Teenagers, unlike children, start exploring their freedom of choice. They are not fed, they eat; they are not sent to play, they choose to go. Yet at the same time peer pressures also start manipulating their choices. They are more experimental whether it is to try alcohol, or try out the newest fad diets or to develop their bodies to meet extreme ideals or athletic prowess.
Nutritional information or misinformation is driven by a need to improve their lives,often for instant gratification. It is very important as a parent to understand the driver of their demand for nutritional information or avoidance of certain foods. This article will discuss the nutritional needs of an adolescent, drivers of food choices and the challenges that teens face.
Nutritional Needs in Adolescents
Healthy nutrition or the lack of it will affect the three As of a teen: academics, athletics and attitude. With the onset of adolescence, growth speeds up dramatically and differences in gender become apparent. This is due to hormones that direct the whole body into maturity. Energy and nutrient needs are greater during the teen years than at any other time of life, with the exception of pregnancy and lactation.
Gender differences become apparent with girls peaking and declining earlier in energy needs. Most teens are overfed, but undernourished. Teens grow a lot, so they need to eat a lot, yet not only do they need more food, they need the right kinds of food. Thus adolescent girls need to pay special attention to staying physically active and selecting nutrient rich rather than energy rich foods to avoid excessive weight gain.
Vitamin and mineral needs are increased, with most correlating with the needs of adults. Calcium and iron should however be emphasized. Calcium and vitamin D are essential for bone health and the mineralization of bones peak during adolescence. Thus the intake of dairy should be encouraged in teens. Iron is another mineral that peaks but for different reasons in both genders. In girls it is due to the onset of menstruation and in boys it is due to the rapid increase in lean body mass. The intake of lean red meat, legumes and other sources rich in iron should be encouraged.
Drivers of choice
School commitments, extra mural activities and socialising can create the perfect environment for an irregular routine. Special emphasis should be placed on the influence that nutrition has on one’s performance. Poor nutrition will not only affect them on the sporting field but also academically. Having access to sound nutritional advice is crucial at this stage.
Food and health choices made by adolescents often reflect the opinions of their peers. The celebrity culture can derail their healthy food perceptions and have them avoiding carbohydrates all together. You might soon find your teenager too lethargic for sports and their school work suffering.
Adults need to keep in mind that teens have the right to make their own decisions – even if they are contrary to their parents view. Parents are simply gate-keepers that can ensure there are healthy choices at home and be on stand- by with credible nutrition advice.
Challenges that teens face
Physical maturity and growing independence enable teens to try their newly found freedom of choice, but this could be at a time when their choices might influence their nutritional health throughout their lifetimes. Some teenagers start experimenting with drugs whilst others have the wisdom to refrain. Drugs can have a very negative impact on the nutritional status of a teen as they use money allocated to food on drugs or like cocaine, it inhibits their appetite. Smoking is often initiated girls as a means of suppressing their appetite to remain slim. Thus the drivers of their choices should be identified without being judgemental. Maintaining a trusting open relationship is the best means of guiding them though this phase.
Teens are concerned about how they look and can feel self-conscious about their bodies. This can be especially true when they are going through puberty, and undergoing dramatic physical changes and facing new social pressures. Unfortunately, for a growing proportion of kids and teens, that concern can grow into an obsession that can become an eating disorder. Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa cause dramatic weight fluctuations, interfere with normal daily life and damage vital body functions.
Parents can help prevent kids from developing an eating disorder by nurturing their self-esteem and encouraging healthy attitudes about nutrition and appearance. Also, if you are worried that your child may be developing an eating disorder, it’s important to intervene and seek proper medical care. This is also true if there is any family history of eating disorders.
Balanced diet for a teen
The Eat-well plate is a system that has recently replaced the food pyramid and gives a visual idea for choosing a variety of foods but also the proportions they should represent on a plate.
Based on the eat-well plate, you should try to eat:
Teens are encouraged to eat plenty of vegetables and fruits every day with each meal. Fruits and vegetables contain many vitamins, minerals, fibre and anti—oxidants to support a healthy immune and digestive system.
Carbohydrates should be eaten with each meal. Teens should be encouraged to choose whole grain sources. The energy source for your brain is glucose.
Choose legumes, fish, poultry and fish to maintain lean body mass.