Growth faltering under 5 years of age is unacceptably high worldwide, and even more children, while not stunted, fail to reach their growth potential. The time between conception and 2 years of age is critical for development. The period from 6 to 23 months, when complementary foods are introduced, coincides with a time when growth faltering and delayed neurocognitive developments are most common. Fortunately, this is also the period when diet exercises its greatest influence. Growing up in an adverse environment, with a deficient diet, as typically seen in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), hampers growth and development of children and prevents them from realising their full developmental and economic future potential. Sufficient nutrient availability and utilisation are paramount to a child's growth and development trajectory, especially in the period after breastfeeding. This review highlights the importance of essential amino acids (EAAs) in early life for linear growth and, likely, neurocognitive development. The paper further discusses signalling through mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1) as one of the main amino acid (AA)-sensing hubs and the master regulator of both growth and neurocognitive development. Children in LMICs, despite consuming sufficient total protein, do not meet their EAA requirements due to poor diet diversity and low-quality dietary protein. AA deficiencies in early life can cause reductions in linear growth and cognition. Ensuring AA adequacy in diets, particularly through inclusion of nutrient-dense animal source foods from 6 to 23 months, is strongly encouraged in LMICs in order to compensate for less than optimal growth during complementary feeding.
- animal source protein
- growth faltering