Teenage Nutrition Guide

By March 24, 2017 Nutrition
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The statistics concerning teenage nutrition are saddening.  According to a study released by the National Health and Nutrition Survey in 2013, 80% of surveyed teenagers between the ages of 12 to 19 years old had a nutrient-deprived diet.  Correlating with these statistics, 1/3 of teenagers had elevated or borderline cholesterol levels (Kelly et al., 2013).

The issue of teenage nutrition may be responsible for some arguments at your house.  It may be an argument that you give up on way too easily, but it’s extremely important that adolescents and teenagers get the best nutrition they can.  You may even think it’s too late to try, but it’s the most crucial time period for a teen to learn about good nutrition.

Unfortunately, this stage in human development overlaps with a rebellious period in your child’s life–and logic typically doesn’t help matters.  If you’re faced with “choosing your battles”, empower yourself with the information you need to choose wisely.  Some aspects of teenage nutrition depend on the age and gender of your oh-so-cooperative adolescent, so you’ll know what points are most important.  We put together this guide to summarize what you need to know about teen nutrition so that you can instill good habits in your adolescent or teenager that will last a lifetime.

How Does Teenage Nutrition Change?

Adolescent and teenage nutrition is extremely important due to three factors:  rapid growth, pubertal development, and establishing healthy eating patterns.

According to Dr. Sears, adolescence ranks only behind infancy as the most important time to meet the nutritional requirements of a child.  Dr. Sears also says that eating habits are built during the teenage years.  You can do good job establishing preferences when children are much younger, but their entire eating pattern–both good and bad–become cemented during the teenage years.  Therefore, it’s not too late to help your adolescent or teenager develop good eating habits.

Most adolescents and teenagers are not underfed.  They take in a lot of macro nutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fat) but are deficient in nutrition.  Most of the nutrition they’re missing comes from micronutrients.  And we bet you can guess where micronutrients come from… yes, fruits and vegetables.

Your major challenge will be, if you haven’t already figured that out, that most adolescents and teenagers are experiencing increased autonomy and want to extend that independence to the foods they eat.  At a time of life when fitting in is important–if not the most important thing in the world–peer pressure also drives kids to consume foods that are processed and high in hydrogenated fats.  Sorry, daddy-o, nutrient-rich foods are just not that cool.

Teenage Nutrition for Boys and Girls:  Differences and Similarities

Boys and girls need different nutrition usually between the ages of 14 to 18.  This is when a lot of growth takes place.  The main difference for adolescent males and females is in the macronutrients–fat, carbohydrates and protein.  Male and female teenagers have similar needs for micronutrients, which include vitamins and minerals.  Most vitamin requirements are very similar for boys and girls.

Nutrition for Teenage Boys

  • Adolescent males typically require more calories, fiber, protein, and fat for sustained growth and pubertal development. Males also have additional needs for increased vitamin C and vitamin A.
  • The average adolescent male consumes higher than the recommended daily value of total fat, saturated fat, sodium and cholesterol. This is primarily due to the typical standard American diet (S.A.D.), which contains higher quantities of processed foods.  Increased access to fast foods obviously contributes to this problem.
  • Average adolescent males are more deficient in folate, vitamin E, calcium, magnesium and fiber.

Nutrition for Teenage Girls

  • Adolescent females typically require iron and chromium. The increased iron need is due to the onset of menstruation.
  • Average adolescent females have greater nutrient deficiencies in folate, vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin B6, calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium and fiber.
  • Female adolescents consume higher than the recommended amount of total fat, saturated fat and sodium (Stand & Story, 2005).

Sources for Teenage Nutritional Requirements

We know the general population of the United States eats plenty of meat.  Meats contain important micronutrients, but they fill protein and fat nutritional requirements more easily.  So, we are down to plant-based ways to get vital micronutrients into our children!  Here is a list of (mostly plant-based) food sources for the most important micronutrients, based on gender.  There are plenty listed and hopefully you can find a few that your teen can enjoy.

Sources of Nutritional Requirements Important for Boys

  • Vitamin E: wheat germ, palm oil, olive oil, almonds, sunflower seeds, avocados, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, spinach, turnip and mustard greens, non-plant sources: trout, shrimp and cod
  • Calcium: collard greens (frozen or boiled), black-eyed peas, canned salmon, baked beans, trail mix (almonds, nuts, seeds) (These are non-dairy sources.)
  • Folate: garbanzo beans, liver, pinto beans, lentils, spinach, asparagus, avocado, beets, black-eyed peas, broccoli
  • Magnesium: spinach, pumpkin seeds, almonds, black beans, avocados, figs, dark chocolate, bananas
  • Fiber: fresh fruits and vegetables (with the skins on—so buy them organic if possible and scrub them well), whole grains, oatmeal, avocados, berries, figs, coconuts, peas, Brussels sprouts, beans
  • Vitamin C: spinach, broccoli, red bell peppers, snow peas, tomato juice, kiwi, mango, citrus (people think of citrus fruits first, but they do not have the highest concentrations of vitamin C), strawberries, kale, collards and turnip greens

Sources of Nutritional Requirements Important for Girls

  • Folate: garbanzo beans, liver, pinto beans, lentils, spinach, asparagus, avocado, beets, black-eyed peas, broccoli
  • Vitamin A: carrots, sweet potatoes, kale, spinach, apricots, broccoli, pumpkin, non-plant sources: beef, liver, butter, eggs
  • Vitamin E: wheat germ, palm oil, olive oil, almonds, sunflower seeds, avocados, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, spinach, turnip and mustard greens, non-plant sources: trout, shrimp, and cod
  • Vitamin B6: broccoli, spinach, bananas, non-plant sources: eggs, beef and pork
  • Calcium: collard greens (frozen or boiled), black-eyed peas, canned salmon, baked beans, trail mix (almonds, nuts, seeds) (These are non-dairy sources.)
  • Iron: blackstrap molasses, dried prunes, raisins, apricots, leafy green vegetables (spinach, kale), non-plant sources: beef and pork
  • Zinc: whole grains
  • Magnesium: spinach, pumpkin seeds, almonds, black beans, avocados, figs, dark chocolate, bananas
  • Fiber: fresh fruits and vegetables (with the skins on—so buy them organic if possible and scrub them well), whole grains, oatmeal, avocados, berries, figs, coconuts, peas, Brussels sprouts, beans

Lifestyle Applications for Teenage Nutrition

Lessons in proper nutrition for teenagers needn’t be complex.  Here are some easy ways to get your teens in the habit of eating healthfully.

  • Make fast, easy, healthy options available to your teenager.

1) Easy-to-eat fruit: whole fruit – apples, bananas, pears, plums, nectarines, berries (strawberries, blackberries, blueberries), and fruit that is already cut up and ready to eat (watermelon, pineapple, cantaloupe, honeydew melon)  There are so many fruits to choose from; these are just a few options.

2) Previously cut up vegetables: baby carrots, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, and grape tomatoes.  You can use hummus or nut butters as a dip or spread.

3) Muffins: Prepare muffins ahead of time and freeze them.  You can make these vegan and gluten free if desired.  Many recipes use fruit to naturally sweeten muffins.  Fruits, nuts and eggs usually found in these recipes make muffins a wonderful source of fiber and protein.

4) Hard-boiled eggs:  Eggs are wonderful sources of protein and can be easily eaten on the go.  Can be paired with avocados that provide additional healthy fat.

5) Nut butters: almond butter, cashew butter, and sunflower butter—many nuts and seeds have a “butter” version.  Nut butters are a wonderful source of protein and healthy fats.  They can be eaten alone or can be placed on apples slices, crackers or vegetables.

  • Water, water, water!! Most teenagers, especially athletic teenagers, do not drink adequate amounts of water.  Water is the best choice and the most hydrating, but coconut water and herbal teas are great, too.  You should be drinking ½ your body weight in ounces.  For example, if you are 120 lbs – you should drink 60 oz of water each day.  Buy a glass bottle or plastic (BPA free) refillable bottle of water.  Measurements on the side can be helpful to give teenagers a visual of how much water they have consumed.  Athletes should consume higher amounts of water (American Heart Association, 2014).
  • Limit caffeinated beverages. This is difficult – many teenagers view caffeine as a separate food group.  According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, teenagers should not consume more than 100mg of caffeine each day.  That is approximately 1 cup of coffee.  Caffeine, especially when combined with high amounts of processed sugar, can lead to altered blood sugar, which can effect mood regulation.  Caffeine can directly affect sleep schedule, frequent urination, stomach pain, restlessness, and irritability.  Caffeine should be limited to 1 serving, at most, per day.  Encourage green tea, white teas, and black teas as alternative sources of caffeine (Lohmann, 2013).
  • Talk with teens openly about body image. Many teens are heavily focused on body image and will use food as a tool to gain a desired body image.  This can be done healthfully or very unhealthfully.  This isn’t an issue that only girls deal with; an increasing number of boys are having body image issues as well.  Foster open communication with all teenagers.  Stress that overall health is a continuous journey.  Remind them that how they take care of their bodies now, even in their teenage years, will impact them later in life.

 

References:

Kelly, S., Barlow, S.E., Goutham, R., Inge, T.H., Hayman, L.L., Steinberger, J., Urbina, E.M., Ewing L.J., & Daniels, S.R. (2013).  Severe Obesity in Children and Adolescents: Identification, Associated Health Risks, and Treatment Approaches. Circulation, 128(15). doi.org/10.1161/CIR.0b013e3182a5cfb3.

Sears, W., & Sears, M. (1999). The family nutrition book: everything you need to know about feeding your children– from birth through adolescence. Boston, MA: Little, Brown.

Axe, J.  (n.d.). Top 10 Magnesium Rich Foods Plus Proven Benefits.  Retrieved from https://draxe.com/magnesium-deficient-top-10-magnesium-rich-foods-must-eating/.

Axe, J,  (n.d.). Top 10 Vitamin E Rich Foods. Derived from https://draxe.com/top-10-vitamin-e-rich-foods/.

Rakel, D. (2003). Integrative medicine. Philadelphia: Elsevier.

Stang, J. & Story, M. (2005). Nutrition Needs of Adolescents.  Guidelines for Adolescent Nutrition Services.  www.epi.umn.eud/let/pubs/adol_book_shtm.

American Heart Association.  (2014). Dietary Recommendations for Healthy Children.  Retrieved from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/Dietary-Recommendations-for-Healthy-Children_UCM_303886_Article.jsp#.WMg_OIWcGP8.

Lohmann, C. (2013). Over-Caffeinated Teens: Are Today’s Teens Consuming Too Much Caffeine? Psychology Today.

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