It can be easy to think of teenagers as simply young adults when it comes to proper diet. The truth is that teenagers are still developing mentally and physically, and require specific nutrition to help them do so.
Teens tend to live on starchy comfort food and protein, such as potatoes, pasta, bread, meat and cheese. Although the protein and calories can be beneficial for rapid growth, most of these foods are nutritionally inferior.
Healthy teenage bodies are resilient, and generally respond well to improved habits in the future. Still, moderating such foods and observing a proper diet throughout the teen years can influence overall health in the coming decades.
Some of the specific things happening in teens’ bodies are bone growth, hormone changes and weight gain. Eating the right foods can help these processes take place as they’re meant to.
Most of the bone mass that people have for their entire lives is built before adulthood. To prevent osteoporosis in later years, it is incredibly important to amass healthy bone tissue during the teenage years.
Calcium generally comes to mind regarding bone strength. Cheese is a calcium rich food, which is perhaps part of the reason teens love it. Low fat or fat free varieties of milk and yogurt are also high in calcium. It’s best to choose plain versions rather than chocolate milk and most flavored yogurts. These add refined and unnecessary sugars to the diet.
Avoid overdoing dairy by including calcium rich leafy greens, chick peas, almonds and fortified orange juice in your teen’s diet. It’s best to get calcium from whole foods as opposed to supplements.
Vitamin D is essential for proper calcium absorption. The best source is a few minutes daily of direct sunlight, which the body converts to vitamin D. When the sun’s not out, food sources such as salmon, shrimp, egg yolks and fortified milks are ideal.
Teenagers experience significant hormonal changes, and are prone to hormone related symptoms like mood swings and acne. For the best hormone health, a well rounded and nutritious diet low in salt, added sugars and unhealthy fats is the best thing.
One of the easiest ways to achieve this diet is to reduce or eliminate fast and processed foods. Fried foods, refined breads, low quality meats and cheeses, artificial sweeteners and large quantities of salt characterize these items, and don’t do much beyond supply empty calories.
Load your teen up with fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, fish, whole grains and healthy fats like olives and avocados. If you eat meat and dairy, opt for lean, organic options without the questionable injected hormones. The animals these come from are often in better general health, which means higher quality food for you.
It’s common for teenagers to gain weight more quickly than adults. This is because of increased muscle mass (mostly in boys) and fatty tissue (mostly in girls). The teen years are not a time to adopt low calorie and drastic weight loss plans. A nutritious, varied diet low in processed food is best.
Of course, this is also a time that many children see unhealthy weight gain. If underlying problems such as thyroid trouble or diabetes are non existent, consider trading simple carbohydrates for complex ones, whole dairy for fat free and reducing salt and added sugars. For example, if white pasta and pork are typically in your meals, try switching to whole wheat pasta and turkey sausage. Swap out juice cocktails for natural fruit drinks and read labels for reduced sodium.
Remember to take into consideration your teenager’s lifestyle. Sports, environment and family habits can all be impacted by his or her dietary choices. For most kids, a well rounded, nutritious diet will see them well on their way to becoming healthy, strong adults.
Katherine E. Reilly Mitchell is a freelance writer and mother with deep passions for writing and parenting. Currently she works for Assistanceforsinglemothers.com. Being a stay at home mom is not an easy task, and Assistanceforsinglemothers.com provides everything you need to thrive as a SAHM. Katherine also maintains a personal blog at www.humantextuality.com.