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How much protein do babies really need?

There has been quite a bit of confusion over a news story claiming we’re feeding our babies too much protein.

Recently presented data by Dutch researchers show toddlers in the Netherlands consume up to four times the amount of protein they need, and this, potentially, is associated with being overweight and obesity.

As far as I can tell the research doesn’t include Australian or New Zealand infants or toddlers, so I’m not sure where the news stories about our kids eating too much protein came from.  That’s not to say they are, or are not. I just haven’t seen any data confirming either possibility. A lot of parents have been very confused by the story, with many of them saying they thought eating lots of protein is a good thing, but now don’t know what to think.

I’ve had a look at the numbers to, hopefully, clear things up a bit.

What we do know is that New Zealand adults are pretty good at getting enough protein and, on average, don’t eat too much. As I mentioned, I haven’t been able to find any data at this stage on infant intakes.

In New Zealand, we recommend babies 7-12 months eat around 14g of protein each day (1.6g of protein per kg of body weight). After that, up till three years of age, recommended daily intake is about 14g per day or 1.08g/kg).

To put things further into perspective and provide a bit of a guide, below is the approximate protein content of various common foods. With a bit of maths you can figure out for yourself if your toddler is eating too much or two little protein each day:

  • Scotch fillet steak, grilled (75g) = 21g protein
  • Chicken breast, grilled (107g) = 33g protein
  • Tarakihi fillet, grilled (70g) = 16g protein
  • Milk, 1 glass (250ml) = 11g protein
  • Follow-on formula (I looked at Heinz Nurture Follow-On Formula 2) (250ml) = 4.5g protein
  • Boiled egg = 6g protein
  • Cheese (40g) = 10g protein
  • Tofu (100g) = 8g protein
  • Legumes, cooked, 1/2 cup = 8g protein
  • Yoghurt, 150g pottle = 7g protein
  • Peanut butter, 2 flat tablespoons = 7g protein
  • Cooked pasta, 1 cup = 7g protein
  • Multigrain bread, 2 slices = 7g protein
  • Cooked white rice, 1 cup = 3g protein
  • Raw almonds, 12 = 3g protein
  • Boiled potato (114g) = 2g protein

Finally, I don’t think exceeding these limits a little is anything to worry about. They’re just a guide. Let’s wait till there’s more data before we start making big changes.

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