Teenagers’ nutritional needs aren’t the same as their mother’s or a sibling who is past their teen years. Unfortunately, today so much emphasis has been on being thin, rather than being fit, that many teens aren’t meeting the nutritional needs they require. Body image issues play a huge role in the creation of eating disorders that were relatively unknown just fifty years ago. To add to the problem, families eat on the run and teens have far more control over what they eat than they did when they were just a few years younger.
Teens go through a growth spurt akin to that of early childhood.
Most teenagers reach their full growth some time during their teen year’s. Most of the growth is achieved in an 1 ½ to 2 year period, even though the teen years last from age 13 through 19. During that time, teens need a high volume of calories and nutrients. Puberty increases female body fat from 19% to the adult level of almost 22%. While boys maintain the same body fat percentage of 15% through adulthood, they do add muscle mass.
Protein and healthy fat are important.
With muscle tissue increase and the growth spurts, teens need at least 15% to 20% of their calories from protein. If your child chooses to become a vegetarian, which is more common than you might expect, you need to be vigilant to ensure there’s an adequate balanced amount from vegetarian sources. Healthy fat is one of the more difficult nutritional needs to fill. While getting fat is easy, since there’s junk food abound from which to choose, you’ll find most teens often fail to get the healthy type. Avocados, flaxseed, pumpkin seeds and salmon are a good source of healthy fat.
Calcium and iron are also important for teens.
Teens are growing during those years, which means they need the nutrients for growth, which includes calcium and vitamin D to ensure absorption of the calcium for the proper skeletal growth. For both males and females, the need for iron increases as well. Boys need more because muscle mass increases, so there’s a greater volume of blood. Girls need it to replace the iron they lose during menstruation. Cheese and leafy greens can supply calcium, while spinach and peas are a source of iron.
- Adding a side dish of a food rich in vitamin C boosts the absorption of iron.
- Zinc is also necessary for growth. Foods with zinc include dark chocolate, beef and wheat germ.
- Vitamin B complex is important for converting food to energy and helping with other functions, such as to help prevent the flow of sebum and reduce the potential for acne.
- One way to ensure teens not only get adequate nutrition, but also maintain a healthy outlook and weight is to promote regular exercise at least three to four days each week. Physical activity is equally important for both males and females.