. Most kids who suffer from this deficiency are due to unhealthy dietary choices or lack of enough food, making proteins a luxury. Severe protein deficiency can lead to the development of Kwashiorkor, which is prevalent in developing countries.

  • Your Child’s Body Does Not Absorb Protein From the Foods Properly

This condition is known as malabsorption, and it happens due to celiac disease, damage to the pancreas or intestines, or parasitic infections.

  • Liver Damage

The liver produces a protein known as Albumin, which makes up about 60% of the protein in the blood. So if your child's liver is damaged, it will not be able to produce Albumin, thus no sufficient protein.

Protein also prevents fluid build-up in the body, so if it's damaged, there will be fluid build-up, thus no albumin production.

  • Kidney Damage

Kidneys help in filtering waste from the blood. Therefore, when your child's kidneys have a problem, they do not do their work, meaning that waste materials are left in the blood. So components such as protein leak into the urine, and excess protein in the urine leads to a kidney condition known as proteinuria.

What Are the Symptoms of Protein Deficiency in Kids?

If your child is protein deficient, you will notice these symptoms: 

  • Increased Chances of Bone or Joint Fractures

Proteins help in the development and strengthening of your joints and muscles. A lack of sufficient proteins means that your child's bones and joints become or remain weak, thereby increasing the risk of fractures from falling.

  • Hunger

Children who eat enough protein feel full for a long time, even after playing for a long time. However, if they don't consume enough protein, they will keep feeling underfed most of the time and try to supplement their body's need for food with other junk food that is high in calories. This will probably result in them being overweight.

  • Weakness and Fatigue

Protein helps produce the much-needed energy for your child's high activity levels. And a lack of means that your child will have less strength to play. And that most children with protein deficiency are weak, and whenever they try playing with their friends, they get tired quickly.

  • Fatty Liver

A lack of enough proteins in the body leads to fatty liver, which is the accumulation of fats in the liver. And if left untreated, it causes scarring, inflammation, and eventually liver failure. This is also common in people who consume alcohol or are obese.

  • Decreased Muscle Development

Proteins help in muscle growth and development. When it's in short supply, your child's body utilizes the protein stored in the skeletal muscle to help in more essential bodily functions. As a result, your child's muscles start weakening. And that's why you can observe sluggish movements.

  • Lower Immunity

Proteins help boost the immune system. And lack of sufficient proteins in the body compromises your child's immunity, meaning their body's ability to fight infections is lowered. Therefore, whenever there is an outbreak, your child will probably be among the most vulnerable to the disease. 

And in the case of a wound, you will notice that it takes longer for the wounds to heal. A lack of sufficient proteins impairs your body's ability to regenerate and repair cells that keep the body healthy.

  • Skin, Hair, and Nail Issues

Protein is crucial to your skin, hair, and nails health. Lack of sufficient protein in your body will result in brittle nails, blotches of redness on your skin, and the color of your hair starts fading.

  • Edema

A severe lack of proteins in the body leads to swelling in your skin. Edema is a symptom of Kwashiorkor. The liver produces a protein known as Serum Albumin. This protein is transported throughout the body in the blood, and its insufficiency leads to the development of Kwashiorkor.

Albumin's primary function in the body is to prevent fluid build-up in the tissues, and a lack of means of fluids remains in the body, leading to swellings on the skin.

It also leads to a build-up of fluids in the abdominal cavity, which is why most children with Kwashiorkor have distended/bloated stomachs.

How to Deal With Protein Deficiency in Kids?

The most efficient way to deal with protein deficiency is to feed your kids foods high in protein. However, if you don’t want your kids to eat meat or they just can’t eat meat for some reason, you must devise a non-meat diet high in proteins.

Non-meat Foods Rich in Proteins

If your kids do not eat meat, you can creatively incorporate foods in a vegetarian diet rich in proteins. These foods include:

  • Tofu.

  • Beans and legumes.

  • Soy milk.

  • Edamame.

  • Dairy products, including milk, cheese, and yogurt.

  • Eggs.

  • Nuts, including almonds, cashews, walnuts, pistachios, and peanuts. You can also opt for nut butter.

  • Vegetables include broccoli, spinach, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, artichokes, and sweet potatoes. We all know kids do not love vegetables, so you must be creative when including them in your meals.

  • Grains. These include quinoa, whole wheat bread, oats, buckwheat for pancakes, sorghum for porridge, and couscous.

  • Seeds. These include pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, flax seeds, and sesame seeds. If you want to have these high-protein seeds in your child's diet, you can blend them into juices.

For those kids who love meat, include these in their diet:

  • Beef

  • Poultry

  • Fish include salmon, cod, and tuna. Fish helps provide kids with a source of omega-3 fatty acids and proteins. Fish also benefits a child's overall growth and development; pediatricians recommend feeding it to kids as young as six months. And since most can't incorporate fish in their meals, they opt for fish oil.

How Many Grams of Proteins Do Kids Need?

Your children's protein needs are determined by age, weight, and activity level. For instance, kids between the ages of 2 and 3 need between 2 to 4 ounces of protein daily, while kids aged 4 to 8 require 3 to 3.5 ounces daily. And those between the ages of 9 and 13 need about 34 grams of protein daily.

However, adolescent protein needs differ from gender to gender. Females need 46 grams, and males need 52 grams as they require more for muscle development, and their activity level is also high.

Is it Okay to Feed Children Protein Supplements?

As long as you provide your child with a well-balanced diet consisting of healthy snacks and meals, they will meet their daily recommended protein intake. However, if you feel or notice signs of protein deficiency, consult your child's pediatrician before feeding protein supplements. This is because there are many brands, and if you are not knowledgeable, you might end up providing them with what's meant for adults, so have your doctor recommend the best protein supplement based on your child's age and needs. 

Diseases Caused by Severe Protein Deficiency in Kids

Excessive lack of protein can have severe consequences for kids and lead to the following conditions.

  • Kwashiorkor

Kwashiorkor is the most prevalent protein deficiency disease affecting children, especially those from low-income countries or families. A distended or bloated stomach is a common manifestation of this condition. It is caused mainly by a severe lack of protein in a child's diet. And children with Kwashiorkor have a thin form, except for their belly, ankles, and feet which are usually swollen due to fluid build-up.

Parents can treat Kwashiorkor by feeding their children a high-protein diet and including extra calories in their diet. However, inaction or delayed treatment can lead to death.

  • Marasmus

This is another disease caused by insufficient proteins in the body. It is primarily observed in children with severe deficiency of all nutrients, including vitamins, carbs, minerals, and calories.

Like Kwashiorkor, Marasmus is prevalent in low-income countries or families, as people have limited access to food. When left untreated for an extended period, it can lead to stunted growth, diarrhea, weight loss, dry skin and eyes, and low immunity.

Marasmus can also affect infants if you are not feeding them a nutritious diet.

Final Thoughts

Proteins are crucial for your child's mind and body development. Parents should always aim to provide their kids with a healthy and well-balanced diet that includes protein-rich foods. 

If you notice that your child shows symptoms of protein deficiency, feed them with the foods we have recommended in this article or visit your pediatrician for a protein supplement recommendation. Whatever you do, make sure that you don’t ignore or delay paying attention to the problems as the consequences of that can be disastrous.