You want to look after your child for as long as possible. When children reach their teenage years, they want freedom. They want to explore and take risks. But that doesn’t mean you should give up on encouraging them to get good nutrition.
What is good nutrition for your teenager? Is there a right amount of calories they need? Do they need something different to the average adult?
It’s true that the teenage body goes through a range of changes. The hormones are all over the place, and teenagers are burning more calories than their adult counterparts. Here’s all you need to know about teenage nutrition to make sure your child gets everything they need.
Calorie Intake Should Be Higher Than the Average Recommended Levels
You’ll read that the average male needs 2,500 calories and average female needs 2,000 calories. This is for the average adult of normal weight. The actual amount of calories you need will depend on your age, weight, height, and health.
Teenagers tend to be more active than the average adult. That means the body is naturally going to burn more calories throughout the day. However, the body is going through a range of changes at the same time. The metabolism works quicker than average.
For a normal weight teenage boy, 2,800 calories per day are recommended. A girl of normal weight would need 2,200 calories per day. Remember that this is still just an average and a guideline. Your teenager may need slightly more or less to get through a day of activity.
This is some calories teenagers’ bodies burn. The actual amount needed to eat will depend on weight needs. If your teenager is obese, a diet may be recommended. Talk to your doctor about this. If your teenager is underweight, they will need to eat a little more to be able to put on some weight.
Taller children will need more calories. Those going through growth spurts or exam stress may find that they feel hunger more.
But it’s not just about the calories. There are nutrients that you will need to consider for your teenager’s diet. Let’s look at both macro and micro nutrients to see what your teenager need.
Getting the Right Level of Macro Nutrients
There are three macronutrients that the body needs: carbohydrates, fat, and protein. The body needs all three but in the healthiest forms. That means those refined carbs and saturated fats need to be curbed and avoided as much as possible. To get the right type of energy that lasts throughout the day, unsaturated fats, complex and starchy carbs, and lean proteins are the best options.
Your macronutrients will provide calories throughout the day. You’ll get nine calories in each gram of fat, while carbs and protein provide four calories in each gram. This is a good guideline to follow if you’re not sure of the calorie count in a type of food. However, most nutrient labels will now include calories, carbs, proteins, and fats.
Opt for lean meats for protein. There will be no problem of your teenager getting proteins, especially if your teen is a meat eater. All meat and animal products will contain some protein. While the body itself is 50% protein, your teen needs a diet made up of around 30% of protein.
This is the main source of long-term energy. The protein will aid the growth of muscle, which is understandable necessary right now. By growing muscle, the body burns more calories naturally as muscles need more calories.
If your teen is vegetarian or vegan, you’ll need to source protein alternatives. Legumes, beans, and nuts are good sources of proteins.
Proteins break down in the body slowly, which is why they are a good source of long-term energy. When your teenager eats plenty of healthy proteins, they won’t feel as hungry throughout the day. In fact, studies show that a handful of nuts as a snack can be highly effective to tide anyone over until their next meal.
I’ve mentioned healthy proteins a couple of times. While burgers and sausages do have protein sources, they are high in saturated fats due to the cooking methods. You want to offer lean meats, poultry, and oily fish rather than burgers and sausages. Don’t forget about eggs, cheese, milk, and other dairy sources for protein.
Get the right type of carbohydrates. There are a lot of diets that tell you carbohydrates are bad. This isn’t quite true. High glycemic index foods are bad for you, which tend to be the refined carbs—simple ones that break down extremely quickly. Carbohydrates are an extremely important source of energy.
In fact, starchy carbs are the main source of fuel for the teenage body. Complex carbs contain more fiber, which helps to limit a number of carbs that are metabolized as sugars into the blood stream. You’ll limit the amount of insulin that needs to be released, meaning your teen is less likely to suffer from type II diabetes.
When you look at an athlete’s diet, you will see a lot of complex, starchy carbs for initial energy. They eat carby foods before training and before their competitive events. Afterward, they will stock up on the protein to help heal and build stronger muscles. Carbs break down much quicker than protein, even complex ones, meaning they can offer the instant energy that the body needs.
The teenage diet should be made up of around 60% carbohydrates. Look at the type of carbs to make sure they aren’t going to cause a sugar rush. Simple carbs will metabolism as blood sugar, leading to a sudden rush and then a sudden drop in energy—known as the sugar crash. Sweets and refined carbs offer no nutritional benefits at all.
Look out for unsaturated fats. Fats get an unfairly bad reputation. They’re viewed as the reason people gain weight. This isn’t true. But what you want to focus on is the right fats. It’s time to get rid of the junk and focus on the healthy, unsaturated fats.
Around 10% of the diet needs to be unsaturated fats. The teenage body doesn’t need any more than 30% of the diet being made up of fats, but on needs 10% to work efficiently.
Good fat sources are full of various nutrients, including vitamins A, D and K. These nutrients are needed for a variety of bodily functions, which we will cover very soon.
Fats also contain cholesterol. Having good types of cholesterol in the body is good for you. It helps to create a waxy, protective lining of the arteries, so the blood flows through the body easily. Too much bad cholesterol from unhealthy fats will create a friction layer that causes clots and clogs.
Of course, too many healthy fats are a bad thing. Remember that fats have nine calories per gram. You will get far more calories from any fatty food, so you want to curb the amount your teenager eats to keep their weight normal.
Look out for olive oils, peanuts (even peanut butter), cottonseed oil, some cheeses, egg yolks, and coconut oil to get healthy fats into your teenager’s body.
If you stock up on a lot of processed foods in the house, consider making a few changes as a family. Your teenager isn’t the only person who will benefit from a change in the diet. Your whole family benefits.
Getting Your Micronutrients in Your Teenager’s Body
Now it’s time to look at your teenager’s micronutrients needs. While the macronutrients cover the carbs, fat, and protein, the micronutrients look at the smaller elements that are found in the macronutrients. We’re looking at the vitamin and minerals and antioxidants that you gain from your food.
You need a range of micronutrients. It would take all day to mention every single one. There are certain nutrients that your teenager needs more than others.
During the teenage years, most of us are deficient in calcium, vitamin D, zinc, and iron. The body uses the nutrients up quickly, but teenagers don’t get enough from their food. So, you will want to ensure the right foods are put on your teen’s plate to help boost these micronutrients.
Calcium and vitamin D go together. You’ll know that calcium helps with the building of strong bones. During the teenage years, the bones are growing. This can be extremely painful. And if the bones don’t get the right nutrients, they grow weak and brittle. Your teen is more at risk of breakages and other injuries.
When you do get calcium, you need to make sure that it’s absorbed into the body easily. This is where the vitamin D comes into play. It helps to encourage the body to absorb all elements of calcium added to the body.
The great news is that some countries add vitamin D to the milk to help boost the vitamin intake. You can also get it from the sun or tanning beds. Encourage your teenager to go outside for 15 minutes a day in the sun to get their intake. If you struggle with this, encourage them to do homework or read outside after school.
Iron necessary for the energy. The body is using up a lot of energy throughout the day. The energy doesn’t just come from the calories. You can have all the calories your body needs and still feel fatigued and drained. Your teenager is likely to feel it due to a lack of iron in the body.
Iron helps to create red blood cells. These cells carry the oxygen around the body. When the body is deficient in iron, it can’t create all the red blood cells it needs. Your brain doesn’t get all the oxygen that it needs and starts to shut down some processes. A slump throughout the day is more likely to happen.
Not getting enough iron can also lead to mental disorders. Teenage depression is a serious concern and can be linked to a lack of iron. When the body feels fatigued, the stress hormones increase. The creates more of an emotional imbalance, which is already a problem in the teenage body.
And boys and girls need iron for other reasons. Boys need it to help with the building of muscles, while girls need it to help with the regulation of their monthly cycle. During their periods, girls can feel more tired because of the loss of blood—so drop in iron levels.
Red meat is one of the best sources of iron, but you want to get the healthy cuts of red meat. You can also get a good amount from dark leafy greens.
Promote growth with zinc. Zinc is commonly overlooked. It’s taken for granted but is essential for your teenager’s body. It’s the zinc that helps with the growth spurts. By not getting enough, your teenager’s growth can stop before it usually would.
Boys and girls need good levels of zinc to support their neurological and immune systems too. Zinc naturally helps with the healing process, overcoming some allergies, rashes, and ailments. It’s necessary for DNA and white blood cell production.
At the same time, zinc helps to fight against free radicals in the body through its antioxidant properties. Teens who consume enough zinc will find their cells are supported, meaning clearer skin, fewer age-related conditions in later life, and fewer neurological problems. They are also at a lower risk of developing cancer.
You can make sure your teen gets zinc through the addition of shellfish, dark meat on poultry, beef, and some dairy sources.
Encourage a Healthy and Balanced Diet
As a parent, you need to continue encouraging a healthy and balanced diet. Teenagers will naturally gravitate to unhealthy foods. Their friends are eating it, and they are more likely to give into advertising. Those McDonald’s burgers look amazing in marketing, right?
You can encourage a healthy diet by eating as many meals together a week as possible. Try to eat your main meals together every night. Put together home-cooked meals that are full of foods that will offer all the nutrients your teen needs.
Unless your teenager is obese, try not to encourage dieting. Even if your teen is obese, you want them to diet with doctor’s guidance. Most teenagers don’t need to diet, as they will need all the calories they can get. What you want to encourage is a diet that is full of good carb and fat sources to give them the nutrients they need throughout the day.