As adolescents make the transition from being a child to being a teenager, their bodies will undergo some major changes. Because of that, they need to take in the proper amount of calories and nutrients to fuel their bodies during those changes. Although some teens would prefer to subsist on junk food, it’s important that they eat a balanced diet because it will help them develop properly.
Calories And Vitamins
Because teenagers go through as many physical changes, they need to take in a large amount of calories. While it may seem like they’re eating you out of house and home, that surge in appetite actually represents an increased need for energy, which fuels the body during its transition period. In fact, the body’s caloric requirement is at its highest during the teenage years. On average, boys should consume 2,800 to 3,000 calories a day and girls should consume 2,200 to 2,400 calories a day. Because girls take in a lesser amount of calories than boys, they are more likely to develop vitamin deficiencies.
The vitamins that teens tend to be most deficient in are calcium, iron and zinc, which are all essential for growth.
- Calcium: Calcium plays a vital role in bone development and is needed to keep bones strong and healthy. Bones will continue to grow until the age of 30 so it’s important that teens fulfill their calcium requirement, which is 800 to 1,000 milligrams per day. Some of the best sources of calcium are dairy products and leafy greens.
- Iron: Iron plays an important role in the development of hemoglobin and provides the body with energy. Girls tend to be deficient in this vitamin because their menstrual cycle will deplete their bodies of iron. A few good sources of iron are red meat, leafy greens, lentils and soybeans.
- Zinc: Zinc is an immune system booster and helps the body fight off infections. It also plays a role in genetic regulation, and stabilizes the metabolism. Some good sources of zinc include beef, legumes, mushrooms and spinach.
It’s important that teenagers get these vitamins through food sources as opposed to supplements. The fruits, vegetables and grains that contain these vitamins also contain phytochemicals, which protect the body from disease.
Protein, Carbs And Fat
One nutrient that teenagers tend to not be deficient in is protein. Teens usually take in more than twice the recommended amount of protein, which can be found in beef, poultry and eggs – foods that most teenagers don’t mind eating. Teens who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet may struggle to meet their protein needs, but can get protein from nuts, seeds and tofu.
Other nutrients that are essential to a teen’s diet include:
- Carbohydrates: Teens also tend to not have a problem taking in carbohydrates, but it is important that they eat foods that contain complex carbohydrates, not simple carbohydrates. Complex carbs provide long-lasting energy and are low in fat, whereas simple carbs provide short bursts of energy and tend to be found in fatty foods. It’s recommended that 50 to 60 percent of teens’ caloric intake consists of complex carbs. Good sources of complex carbs include whole grains, corn, potatoes and legumes.
- Fat: Fat should make up no more than 30 percent of a teen’s diet. Teens should avoid saturated fats and, instead, go for sources of monounsaturated fats, which are heart healthy, like olive oil and peanut butter.
Nutrition aside, it’s also important for teens to learn good eating habits while they’re young. If they learn to eat right and why they should eat right at an early age, they’ll be able to make better nutritional decisions for themselves in the future. Here are some things that you can do to ensure that your teen gets in the habit of eating right:
- Make sure your teen always eats a healthy breakfast. It will keep them full until lunchtime and will allow them to concentrate and perform better in the classroom.
- Provide healthy snack options. Instead of stocking the pantry with cookies, potato chips and snack cakes, make sure your teen has healthy options like trail mix, mixed nuts, fruits and vegetables, cheese and yogurt.
- Limit sugar intake. Teens love sodas, but they’re chock full of sugar, which can cause weight gain and even heart disease later on in life. Make sure your teen drinks water, teas and fresh fruit juices, and consumes sugary drinks and snacks in moderation.
- Don’t force your teen to eat until his or her plate is clean. That’s a habit that can lead to overeating and weight gain in the future. Let your teen know it’s OK to eat until he or she feels full, rather than consuming everything in sight.
- Don’t use food as a reward or as a way to comfort your teen. This is another habit that can lead to overeating and weight gain later in life.
- Teach your teen how to read nutrition labels. Point out the hidden sugars and calories in foods that may be labeled as “low-fat” or “fat-free.”
- Get your teen involved in cooking. Let your teen help you chop vegetables or prepare dessert. You can even all your teen to prepare a whole entire meal. Instructing your teen to cook healthy, nutritional meals can help later on in life.
While meeting the nutritional needs of teenagers is important for overall health, it’s just as important for teens to get involved in some sort of physical activity during the day. Even if they eat healthily, a sedentary lifestyle can also come with consequences. By pairing exercise with good eating habits now, your teen will remain healthy long into adulthood.