Toddlers and Too Much Protein

Although toddlers need protein to grow and develop properly, too much protein can cause serious health problems in young children. According to TeensHealth, children who eat too much protein may experience calcium losses, dehydration and even kidney problems. Consuming excessive protein can lead to nausea, diarrhea, build-up of toxins in the blood and even death. Toddlers have lower daily protein requirements than older kids and adults.

Calorie Needs

A toddler’s daily calorie requirements will help determine his maximum amount of daily protein, since protein needs are based on total calorie intake. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010, 2-year-olds need about 1,000 calories per day, while 3-year-olds require between 1,000 to 1,400 calories each day depending on their gender and activity level. Toddler girls are usually smaller and may require fewer calories than toddler boys.

Maximum Safe Protein Intake Levels

According to the Institute of Medicine, children ages 1 to 3 should consume 5 to 20 percent of their daily calories from protein. Children who consume more than 20 percent of their calories from protein increase their risk of developing negative side effects and they also run the risk of obesity, particularly if they consume too many total calories. Since protein provides 4 calories per gram, maximum daily protein intakes based on the Institute of Medicine’s Guidelines for toddlers are 50 grams when consuming 1,000 calories, 60 grams when consuming 1,200 calories and 70 grams when consuming 1,400 calories.

Scientific Research

Current scientific research suggests that infants and toddlers who are regularly fed more than the recommended amounts of protein are at an increased risk of becoming overweight or obese later in life. According to an analysis published in the February 2016 issue of the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,” the correlation between obesity risk and a high-protein diet during early childhood is specifically linked to animal protein, and, in particular, dairy protein. Simply limiting your toddler to no more than 2 cups of dairy milk per day may be enough to help keep their protein intake within the recommended range.

Minimum Needs

Although too much protein can cause problems in young children, too little protein could also negatively impact your toddler’s growth and development, because protein is part of every cell in the human body. The Institute of Medicine recommends all toddlers ages 1 to 3 consume at least 13 grams of protein every day. High-protein foods include lean meats, skinless poultry, eggs, cooked legumes, soy products, such as tofu, and dairy products. Some toddlers are ready for peanut butter — another rich source of protein — but ask your pediatrician to be sure.