It’s an old adage that teenagers can eat whatever they want and never gain a pound. We’ve all been there – suddenly your intensely picky child can down an entire pizza and two plates of cookies by themselves, and still be whining for a snack. Is your child supposed to be a bottomless pit?
Unfortunately for your grocery budget, teenagers really do need more calories than any other age group to grow and thrive each day. But empty calories aren’t the best choice; they need healthy, nutrient-dense meals that support their rapid growth and help their brains develop. In fact, those teenage years are one of the most important times of our lives for good nutrition – a tough problem for parents who often feel like their teen is speaking an entirely different language.
But by understanding a few key facts about your teen’s nutritional needs, you can make informed choices to help your teenager enjoy a healthy, balanced diet now and in the future.
1. Teenagers need more calories than at any other time in their lives.
The amount of calories a person need depends on their age, sex, and activity level. But as a general rule, teenagers need more calories than adults or small children to support the rapid level of growth that occurs during adolescence. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, teenage boys need an average of 2,800 calories per day and teenage girls need an average of 2,200 calories per day. Teens who are extremely active may need even more.
2. Teens need more fruit and vegetables.
According to the experts, teenagers consume about half of the recommended range of fruits and vegetables each day. A diet high in fruits and vegetables decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and obesity. Current guidelines recommend a minimum daily intake of 1.5 cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of vegetables for teenage girls, and 2 cups of fruit and 3 cups of vegetables for teenage boys.
3. Teenage girls may need more iron.
Iron deficiency is common in adolescent girls, who need extra amounts to combat menstruation on top of their rapid growth cycle. Girls ages 14 to 18 need an average of 15 milligrams of iron per day, while boys the same age need around 10 milligrams daily. Over time, an iron deficiency can cause symptoms like fatigue, muscle weakness, frequent headaches, and pale skin. Iron can be found in foods like leafy greens, red meats and poultry, seafood, and beans.
4. Your teen may not be getting enough vitamins and minerals.
Studies have shown that adolescents tend to fall short of their daily quotas of vitamins and minerals, particularly with calcium, zinc, and vitamin D. Current guidelines recommend that teens consume 600 International Units (IU) of vitamin D, 1300 milligrams of calcium, and 12-15 milligrams of zinc each day. Unless advised by your teen’s pediatrician, it’s best to get these nutrients through their daily diet; dietary supplements are not well-regulated and may even be dangerous for children and teens.
5. Teenage dietary patterns tend to continue into adult years.
A healthy diet isn’t only important for teenage growth and development. Research has shown that teenagers tend to carry the relationship they develop with food throughout the rest of their lives. That means it is crucial to teach your teen about healthy nutrition; to encourage healthy choices and dissuade using food as a coping mechanism; and to foster positive ideas about body image.
If you have questions about dietary needs and nutrition, walk in at Urgent Care of Fairhope. No appointment is necessary.