What does a healthy teen lifestyle consist of? The topic of nutrition has always been a relevant and much-needed area within our schools, particularly at the middle and high schools. Education is proving to be a must in order to understand the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and it starts right at home.
It is important for teens to be aware of the nutrients needed to fuel their bodies. Healthychildren.org states that protein, carbohydrates and fats in food serve as the body’s energy sources. The right vitamins and minerals are also essential.
Adolescents in the United States are proven to get twice as much protein than they actually need. In fact, 50 percent of their body weight is actually made up of protein. Teenage favorites such as beef, chicken and turkey are just some of the foods that are stocked full with protein.
Next is a carbohydrate, which gets converted into the body’s main fuel, the simple sugar glucose. Nutritionists recommend that complex carbohydrates make up 50 percent to 60 percent of a teenager’s caloric intake. These complex carbohydrates provide sustained energy, particularly for the teen that is active. This explains why you might see athletes or marathon runners eating big bowls of pasta before an event. Simple carbs, on the other hand, have little to offer besides tasting sweet and providing a brief burst of energy. Therefore, it should be minimized in the diet.
Fatty foods contain cholesterol, a waxy substance that can clog an artery and eventually cause it to harden. Regardless of if a teen is active, a high fat intake will always make them put on weight. It would take a lot of grueling effort to try to burn off excess fat calories day after day. An important tip is to read food labels carefully to see how much fat, sugar, and sodium is in the foods eaten every day. Also, almost all packaged goods that contain fat are likely to have partially hydrogenated fat, because it has a longer shelf life.
A well-rounded diet based on the USDA guidelines should deliver sufficient amounts of all vitamins and minerals that are essential.
“Teens need a variety of essential nutrients during periods of growth. Adolescents at their peak growth will require twice as much calcium, iron, zinc and magnesium,” said Colleen Farley Cornell, a pediatric nutritionist from Winthrop Hospital.
Unless blood tests and a pediatrician’s evaluation show a specific deficiency, it’s recommended to obtain nutrients from food instead of dietary supplements.
As far as calories, during middle and late adolescence, girls roughly eat 25 percent fewer calories per day than boys do, meaning they are more likely to be deficient in vitamins and minerals.
“Some teenagers reduce caloric intake by skipping meals or cutting out entire food groups. These methods to lose weight are unhealthy and may leave out important nutrients teens need,” Cornell said.
For example, cutting out grains or carbohydrates may lead to an inadequate intake of B Vitamins, Riboflavin, Thiamin, Folic Acid, Pyridoxine, and Niacin. Another example Cornell provided is cutting out dairy may lead to decreased levels of Calcium and Vitamin D. Cutting out all meat may lead to low iron and B12 levels.
The amount of calories a teen needs depends upon age, gender, activity length and period growth.
“Adolescents are encouraged to maintain caloric balance to support normal growth and development without causing excessive weight gain,” Cornell said.
Teens require the calcium equivalent of about four 8-ounce glasses of milk daily. Some other foods that supply as much calcium as a glass of milk are eight ounces of yogurt and two cups of low-fat cottage cheese. Females aged 13 to 17 have an intake of approximately 1,000 milligrams per day while the daily recommended intake for this age group is 1300 milligrams per day. Males of the same age meet their requirements at about 1400 milligrams per day.
Iron deficiency is common in adolescent females and people who limit meat. Menstruating young women are at increased risk because their diets may not contain enough iron-rich foods to make up for monthly losses. Foods like beef, poultry and pork and good non-meat sources like beans, nuts and vegetables will help them to secure a balanced diet.
“Many teenagers’ diets contain too much fat, sugar, caffeine and sodium and not enough nutrient dense food choices such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and low fat dairy,” Cornell said.
Snacks, if they are done right, can provide the nutrients a child needs. For example, yogurt with whole grain cereal mixed in or low-fat cottage cheese on whole grain crackers can double as a healthy snack and a quick and satisfying breakfast.
According to health.gov, in food groups, active teen boys and girls require certain amounts of servings within each group a day. For example, teen girls need four servings of vegetables a day and teen boys need 5. For the non-active teen, the CDC recommends that high school girls eat at least 1.5 cups of fruit and 3 cups of vegetables a day.
The right nutrition can change teen lives for the better. The earlier they start a healthy change, the more positive outcome they will receive in the years to come.