Protein & Your Plant-Based BabyJul 23, 2020
Does my baby need protein? How much protein does my plant-based baby need? What types of proteins are easy for baby-led weaning? We get so many questions about protein that we are kicking off the first in our series of exploring macro and micro-nutrients, with protein!
What is protein?
Protein is one of three main macronutrients, so named due to the body’s requirements for larger amounts of this nutrient. It is very important and has a vast number of roles within the body. Protein supports growth and development of muscle, formation of nails, skin and hair and also works on a cellular level including cell division, as well as making haemoglobin which carries oxygen around the body.
From around 6 months when complementary feeding begins, your baby’s requirements for certain nutrients increases, as breastmilk is no longer able to provide everything needed to sustain their rapid growth needs. Although formula milk intake will continue to be more consistent in nutrients, as your baby eats more food, their milk intake will naturally decrease over time, so the need for a balanced diet is just as important.
Protein is made up of small organic molecules called amino acids, some of which your baby’s body can make (non-essential amino acids) and others which are required from food (essential amino acids). There are more than 20 amino acids in total, with nine classed as essential amino acids.
Plant based protein for your infant
Quinoa, amaranth and soy products such as tofu, tempeh, edamame beans and unsweetened soy milk etc. are the only plant-based protein sources that contain all nine essential amino acids, these are called ‘complete proteins’. Other protein rich foods such as lentils, beans, nuts, seeds and even some vegetables are also a great source in your baby’s diet, even though they aren’t considered ‘complete’. The key is variety! Offer your infant a range of proteins throughout the day, at least 2 – 3 times across their meals and/or snacks. This should ensure your baby is being exposed to all essential amino acids for a healthy plant-based diet.
Remember to offer your baby-led weaning infant their protein options served appropriately, either finger sized sticks such as tofu. For a 6-month old baby, seeds and nuts can be offered ground or as nut butter and larger beans can be cut up or squashed to prevent choking risks.
Plant-based proteins are relatively cheap and provide your baby with all the essential amino acids required for growth and development.