Protein in the First 1,000 days | Inquirer Business
Is more always better?

Protein in the First 1,000 days

DR. JOSE M. Saavedra, the chief medical officer of Nestlé Nutrition, spoke on how protein intake in the first years of life can help prevent health outcomes that could later lead to diseases with serious consequences, such as obesity and other cardiovascular diseases.

DR. JOSE M. Saavedra, the chief medical officer of Nestlé Nutrition, spoke on how protein intake in the first years of life can help prevent health outcomes that could later lead to diseases with serious consequences, such as obesity and other cardiovascular diseases.

Too much of anything is not healthy, even if it is the building block of life.

Protein plays a fundamental role in growth, but it can also trigger metabolic changes that can lead to obesity, said Dr. Jose M. Saavedra, the chief medical officer of Nestlé Nutrition and professor of pediatrics, gastroenterology, and nutrition at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.


Speaking at a media roundtable “Protein in Early Nutrition: Is More Always Better?” organized by Nestlé Philippines on Feb. 15 at Marco Polo Ortigas, Saavedra pointed out the “free pass” protein is having. Too much protein can lead to the increase in the amount of insulin produced and in turn in the amount of fat the baby is storing, he said.

Critical role


Protein plays a critical role in the first 1,000 days of life, influencing the development of conditions like obesity and cardiovascular disease, required in maintaining numerous body functions, repairing or replacing cells or tissue, and growth. The growth velocity of children is linked to protein requirements, which is why infants need more protein per kilogram of body weight than adults.

Generally, expectant women and mothers are aware that their behaviors during pregnancy, and how they feed their children especially in the first few years after birth, impact on the subsequent health of their kids.

And nowadays, with more children globally having more dietary protein intake than is required, interest has turned to exploring whether excess protein may have untoward effects.

In this light, Saavedra said that breast milk is still the best source of protein, as well as the overall nutrition, for babies, as its formulation exhibits the “perfect regulation between what the baby needs and the mom gives.” “Keep breastfeeding on for a longest amount of time; if you need to substitute it, consult your pediatrician to know the best formula.”

Rapidly rising obesity

Global rates of obesity have increased rapidly over the past decades, bringing with it an explosion of the rates of associated diseases such as type 2 diabetes. Obesity and associated diseases not only have a negative impact on the quality and duration of life, they also constitute a financial burden for society and the healthcare system. Early prevention measures may have much greater chances of success than prevention in adulthood.

Recent research studies show that the risk of having noncommunicable diseases such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases and stroke is not only determined by genetic factors and lifestyle in adulthood, but also in large part by how an individual’s metabolism, the different chemical processes that occur to maintain life, is shaped before and after birth, particularly by nutrition.


A study in Bavaria revealed that children who were breastfed had a 20-percent lower risk of being overweight and a 25-percent lower risk of being obese at school enrolment compared to those who were never breastfed.

Findings also showed that the longer a child was breastfed, the lower the child’s risk of being overweight or obese at the age of 5-6.

If the protective effects of breast milk partly come from the level of protein it contains, there was a hypothesis that infant formula with similar levels of protein could also do good to infants and toddlers who are not breastfed or are partially breastfed.

A study conducted by the European Commission, The Childhood Obesity Project, found that it is possible to actively prevent overweight and obesity at school age in nonbreastfed infants through the use of a lower protein formula in the first year of life.


Based on the findings, Dr. Saavedra lists down lessons for parents and caregivers:

  • Breastfeeding should be protected, promoted and supported for many reasons, including the primary prevention of overweight and obesity.
  • For infants who are not breastfed or not fully breastfed, an infant formula with reduced protein quantity but high protein quality, normalizes early weight gain and appears preferable.
  • Cow’s milk provides a much higher protein supply than human milk or infant formula; it is prudent not to substitute cow’s milk in the first year of life.

Saavedra added that parents should understand that in order to bottle-feed the baby, they should listen to hunger and fullness cues of the baby, and to not give more than that. “More is not always healthy.”

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TAGS: health and wellness, metabolism, nutrition, obesity, protein
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