I was doing a cooking demonstration recently for a national school, where I taught a group of parents how to feed their kids a varied and nutritious diet. It not only allowed parents to share some of their experiences but also ask a range of questions on what nutrients were important for children. Protein came up.
Protein is one of the most important nutrients for our bodies – every enzyme, cell, muscle and tissue contains protein and it’s needed for the growth, maintenance and repair of these. This is why protein is considered so important for children. Protein is made up of 22 amino acids – 14 amino acids are non essential, meaning that the body can make them, and there are 8 that are essential, meaning that the body must take from food in order to make them.
There are some foods that contain all of the 8 essential amino acids and are called “complete” proteins, animal sources such as meat, dairy products, eggs, fish, shellfish and poultry. However, eating only animal sources of protein can be dangerous due to their levels of saturated fat and low fibre levels.
“Incomplete” proteins are found in vegetable products like fruits, vegetables, beans and lentils, grains and nuts, and have the added bonus of being high in fibre and some essential fatty acids. You can also mix these in the same meal to make the meal complete.
Variety is the most important thing. This recipe below shows how easy it is to add beans (and therefore protein) to your favourite soup. I’m serving with some brown bread to make it a complete protein meal.