What Your Teen Needs To Eat To Be Healthy

teenagers As a chef, husband, and father, I care a great deal about what my family eats. I pay close attention to the diet of my 2 adolescent sons who both play sports. At this time in their life, poor diet can not only be detrimental to their health now but can also cause serious problems when they are adults.

The growth spurt that occurs in adolescence is second only to that which occurs in the first year of life. For this reason, nutrient needs are higher during the teenage years than any other time in life as they are necessary to achieve full growth potential. The greatest amount of nutrients are needed during the peak of the adolescent growth spurt. The nutrients required at this time may be twice as high as other times during adolescence. If these needs are not met, puberty and overall growth are slowed and certain diseases and other problems may also develop such as anemia and vision impairment. Lean body mass is also reduced due to lack of nutrients at this time. Nutrient deficiency at this time also lead to adult diet-related diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and osteoporosis. (Story, n.d.).

Energy needs are at an all-time high during adolescence. For this reason, carbohydrates are very important as they are the main source of dietary energy; and energy needs are at an all-time high during adolescence. Carbohydrate-rich foods are also the main source of fiber which assists the body with normal bowel function and the prevention of chronic diseases, including certain cancers, coronary artery disease, and type 2 diabetes. These foods include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. The majority of daily calories needed should come from these types of sources. Calories from foods and drinks containing sweeteners such as sugar and high fructose corn syrup should be limited. (Story, n.d.).

Fat and fatty acids are also required by the human body for normal growth and development. Caloric intake from total fat and saturated fat should be limited as well. Healthy sources of these fats include milk, beef, cheese, and margarine. Protein intake during this time is also extremely important as it allows for the maintenance and development of muscle as well as build, repair, and maintain skin, organs, blood, and bones (Foglia, 2008.). To meet the requirement for protein, adolescents should choose low-fat or lean meats and poultry as well as fish, nuts, seeds, peas, and beans (Healthy, n.d.). (Story, n.d.).

Calcium, iron, zinc and sodium are also imperative for adolescence. Calcium is actually needed during this time than any other due to an overwhelming increase in skeletal growth. 90% of adult bone mass is attained during this period of life. Milk is an excellent source for calcium in the diets of adolescents, as well as cheese, ice cream and frozen yogurt. Calcium-fortified foods, including orange juice, breakfast bars, bread, and cereals, which are usually fortified to the same level as milk can also be excellent sources of calcium. Lactose intolerant teens who are unable to consume small amounts of milk with food, yogurt, or aged cheese can utilize lactose-free and low-lactose milks as well as chewable enzyme tablets. (Story, n.d.).

Iron is crucial for the transportation of oxygen in the bloodstream and for the prevention of anemia. Iron found in meat, fish, and poultry, is more easily absorbed by the body than that found in grains and other plant foods. This type of iron should be consumed as it will more easily provide the necessary levels. Zinc plays a major role in growth and sexual maturation and therefore is highly beneficial to adolescents. Zinc can be found in red meats, shellfish, and whole grains as well as in fortified foods such as cereal; however, like iron, zinc from plant sources are not as easily absorbed as zinc from animal sources. Vegetarians and vegans should use iron and zinc supplements for this reason. (Story, n.d.).

The human body needs some sodium to function properly as it helps maintain a balance of fluids and helps with the transmission of nerve impulses, as well as the contraction and relaxation of muscles. This sodium can be derived from almost all food sources including processed and prepared foods as well as natural food sources. Sodium intake should be limited as high levels can lead to diseases such as heart disease and high blood pressure. (Story, n.d.). (Mayo, n.d.).

Vitamins are also important during this stage in life. Vitamins A, E, C, and folate are extremely beneficial to teens. Vitamin A is essential for normal vision and plays a vital role in immune function, growth, and reproduction. This nutrient can be found in ready-to-eat cereal, milk, carrots, margarine, and cheese. Its precursor, Beta-carotene, can be found in carrots, tomatoes, spinach and other greens, sweet potatoes, and milk. Vitamin E is an antioxidant that is important as body mass increases during adolescence. Sources of vitamin E tend to be high fat so they have to be carefully consumed. The nutrient can be found in margarine, cakes, cookies, and donuts, salad dressings and mayonnaise, nuts and seeds, and tomatoes as well as in fortified breakfast cereals. Vitamin C is important for the production of collagen and other connective tissues. Excellent sources of this vitamin are fruits and vegetables with an emphasis on citrus fruits, tomatoes and potatoes. Other common sources are juices made from citrus fruits including orange and grapefruit juice, other fruit drinks, and ready-to-eat cereals. Folate and other B vitamins promote healthy metabolism and are abundant in whole grains, rice, nuts, dairy products, eggs, meat, fish, fruit, and leafy green vegetables (Foglia, 2008.). (Story, n.d.).

Although nutrient needs increase dramatically for both males and females after puberty, during adolescence these needs are gender-specific. This means that there are different needs for each gender. For example, although the need for iron increases for both genders during adolescence, they are at the highest for males during the growth spurt and for females during the onset of menstruation which increases the need for additional iron in girls. Protein requirements are also the highest for females during between the ages of 11 to 14 and for males between the ages 15 to 18. The Daily Recommended Intake values for all nutrients necessary for each gender during the adolescence stage of life for males and females are shown in the following chart although certain factors may influence these values such as pregnancy, lactation, level of physical activity, and chronic illnesses. (Story, n.d.).

Figure 1.Mary Story and Jamie Stang, DRIs and AIs: Recommended intakes for Adolescents; Vitamins and Minerals, Nutrition Needs Of Adolescents.

Figure 1.Mary Story and Jamie Stang, DRIs and AIs: Recommended intakes for Adolescents; Vitamins and Minerals, Nutrition Needs Of Adolescents.


1. Foglia, K. (2008). A Teen’s Guide To Nutrition And Healthy Eating. Explore Biology. Retrieved August 3, 2013, from http://www.explorebiology.com/documents/LE/06HealthyEating.pdf

2. Healthy Eating During Adolescence. (n.d.). Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library. Retrieved August 3, 2013, from http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/conditions/pediatrics/healthy_eating_during_adolescence_90,P01610/

3. Mayo Clinic Staff. (n.d.). Sodium: How to tame your salt habit. MayoClinic.com. Retrieved August 3, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/sodium/NU00284

4. Story, M. and Stang, J. (n.d.). Nutrition Needs of Adolescents. University of Minnesota School of Public Health. Retrieved August 3, 2013, from http://www.epi.umn.edu/let/pubs/img/adol_ch3.pdf


Leave A Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s