Protein is an essential part of your growing teen’s diet. Protein makes up every cell, organ and body tissue — however, these proteins are continually breaking down and must be replenished. Your teen’s need for protein depends on age and gender. However, it’s not enough that your child get the requisite amount or protein — the quality of the protein in your teenager’s diet matters, too.
More About Protein
Proteins are literally the building blocks of life, comprised of 20 different amino acids that join together in various combinations to form all types of protein. Your teen’s body cannot manufacture some of the amino acids needed for good health. These are the “essential” amino acids; it’s necessary that your child get these from his daily diet.
Protein for Teens
Between 10 and 35 percent of your teen’s daily calories should be derived from protein. The Recommended Dietary Allowance, or RDA, for children up to the age of 13 is 34 g protein. Girls aged 14 to 18 need 34 g protein. Boys of the same age need slightly more protein each day — 52 g.
Incomplete vs. Complete Proteins
Foods are divided into complete and incomplete proteins. Complete sources of protein give your teen all the essential amino acids. Incomplete sources of protein are low in one or more of the essential amino acids; these proteins are found in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, legumes and grains. Complete proteins, or high-quality proteins, generally come from animal-based foods, such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy foods. Soy is the only plant-based food that’s a complete source of protein.
The healthiest sources of protein are skinless poultry and fish. If your teen likes red meat, choose lean cuts and serve it only occasionally. Processed meats like hot dogs, sandwich meats and bacon, may be tasty as the occasional treat, but along with red meat, they have been linked to colon cancer. Plant-based foods — vegetables, whole grains, nuts and beans — are also good sources of protein, offering added fiber and essential nutrients, as well. If your teen opts for a vegan diet, it’s essential that she eat a wide variety of plant-based foods each day to get all the essential amino acids she needs.
Children, teens and adults in the United States and other developed nations don’t need to worry about protein deficiency. Protein deficiency, or kwashiorkor, is more common in developing nations afflicted by famine or limited food supply. In the United States, protein deficiency in children occurs in isolated cases — typically those involving child abuse or neglect.