Many people consume shakes and protein bars as meal replacements or snacks. In the clinic I often get asked by parents if they should give their children these food articles because the manufacturers do a great job of advertising these products as the key to health. Protein shakes and bars have a wide range of ingredients and may be made from egg, soy, rice, pea, whey or casein (milk) protein. In a pinch and on a rare occasion consuming a bar or shake to satisfy hunger, quell cravings and balance blood sugar is reasonable. In the long term these foods are not recommended for the health of children.
In a nutshell, these types of food products are basically “astronaut food” because they are a dehydrated food source for rapid consumption. There are no fresh ingredients in these products and they are preserved in order to be shelf stable for long periods of time and to deter mold growth. Protein bars and shakes may contain artificial flavors, sweeteners and as much sugar and saturated fat as a regular candy bar. However, bars and shakes that contain a ratio of 40% carbohydrates, 30% fat and 20% protein do tend to improve athletic performance, blood sugar and sustained energy levels. Bars that contain this ratio and even a few grams of fiber are a better choice than bars that don’t.
Many protein supplements contain ingredients like amino acids, vitamins and herbs. Very little research has been done on children and toddlers or pregnant and nursing women for that matter, with regards to vitamin, herbs and amino acid supplement consumption. Below is a nutritional label from a popular protein shake blend that targets vegans. It contains quite a few vitamins, minerals, probiotics and some herbs. Looking at the label, one would think that those vitamins, minerals and other ingredients may not be suited to a young developing child. It is unknown, how children will respond to long term use of herbs like maca, which is used for hormone production, endurance and libido. This company is not targeting children as their consumer. However, we often hear of parents use this powder to make their child a smoothie with good intentions.
A protein powder or bar may contain 20 to 25 grams of protein per serving. When you consider all other protein sources that will be consumed for the day, a small body may be harmed with that dose of protein on a continual basis. According to the National Institute of Health, for the average protein requirement for children 10 years old is .74 to .91 g/kg/day. That means if your child weighed 70 pounds (31.25 kg), they would require 22 to 28.4 grams of protein per day. One protein bar may be your child’s daily dose of protein in one serving. Considering that many unsuspecting foods contain protein such nuts, seeds, bread, bagels, oatmeal, spinach, sweet potatoes and broccoli for example, it can easily become an excess of protein for a small body.
There is a lot of controversy about the use of soy protein in both adults and children. Some conclude that non genetically modified soy is a better choice than GMO, (genetically modified) soy. Over consumption of soy has been linked to issues like increased estrogen, hormonal cancers and thyroid issues. However, giving a child an adult dose of protein powder of any kind can be detrimental to a child’s health. The dosing on a package is suited to a 150 pound person and if a child weighs only 50 pounds they should get only one third of an adult dose. Excessive protein is not used well in the body. It poses a risk to the kidney, liver function and bone health according to the National Institute of Health. It can also trigger and excess of uric acid which can lead to gout or kidney stones. Excessive protein intake is also linked to coronary artery (heart) disease.
If it is a relatively healthy meal replacement bar, divide your child’s weight by 150 pounds and give only a portion of the bar. Another factor to consider is there another purpose of the protein powder or bar? Does it help with muscle building, feeling full, weight loss, post workout recovery, inflammation, stamina or blood sugar control. Typically children’s health concerns respond better to a balanced healthful whole food diet. If having a balanced diet fails to improve the child’s health, consider seeing a registered homeopath. They will prescribe safe safe and gentle medicines based on your child’s unique needs and it has been around for 300 years. Children respond really well to homeopathic treatment.
A study of areas of that world that host large pockets of residents that typically live past 100 years of age, found that they tend to be lacto ovo vegetarians, which means they are primarily vegetarians who consume some milk and eggs. They also tend to work daily despite their age and have good social contacts. These pockets of centenarians were labelled the “Blue Zones” and are people like the Seventh Day Adventists in Loma Linda California and the Barbagia Region of Sardinia Italy. If you are not a vegetarian, try and take your protein sources from white meat, eggs, two legged animals or fish. Everyone should focus on a healthy whole food diet, using mostly legumes as your protein source, whole grains, (brown rice, quinoa, millet, oats etc), fruits, vegetables and choosing healthy fats such as nuts, seeds, olives and olive oil.
Try making your own smoothies using a more natural food source. Natural protein sources that are useful for shakes are organic yogurt and cottage cheese, nuts and nut butters, tahini paste, hemp, chia, sunflower or flax seeds, coconut milk, quinoa, oats, kale and avocado. As mentioned earlier non genetically modified soy or tofu on occasion would be acceptable, long term use may not be advised. There are many recipes for homemade bars that contain fruit, nuts, seeds and whole grains that are delicious and are a safe snack without the added vitamins, amino acids, herbs, additives and excessive protein. Quick snacks can be as simple as sliced apple with nut butter, a boiled egg and carrot sticks, celery sticks with cheese and mixed nuts and fruit.
Heather Caruso is a registered homeopath and holistic nutritionist from Guelph Ontario. For more information go to http://www.carusohomeopathy.com