Good nutrition is critical during the teenage years to ensure healthy growth and development. A healthy diet must meet the changing nutritional needs of a growing teenager.
Children are growing rapidly during their teen years; as such, there is a need for additional energy, protein, vitamins and minerals to support growth and development. It is important that adolescents be encouraged to choose foods that provide the needed nutrients and not just energy from fat and sugar.
Many snacks tend to be high in salt, which can contribute to diseases later in life. Because the teenage body is growing so fast they will often get hungry between meals. The best option is to provide a healthy snack that provides between 50 and 150 calories. But be careful to not increase the intake of empty calorie snacks.
Choose complex carbohydrates and protein instead. The energy needs of adolescents are influenced by activity level, basal metabolic rate, and increased requirements to support pubertal growth and development.
Boys generally have more muscle and engage in more active work and play than girls. Muscle cells require more energy for maintenance than do fat cells; therefore boys would have higher energy or caloric needs compared to girls. In cases where a boy or girl is extremely active, energy needs would increase for both.
Adolescent girls need approximately 2,200 calories each day while adolescent boys need 2,400 to 2,800. To meet these calorie needs, adolescents should choose a variety of nourishing foods, such as lean protein sources, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, provisions, fruits, and vegetables.
Other nutrients needed are:
• Protein: get between 45-60 grams daily. This helps with maintenance of lean body mass and muscle. To meet this requirement, teens should be fed fish, beef, pork, poultry, eggs, and dairy products. Protein is also available from certain plant sources, including tofu and other soy foods, beans, seeds and nuts.
• Calcium: teenagers require 1,200 milligrams. You are encouraged to consume three to four servings of calcium-rich foods each day. Milk provides the greatest amount of calcium in the diets of adolescents, followed by cheese, ice-cream and frozen yogurt. Other calcium sources are calcium-fortified juices, and calcium-fortified cereals.
• Iron: As adolescents gain muscle mass, more iron is needed to help their new muscle cells obtain oxygen for energy. After starting menstruation, teenager girls have an additional need for iron. Good sources are beef, chicken, pork, legumes -beans and peanuts, enriched or whole grains, and leafy green vegetables such as spinach.
Being overweight or underweight can be a concern during adolescence.
Following fad diets to lose weight is not recommended and may be dangerous. Remember that over-eating, under-eating and eating disorders can have serious health problems.
(The above reflects the views of the Grenada Food & Nutrition Council)