Adolescence And Healthy Eating

Teenage years are very difficult. Behaviorally, socially, and, above all, physiologically. A significant increase in the secretion of luteinizing and follicle-stimulating hormones by the hypothalamus (a lobe located deep in the brain, the “conductor” of all life support systems and hormonal regulation) activates the gonads, increasing the secretion of sex hormones, stimulates body growth, and leads to redistribution of body weight. The above-described changes begin and continue in the body of girls aged 8 to 13 years, and in boys aged 10 to 15 years.

A generation ago, adolescence began later, at the age of about 11-13. Scientists explain the apparent acceleration, among other things, by the growing share of fat in the diet of children and even their mothers when they were pregnant. It has been proven that obesity accelerates the onset of puberty in girls and somewhat slows it down in boys.

Puberty is an uneven process of biological, physical, and psychological changes that interact and cooperate with each other. Nutrition has a significant impact on this process, as it provides structural material and energy for the restructuring of the adolescent’s body.

Proper nutrition for adolescents

A growth spurt requires an increase in caloric intake, and an increase in the amount of macro- and micronutrients in food. Taking into account the nutritional recommendations of the US FDA, adolescent girls need 1400-2200 (2400) kcal per day, and boys need 1600-2600 (after 14 years of age 2000-3200) kcal/day.

It is critically important to get an increased amount of protein, whose amino acids are used to build the skeleton, muscles and connective tissue, as well as to synthesize many hormones and neurotransmitters.

That is why meat, fish, legumes (lentils, chickpeas), dairy products, seeds, and soybeans should be included in the adolescent’s diet.

Sufficient fat intake should be achieved by increasing the proportion of unsaturated fatty acids from various vegetable oils, fish oil, nuts and seeds, while reducing the amount of saturated fat (butter, lard, and tallow) and trans fats in the diet. Since cholesterol is used to produce sex hormones and is also critical for the normal functioning of cell membranes and nerve membranes, the presence of animal fats in the diet of a developing organism is essential.

Foods that contain vitamins necessary for adolescents

During adolescence, the body grows, changes and works hard physically, emotionally and mentally, which requires a large amount of oxygen, and therefore iron for its binding and transportation. You can get enough iron from red meat, liver, buckwheat, lentils, beets, and apples.

The strength of the skeleton, nerves, and normal hormone functioning should be ensured by calcium, the need for which is also increased during puberty. Dairy products are a good source of calcium: cottage cheese and hard cheese, milk, yogurt. If necessary, you should consider taking vitamin D or developing a great habit of daily walks during daylight hours.

A sufficient amount of zinc and folic acid in the diet is critically important for a teenager’s body.

These substances are directly involved in the formation and functioning of the reproductive system. Folate is rich in green leafy vegetables (lettuce, spinach, parsley), cabbage (cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, white cabbage), lentils, carrots, pumpkin, citrus fruits, whole grains, cereals, and nuts. Zinc is found in significant quantities in meat, fish and seafood, spinach, apples, nuts and seeds, cocoa and chocolate.

How to teach a teenager to eat healthy?

So, the main requirements for a teenager’s nutrition are: increased calorie content due to the high content of proteins and healthy fats, emphasis on sufficient amounts of iron, calcium, zinc and folic acid. Malnutrition, either due to lack of food or its inferiority, or due to digestion and absorption disorders, will result in a delay in the onset and development of puberty.

It seems like nothing special, but how? How to convince/force/encourage a young person who questions everything, denies authority, devalues, to reconsider and change their diet?

First and foremost, it’s your own example. Start eating healthy, parents! Three to four main meals a day, plus healthy snacks. Increase the amount of fiber in your food, reduce salt intake. Avoid carbonated drinks, nectars, and sugar-containing juices. Instead, keep a plate of vegetables, fruits, nuts, raisins, and a bottle of water on the table at all times.

When cooking, do not fry food, but bake, boil, or stew it. Do not bring home food that you do not want your children to eat.

Put a poster on the fridge about the Harvard Plate, put a magazine/brochure/book/about healthy eating in a prominent place (ideally open it where it is about teenagers), and finally send a link to this material ;). Agree on the menu with adolescents, giving them several alternatives within your choice and capabilities, accept their comments and suggestions where possible. Offer nutritious, healthy snacks; teenagers have always eaten what is convenient to take.

Have a healthy and interesting growing up!

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Written by Bella Adams

I'm a professionally-trained, executive chef with over ten years in Restaurant Culinary and hospitality management. Experienced in specialized diets, including Vegetarian, Vegan, Raw foods, whole food, plant-based, allergy-friendly, farm-to-table, and more. Outside of the kitchen, I write about lifestyle factors that impact well-being.

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