The teenage years are trying times in a lot of ways, especially in terms of nutrition. Adolescence is indeed a period of high nutritional risk, when the increased demands for nutrients are often met with poor choices of foods, unhealthy eating habits, and deficient intakes of calories and protein as well as many vitamins and minerals.
Adolescence usually begins at age 10?12 in girls and 12?14 in boys. There are not only new demands, but also many physiological changes because of the sexual hormones being released. Body composition also shifts, with girls increasing their percentage of fat and adding curves, while boys tend to increase protein and muscle development. During these years, young men may gain 15?20 pounds in weight and 4?5 inches in height per year, while girls may add 13?18 pounds and grow 3?4 inches yearly. The main years of growth are between ages 11?16 years for girls, 13?18 years for boys.
The nutritional problems of adolescence are probably related to the rebellious nature of these years. Teenagers eat what they want and when; they are hard to feed and harder to influence regarding dietary changes. Peer pressure is great. They often have limited food intake and poor nutrition, with a diet high in sweets and refined foods, fried foods, fast foods, and junk foods. The adolescent diet is often very high on the glycemic index, meaning more rapidly absorbing sugars. A diet higher in the complex carbohydrates such as whole grains and legumes will help to balance this. Luckily, though, for many teenagers the great demands for nutrients to support growth will increase their appetite for more concentrated protein foods and nutrient-rich foods. Some active adolescent males in particular may easily consume 4,000 calories daily.
Boys generally tend to eat enough food, but they may be deficient in nutrients because they often avoid vegetables, whole grains, and other whole foods. Teenagers who eat more refined foods without taking supplements commonly develop deficiencies. Teenage girls tend to eat less, as they are concerned about their weight, and the changes in fatty tissue increase this concern. Thus, they also may consume a diet deficient in nutrients. With the beginning of the menstrual cycle, there are greater demands for iron and other nutrients as well. Problems of bulimia and anorexia nervosa are more common in teenage girls, and will be discussed further in the Weight Gain program in Chapter 17. Teenage pregnancy can be a huge problem because of poor nutrition and deficiencies existing before pregnancy begins, let alone the challenge to a developing emotional system. Poor nutrition during pregnancy or prior to it greatly increases the risk of complications.
Obesity in adolescence usually results from poor food choices and laziness or lack of exercise. Other habits can also lead to weight gain. For example, more average daily time spent watching TV is associated with higher weights, also resulting from less activity and more snacks. With increased calorie intake during these growth years, there is an increase in the number and size of fat cells. This can lead to lifelong weight problems. Diet changes, sensible eating, and exercise are the best ways to counteract excessive weight gain, even in youngsters. Like eating habits, exercise habits are often created early in life, and once set, are harder to change. This is also true for attitudes toward health and life. These factors?eating and exercise patterns, and attitudes?are all important in generating long-term health.
Teenagers need to realize the importance of good nutrition, which can help a great deal in promoting nice-looking skin and general good looks. Dental caries are more common in adolescence, probably due to hormonal changes, a poor diet high in refined sugars, and mineral deficiencies. A more wholesome diet along with regular brushing and flossing will also promote healthy teeth.
We can help adolescent children best by being understanding and supportive. Our advice should be mild, with suggestions for modifications such as avoiding certain foods and trying others. Parents can be good influences by being good examples, eating well themselves, and not buying junk and refined snack foods for the home. Keeping nourishing snack foods such as fruits, nuts, and yogurt on hand and preparing wholesome meals will help youngsters make the best food choices.
A big concern in recent years is the wide availability of fast foods. These tend to contain high levels of salt, fat, and additives and low amounts of fiber and other vital nutrients. Protein is usually adequate; sugar may be excessive. If fast foods are not eaten too frequently (more than once weekly), they are not a big cause for concern. (And now, the fast food restaurants are offering healthier salads and nonfried foods.) However, a regular diet of soda pops, breads, cheese, sweets, and snack foods (which can be eaten at fast food places or at home and school) can be more of a problem. The protein content of such a diet may be low, and the B vitamins and vitamins C, A, and E are often deficient. Minerals may be the biggest problem. Calcium and iron are needed in high amounts in these growth years, and they are frequently not obtained in adequate amounts from diet alone. If soft drinks are substituted for milk, both calcium and vitamin D may be low. Zinc and manganese are also concerns, as are the trace minerals chromium and selenium. Those extra high nutrient foods such as brewer?s yeast, molasses, wheat germ, and nuts can be added to fruit smoothies to increase the dietary nutrients. Teenagers may accept these kinds of suggestions.
The recommended overall diet plan is a balanced one containing vegetables, including some greens; nuts; whole grains; fruit; and higher-protein foods (dairy and meats) to provide the needed B vitamins, C, calcium, zinc, and iron. Vegetarian teenagers need to be even more conscious nutritionally, making sure they obtain many high-nutrient and wholesome foods. (See Chapter 16, Vegetarianism program.) To assure that growing teenagers obtain all the nutrients they need to support their heavy growth demands, a general multiple vitamin and mineral supplement is highly recommended. Girls especially need extra iron. Other needs may also be increased under certain circumstances; these are discussed in later programs.
The following nutrient levels suggest the RDAs (and slightly above) for two age groups of the adolescent years: 12?15 and 16?18. After that, the adult programs are used. There are, of course, nutritional supplements for young people that contain higher levels of vitamins and minerals that can also be used as additional support. Many teenagers will do well on these products as they ensure good levels of most nutrients.
|12?15 Years||16?18 Years|
|Calories||boys, 2,600?3,000||boys, 2,800?3,000|
|girls, 2,000?2,300||girls, 2,000?2,200|
|Protein||boys, 45 g.||boys, 56 g.|
|girls, 46 g.||girls, 46 g.|
|Vitamin A||5,000 IUs||5,000 IUs|
|Vitamin D||400 IUs||400 IUs|
|Vitamin E||30 IUs||30 IUs|
|Vitamin K||150 mcg.||150 mcg.|
|Thiamine (B1)||1.5 mg.||1.5 mg.|
|Riboflavin (B2)||2 mg.||2 mg.|
|Niacin (B3)||18 mg.||18 mg.|
|Pantothenic acid (B5)||10 mg.||10 mg.|
|Pyridoxine (B6)||2.5 mg.||2.5 mg.|
|Cobalamin (B12)||5 mcg.||5 mcg.|
|Folic acid||400 mcg.||400 mcg.|
|Biotin||200 mcg.||200 mcg.|
|Vitamin C||300 mg.||300 mg.|
|Calcium||1,200 mg.||1,200 mg.|
|Chloride||3 g.||3 g.|
|Chromium||200 mcg.||200 mcg.|
|Copper||2?3 mg.||2?3 mg.|
|Fluoride||2.5 mg.||2.5 mg.|
|Iodine||150 mcg.||150 mcg.|
|Iron||18 mg.||18 mg.|
|Magnesium||350 mg.||400 mg.|
|Manganese||5 mg.||5 mg.|
|Molybdenum||500 mcg.||500 mcg.|
|Phosphorus||1,200 mg.||1,200 mg.|
|Potassium||4 g.||4 g.|
|Selenium||200 mcg.||200 mcg.|
|Sodium||2.5 g.||3.0 g.|
|Zinc||15 mg.||15 mg.|