Healthy Eating For Teens
Getting kids to eat right can be a challenge, especially as they grow up and become teenagers. However, it is really important for teens to eat healthily, as it will set the foundation for their relationship with food and their body’s functionality in the future. With that said, here are a few tips for healthy eating for teens:
Teens' Nutrient Needs
The adolescent years are a time of rapid growth. Teens need extra nutrients to support bone growth, hormonal changes, and organ and tissue development, including the brain. Unfortunately, research shows that many teens do not eat a well-balanced diet to provide their bodies with the appropriate vitamins and minerals. The two main nutrients of concern for teens are calcium and iron.
Calcium is important for bone growth. If teens optimize their bone health, they have a decreased risk of fractures and developing osteoporosis during adulthood. Females are particularly at risk if they do not meet their calcium requirements. It has been found that males and females aged 13-17 have a calcium intake of approximately 1000 mg/day while the daily recommended intake (DRI) for this age group is 1300 mg/day. To meet the DRI for calcium, teens should follow Canada’s Food Guide recommendation of eating a variety of healthy foods each day. Here is a list of 15 calcium-rich foods to consider for healthy eating for teens.
Iron is another important nutrient for teenagers. Iron is needed during the onset of menstruation for females and during lean body mass development for males. On average, male teens meet their iron requirements with little difficulty. However, females aged 13-17 barely meet their requirements of 15 mg per day. Female teenagers specifically should try to increase their iron intake by eating iron-rich foods. Here is a list of 12 foods that are high in iron.
Healthy Eating For Teens As Their Bodies Change
During adolescence, the body increases in weight and height and also changes in shape. This change is of concern for teenagers as they begin to develop a sense of their own body image. Many female teens think they should be thinner while male teens think they should be more muscular. These negative body images may be a result of social media-influenced images, which can also lead to teasing and bullying. Male teens are twice as likely to be satisfied with their bodies as female teens are. In one extensive study, it’s been identified that at age 6 girls, especially, start to express concerns about their own weight or shape, and 40-60% of elementary school girls (ages 6-12) are concerned about their weight or about becoming too fat. These negative body image perceptions can lead to some seriously unhealthy weight control behaviour.
Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, for example, are the two main eating disorders among teenagers. These are unhealthy ways of losing weight and may actually lead to weight gain over time, as well as other serious problems. These and other kinds of extreme dieting can make teenagers feel:
- hungry and worried about food
- unfocused and tired
- upset and uninterested
- cold and dizzy
Healthy Food Habits For Teens
Along with physical changes, teens become more independent as they grow. Dietary options are one of the first decisions teens start making on their own. However, some teens tend to make poor food choices. Overall, teens fail to consume the recommended variety of foods from the three food groups in Canada’s Food Guide. Here are four major food habits of concern for teenagers:
Breakfast is an important meal as it helps to ensure total daily nutrient needs are being met. It also improves school performance and helps maintain a healthy weight. More than half of male teens and more than two-thirds of female teens do not eat breakfast on a regular basis.
Increased Foods From the ‘Other’ Food Group
This food group is the smallest section of the food guide. Therefore people should eat the least amount of servings from this group. This category includes foods such as fats and oils, soft drinks, snack foods, and desserts. Approximately 27-33% of energy intake for teens is from the ‘other’ food group. This is of concern as these foods are often high in fat and calories and low in vitamins and minerals. Healthy eating for teens involves all the food groups, not just the “other” one.
Increased Eating Outside the Home
Eating outside the home has increased, however, the concern is the majority of foods consumed in restaurants are considered to be ‘fast food.’ Fast foods are generally high in fat and calories. There has been increased consumption of pizza, cheeseburgers, and salty snacks among teens, mostly due to eating out.
Increased Soft Drink Consumption
The increase in soft drink consumption could be attributed to the increase in restaurant outings. However, soft drink sizing has also increased from a traditional 5 fl. oz. to a modern 12 fl. oz. fountain drink. Healthy eating for teens includes a high water intake to maintain hydration, help focus and improve bodily function.
Healthy Eating For Teens That Are Vegan
Some teens may decide to become vegans or vegetarians, which can be very healthy options that also benefit the planet. Vegans must ensure they are meeting all their nutrient requirements with extra careful planning of their diet. Healthy eating for teens that are vegan or vegetarian includes consuming foods rich in:
As mentioned above, calcium is important for bone health. If one is not eating dairy products, then non-dairy calcium-containing foods should be consumed such as tofu, fortified soy or rice beverage, calcium-fortified orange juice, beans, dried figs, broccoli, and bokchoy.
Again, as mentioned above, iron is important for lean muscle mass and blood formation. Of note, when eating plant sources of iron, include Vitamin C-rich foods at the same time to help increase the absorption of iron. Citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruit, etc.), kiwi fruit, strawberries, sweet peppers, broccoli, brussel sprouts, and tomatoes are all great sources of Vitamin C.
Protein’s main function is ensuring muscle development and strength. It is found in meat products but can also be found in other food sources such as dairy products, soy or coconut milk, eggs, nuts, tofu, beans, seeds, grains, and cereals. For more options, here is a list of 18 protein sources for vegans and vegetarians.
Vitamin B12 is needed for blood formation and it is commonly found in eggs and dairy. Aside from animal products, vitamin B12 can also be found in fortified soy milk and breakfast cereals. It is difficult to meet one’s requirements with these fortified products alone, therefore a supplement might be needed.
Vitamin D is needed for calcium to be absorbed by your bones. Exposure to the sun is a great way to get Vitamin D; though, during Canadian winters, this is a big challenge. If one is not consuming milk products, try foods such as fortified soy milk and fortified breakfast cereals. Consuming these fortified products might not offer enough Vitamin D, so a supplement might be needed.
Healthy Eating Tips For Teens That Are Active
There is a myth that active teens are in need of supplementation to offer them superior performance. However, this is not true. Following Canada’s Food Guide will ensure that one will get all the nutrients needed to play sports and live an active lifestyle. An athletic teen should consume carbohydrates, some proteins, and healthy fats. Carbohydrates are used as fuel, however, it is not the only nutrient needed for performance. Once carbohydrates run out, fat is needed for long-lasting energy. Active teens may need a little more protein than inactive teens, however, this can be accomplished through diet alone. Some protein supplements offer the same amount of protein found in a cup of milk or a serving of meat.
Increased water intake is also important for active teens. Physical activity can make one dehydrated due to perspiration. Here are some tips on staying hydrated:
- Drink 2-4 cups of water 1 to 2 hours before physical activity
- Drink another 2-4 cups of water 10 to 15 minutes before physical activity
- Drink about ½ cup of water every 15 minutes during physical activity
- Drink 1-2 cups of water after physical activity
- Remember to keep drinking water even if you don’t feel thirsty
Healthy Eating Tips For Teens Regarding Obesity
Recent studies have shown that the number of overweight and obese youths are rising. Aside from poor food habits, inactivity is a contributing factor. The World Health Organization recently reported that more than 80% of the world's adolescent population is insufficiently physically active. Maintaining a healthy weight, eating healthy foods, and engaging in regular physical activity can decrease teenagers' risk of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, osteoporosis, stroke, and some cancers when older. Therefore, healthy eating for teens is not the only necessity in building a healthy foundation for youth populations. Here are a few considerations and recommendations to get teens more active.
If you’re concerned about your teen's health, reach out to our Head Personal Health Coach to discuss some options to help your teen.