From physical changes to mental development, the teenage years are a challenging time for both parents and kids. Puberty changes the body both inside and out. And during this life-changing period, it’s important to focus on good nutrition to stay strong and healthy. Here are some things to keep in mind.
1. Have Iron For Blood
When a young girl starts menstruating, the body depends on daily iron intake. This mineral helps the body build red blood cells. Inadequate intake could increase the risk for anemia – a condition characterized by lethargy, fatigue, and dizziness. And if her periods are extremely heavy, she is already at risk. Inadequate iron intake simply amplifies that risk.
In general, girls between the ages of 14 and 18 should consume about 15 mg of iron every day. Need some ideas? Depending on preference and dietary lifestyle, organ meats are a good start. Iron can also be obtained from fortified cereals, baked beans, kidney beans, lentils, and eggs.1
2. Have Calcium For Bones
Puberty marks the beginning of building strong, healthy bones. However, teen girls who are underweight or aren’t consuming enough calcium run the risk of developing osteoporosis. According to one study, only 10 percent of older teen girls consume adequate calcium each day compared to 42 percent of boys of the same age. Ideally, a teen girl who is 14 to 18 years old should consume 1,300 mg of calcium daily.2
To amp up calcium intake, turn to milk, yogurt, cheese, tofu, soy products, and kidney beans. Even foods like fish (sardines and salmon with the bones) and leafy greens (collard greens or spinach) can contribute to calcium intake.3 In some cases, a calcium supplement may be required – especially if you are a vegan family, if your teen is lactose intolerant, or the family doesn’t consume dairy for other reasons. Check with your doctor before starting a supplement.
3. Have Zinc For Immunity
A flourishing immune system ensures that the body stays strong enough to grow and develop properly. Zinc is essential to this process. The body can’t make it on its own, though. This calls for foods like poultry, fortified cereals, shellfish, soy foods, dairy, legumes, and whole grains. Girls between 9 and 13 years should aim for 8 mg a day. Between 14 and 18 years, they should consume 9 mg a day.4
4. Avoid Too Many Processed Foods
Thanks to the busy life of a teenager, many meals are typically consumed with friends or on the go. Often, this entails packaged meals or a quick fast food snack. And due to the growth spurt that teens experience, their appetite becomes larger than ever before.
The growing body needs real, nutritious food. Make an effort to limit empty calories from sugary sodas and processed junk food. Emphasize the concept that moderation is everything. It’s vital to aim for balanced, homemade meals whenever possible. And as the parent or guardian, you have the power to guide your teen along the way. Provide useful reading material and demonstrations in the kitchen. Set an example by making fun and nutritious dishes at home. This will arm her with the necessary knowledge to make smart choices on her own.5
5. Maintain Healthy Weight For A Regular Menstrual Cycle
While many teens are focused on looking like a model in a magazine, it’s easy to overdo the quest for skinniness. Unfortunately, underweight teenage girls run the risk of starting their period too late. And for those who have already started menstruating, being underweight can cause hormonal imbalances and irregular periods. This can be an emotionally difficult time for a teen as peers develop and show signs of puberty while they do not. Irregular periods, on the other hand, can make life tedious. The unpredictability of the cycle can interfere with normal routine and hassle a young teen. This irregularity can also mask underlying problems like hormonal imbalances that need to be corrected. In some cases, a visit to the endocrinologist may be in order. To avoid all this, it’s crucial to maintain a healthy body weight appropriate to her age and height.6
Good Rules To Live By
Remember, this is the stage of life that food habits are established. Take some time to start on the right note. Need a refresher? Here’s a roundup of the most important rules when it comes to eating healthy as an adolescent – and beyond.7
- Eat plenty of fiber. Rich sources include fresh vegetables, fruit, and whole grains.
- Stay hydrated with adequate water intake.
- Choose lean protein like seafood or chicken over heavy fatty meats.
- Bring in a mix of vegetables. A rule of thumb: pick from different colors to get a good mix of nutrients. For example, combine green leafy veggies with red peppers, purple red cabbage, and orange carrots.
- Stock up on fresh fruit. For a quick snack, make fresh fruit juice.
As a parent or guardian, it’s up to you to set your little girl up for life with good eating habits. Start on it today!
|↑1||Iron, Center for Young Women’s Health.|
|↑2||How much calcium do children & teens need? Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.|
|↑3||Calcium, Center for Young Women’s Health.|
|↑4||Zinc, Center for Young Women’s Health.|
|↑5, ↑7||Healthy Eating During Adolescence, Stanford Children’s Health.|
|↑6||Underweight teen girls, NHS.|