Teenage boys are hungry. They eat a lot of food. And, it turns out, according to research from the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans reported in The New York Times, teenage boys eat too much protein. So what do the experts recommend?

The answer probably won’t be a big surprise to you… Teenage boys, like the rest of us, should eat more fruits and vegetables.

Last week we wrote about the Early Protein Hypothesis, which tries to explain the relationship between high protein intake in toddlers and later—at age 5— BMI and obesity risk. 

Children 1-3 years old only need about 13 grams of protein daily and something as simple as even a handful of nuts and a plate of brocolli can add up to that and for those who drink milk and eat yogurts they accumulate this level of protein very quickly. For Teenage boys the USDA recommend 52g which seems a lot but a Big Mac meal with fries and a milkshake (which so many teens are partial to can take up most of that.

So here’s the question: Should parents avoid giving their kids protein if they’re drinking milk?

cheeseburger milkshake and fries

Let me start by saying that I hate talking about food in terms of nutrients. It’s a reductionist approach that doesn’t usually help parents figure out how to feed their kids. It’s the whole diet that matters and the overall pattern of eating that influences health.

Many, if not most, families enjoy other sources of protein–like beans and rice, tofu, tempeh, meat and fish. So, that would lead to the conclusion that when/if your children are going to eat these foods, maybe less milk should be in their diet.

However, trying to pay attention to how much milk, how much meat, or how much anything your kids consume doesn’t really work on a daily basis. No one really does it. And that’s understandable.

Here’s another way of thinking about this. Instead of worrying about protein (or consumption of any other nutrient), think about proportion. What foods dominate your kids’ diets? The answer should be fruits and vegetables.

That’s not to say that there isn’t a place for everything else. Of course there is.

After proportion, work on variety. Variety means different not new. Make sure you serve different foods day-to-day and meal-to-meal.

The combination of proportion and variety produces a healthy diet.

Habits matter. Similarly, if you replace protein with pasta (not a good idea) that habit matters too.

Some time ago we wrote a post called The Snack as Mini-Meal Mistake where we argued that, rather than think of snacks as mini-meals, which often leads kids to snack on things like pizza, parents should teach their kids that fruits and vegetables are the go-to snack. Not every day, but most of the time.

There tends to be a lot of pushback on this point, especially from parents who are raising boys. They’re too hungry is the usual comment and protein is much more filling than fruits and vegetables. But I’m not alone in this recommendation.

Dr. Perri Klass, the author of The New York Times article, recommends that teenage boys consume fiber-rich foods. And Dr. Marion Nestle is quoted as saying that teenagers should get more calories from vegetables, and fewer calories from meat. 

Let me start by saying that I hate talking about food in terms of nutrients. It’s a reductionist approach that doesn’t usually help parents figure out how to feed their kids. It’s the whole diet that matters and the overall pattern of eating that influences health.

Many, if not most, families enjoy other sources of protein–like beans and rice, tofu, tempeh, meat and fish. So, that would lead to the conclusion that when/if your children are going to eat these foods, maybe less milk should be in their diet.

However, trying to pay attention to how much milk, how much meat, or how much anything your kids consume doesn’t really work

Balanced diet of fruits and vegatables, seeds and nuts and fish

 

 

Of course, teenage boys don’t just eat large quantities of protein because it is filling. Some do it to bulk up. But that can be problematic too. The body can only absorb so much protein, but it can absorb all those extra calories just fine which can really boost our countries already off the charts obesity figures.

But getting mired in the argument about individual nutrients misses the point. I agree with Marion Nestle when she says, “To me, protein is a nonissue. You can’t talk about protein in isolation from everything else people eat.”

And that’s the point. So stop stressing about nutrients and start thinking about the whole diet — about habits. Because, as these studies show, habits developed early in life, tend to stick around.

We suggest to take a look at the daily average consumption of food your teenagers are taking in and do a simply common sense check on whether it is vastly out of balance – as discussed you should be seeing large quantities of fruit and veg and healthy fats vs the relatively small amout of protein needed.

~Discover your families own path to healthy eating happiness~

Sources:

New York Times Article: https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/03/07/the-always-hungry-teenage-boy/

2015-2020 Dietary Guildelines for Americans: https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/previous-dietary-guidelines/2015