The protein intake of Finns is close to the upper limit of dietary guidelines. Protein is found especially in meat and dairy products.

Red meat, in particular, is consumed considerably more than the amount recommended by national health authorities. Fewer than three meals with red meat in a week would suffice, according to a new set of dietary recommendations that is being circulated for comments.

The new guidelines call attention to the benefits of beans, soy and tofu and encourage Finns to cut back on red meat. Lettuce and grated vegetables alone, they point out, are not enough and should be supplemented with warm vegetable meals.

Children today consume no more than half of the recommended amount of vegetables.

“Children's intake of vegetables is rather modest as well as narrow. Families eat the same old vegetables, such as tomatoes, cucumber and carrots. Increasing the number of warm vegetable meals would be an improvement. Beans, soy and tofu are examples of ingredients that would make children's diet more diverse and healthy,” says Arja Lyytikäinen, the secretary general at the National Nutritional Council.

The new guidelines warn children against the excessive intake of protein. Children are especially at risk of getting too much protein if high-protein milks and quarks are consumed in the family as parents preoccupied with their protein intake can feed high-protein products also to their children, which is not only unnecessary but harmful, according to the recommendations.

An excessive intake of protein appears to be linked with childhood overweight. In addition, it puts a strain on the kidneys and increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

The protein intake of children increases sharply roughly at the age of one as instead of breast milk or breast-milk substitutes they start drinking cow milk, which contains considerably more protein than breast milk.

“The amount of protein in the diet increases naturally roughly at the age of one as children start eating the same meals as the rest of the family. That's another reason why protein supplements aren't recommended to children. Regular dairy products would do just fine. Children also get a lot of protein from cold cuts, the consumption of which could be reduced,” Lyytikäinen says.

She points out that minced meat, which remains popular among families with children, is not a bad choice for a weekday meal, if it is low in fat.

“Low-fat minced meat is a good choice because it's often eaten with grains and vegetables. You often add tomato or other vegetables to meat sauce and if you eat it alongside whole-grain pasta, for example, the meal as a whole is diverse,” explains Lyytikäinen.