My thirteen year old daughter does not eat meat and I am afraid that she is not getting enough protein. I have gotten her nutritional supplement drinks but she does not like most of them. Do you have any suggestions?

Getting teens to eat a balanced and healthy diet can sometimes be tricky. It is not necessarily a bad thing that your daughter does not eat meat, but then finding other high protein/nutrient dense foods sources will become essential for her growth. The human body uses protein to make “building blocks” (amino acids) for various parts of our body (skin, bones, hormones, muscles etc). There are 23 amino acids that the body needs. It can synthesize around 16 on its own leaving around 8 (or 9 for children) that we need to get from our diet. Foods that contain all 8 essential amino acids are considered “complete proteins” and these come from animal products (with soy and quinoa being the only plant sources of complete proteins). If your daughter is not a big meat eater, hopefully she would be willing to take other animal sources of protein including cheese, milk, eggs, yogurt, etc. If she is not a fan of animal products, she will need to have a variety of plant protein sources. These sources are considered incomplete proteins because they are low in one or more of the essential amino acids. Examples include grains (corn, wheat, rice, oats), legumes (peas, beans, lentils), nuts and seeds (peanuts, almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds). Older recommendations for making complete proteins out of incomplete proteins suggested that you at each meal pair foods lacking in various amino acids with foods that contain what they are lacking. A typical meal example is beans and rice. Newer thinking suggests that as long as you are taking in a variety of incomplete protein sources your body can store these amino acids and then utilize them from storage to make a complete protein.

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