Good Nutrition for Teenagers

General, Students, Teenages | October 30, 2016 | Author: Naturopath

Good Nutrition for Teenagers

The rapid growth that occurs in adolescence, second only to that in the first year of life, requires energy and nutrients that are greater than any other time in the life cycle.

Over 80% of adolescent attained weight and height is completed in early adolescence (10-15 years). Thus, adequate nutrition is essential for achieving full growth potential and development. Furthermore, healthy nutrition during adolescence may help prevent chronic diseases later in life, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and osteoporosis.

Special Concerns for Teenagers

  • Body image. The search for identity, the struggle for independence and acceptance, concern about appearance, and media messages – all tend to have a great impact on eating patterns and food intake among adolescents, and can lead to restrictive dieting, fad diets and other unhealthy weight control methods.
  • Skipping meals. Meal skipping is common among adolescents. One of the most frequently missed meals is breakfast. Evidence suggests that breakfast consumption is associated with concentration, academic performance and in-class behaviour.
  • Snacking and low consumption of fruits and vegetables. Some teenagers develop a habit of snacking, usually on energy dense foods or fast foods that are low in vitamins, minerals, and fibre.
  • Decreased physical activity and sedentary lifestyle. Increase in sedentary activities, such as television viewing and computer games, is suspected to be responsible for the decline in physical activity levels. And may lead to overweight and obesity during adolescence.
  • Adolescent Pregnancy. Teenage mothers need adequate nutrition not only for their own growth and development, but also for the intra-uterine growth and development of their offspring. Thus mother and foetus may compete for energy and nutrients. In particular concern is the status of calcium and iron

Are There Any Gender Differences?

Prior to puberty, nutrient needs are similar for boys and girls. However, girls begin their adolescent growth spurt at an average of about 10 years and their speed of growth peaks at about 12 years. Boys begin their growth spurt around 12 years of age and within one to two years overtake the girls. Girls reach their adult height at about 16 years, while boys at 18 years. Body composition also differs; during adolescence, girls gain relatively more fat, and boys gain relatively more muscle.

The differences in growth and body composition have important implications for nutritional requirements of adolescent boys and girls, as follows:

Energy. Energy needs of adolescents vary with physical activity level. Adolescent males have higher caloric requirements than females since they experience greater increases in height, weight, and muscle. Those who are more physically active may require additional energy to meet their daily caloric needs.

Protein. Protein requirements coincide with periods of peak growth. They are highest for females age 11 to 14 years and for males age 15 to 18 years.

Protein food sources include milk, yoghurt, cheese, meat, fish, chicken, eggs, nuts and seeds, legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas), and tofu.

Iron. Iron-deficiency anaemia is a common diet-related deficiency. Adolescents require iron during growth and development to provide for the increase in blood volume and muscle mass. Girls require higher levels of iron to replace menstrual iron losses.

Iron food sources include lean meats and fish as well as beans, dark green vegetables, nuts and iron-fortified cereals and other grains. Iron from animal foods (known as haem iron) is much better absorbed than iron from non-animal sources (non-haem iron).
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Calcium. About 45% of the adult skeletal mass is attained during adolescence, and by age 17, adolescents attain approximately 90% of their adult bone mass. Thus adequate calcium intake is crucial to help build bones and to reduce the risk of osteoporosis in later years. Observational studies have demonstrated that Australian adolescents do not consume the recommended intakes of some nutrients, in particular calcium.

Calcium food sources include milk, cheese and yoghurt. Non-dairy foods that are good sources of calcium include sardines and salmon (with bones), broccoli, nuts and seeds, and products fortified with calcium such as breakfast cereals, and soy beverages.
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Zinc. Zinc plays an important role in growth and sexual maturation, and adolescent boys need more zinc than girls.

Zinc food sources include red meats, shellfish, and whole grains. Many breakfast cereals are fortified with zinc.

Did You Know…?

A New Zealand study of 8500 secondary school students found that cooking ability and having the opportunity to cook among adolescents was associated with better diet quality, and better family relationships and mental well-being. Similarly, a study from America demonstrated that involving adolescents in food preparation for the family is related to better adolescent dietary quality and eating patterns, including more adolescent fruit and vegetable consumption, healthful nutrient intake, and more family meals per week

Top Food and Nutrition Tips for adolescents

(Source: The Royal Women’s Hospital, Victoria)

Eating three regular meals a day with some snacks will help you meet your nutrition needs. Skipping meals means you will miss out on vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates, which can leave you lacking energy or finding it hard to concentrate. Here is a guide to help you understand the value of what you eat.

​Breads, grains and cereals are carbohydrates that provide energy for your brain and muscles. They’re also an excellent source of fibre and B vitamins. Without enough carbohydrates you may feel tired and run down. Try to include some carbohydrates at each mealtime.

Fruit and vegetables have lots of vitamins and minerals which help boost your immune system and keep you from getting sick. They’re also very important for healthy skin and eyes. It’s recommended you eat two serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables a day.

Meat, chicken, fish, eggs, nuts and legumes (e.g. beans and lentils) are good sources of iron and protein. Iron is needed to make red blood cells, which carry oxygen around your body. During your teenage years, you’ll start to menstruate, or get your period, and this leads to loss of iron. If you don’t get enough iron, you can develop anaemia, a condition that can make you feel tired and light-headed and short of breath. Protein is needed for growth and to keep your muscles healthy. Not eating enough protein when you are still growing, or going through puberty, can lead to delayed or stunted height and weight. Not enough protein is common when you go on strict diets. Include meat, chicken, fish or eggs in your diet at least twice a day. Fish is important for your brain, eyes and skin. Try to eat fish 2 to 3 times a week.
If you are vegetarian or vegan and do not eat meat, there are other ways to meet your iron needs, for example, with foods like baked beans, pulses, lentils, nuts and seeds.

Dairy foods like milk, cheese and yoghurt help to build bones and teeth and keep your heart, muscles and nerves working properly. You’ll need three and a half serves of dairy food a day to meet your needs.

Eating too much fat and oil can result in you putting on weight. Try to use oils in small amounts for cooking or salad dressings. Other high-fat foods like chocolate, chips, cakes and fried foods can increase your weight without giving your body many nutrients.

Fluids are also an important part of your diet. Drink water to keep hydrated, so you won’t feel so tired or thirsty. It can also help to prevent constipation.
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Adolphus, K., Lawton, C. L., & Dye, L. (2013). The effects of breakfast on behavior and academic performance in children and adolescents. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7, 425.

Berge, J. M., MacLehose, R. F., Larson, N., et al. (2016). Family Food Preparation and Its Effects on Adolescent Dietary Quality and Eating Patterns. The Journal of Adolescent Health : Official Publication of the Society for Adolescent Medicine.

European Food Information Council (EUFIC) 2006, Child and adolescent nutrition, retrieved 23 October 2016,

Nutrition Australia 2009, Nutrition for Teens, retrieved 23 October 2016,

Parker, C. E., Vivian, W. J., Oddy, W. H., et al. (2012). Changes in dairy food and nutrient intakes in Australian adolescents. Nutrients, 4(12), 1794–811.

Story, M., & Stang, J. (2005). Guidelines for Adolescent Nutrition Services. Center for Leadership, Education, and Training in Maternal and Child Nutrition, Division of Epidemiology and Community Health, School of Public Health University of Minnesota.

The Royal Women’s Hospital 2016, Food and nutrition for adolescents, retrieved 23 October 2016,

Utter, J., Denny, S., Lucassen, M., & Dyson, B. (2015). Adolescent Cooking Abilities and Behaviors: Associations With Nutrition and Emotional Well-Being. J Nutr Educ Behav, 1–7.

WHO 2006, A Review of the Situation in Selected South-East Asian Countries, retrieved 23 October 2016,

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