What nutrients do teens need?

The teenage years are a period of rapid growth and development. A time when a balanced, healthy diet is more important than ever to meet the body's needs. So when they're more into crisps than crudités, how can you prevent food from becoming just another topic to battle over and instil healthy habits that will hopefully last a lifetime?

A crucial stage in development into adulthood

Getting teenagers to eat healthily can be an uphill struggle. According to the National Diet and Nutrition Survey, only 9% of teenagers currently manage to eat the recommended five-a-day of fruit and veg, with the typical teen favouring instead a junk food diet full of fast food, chocolate, crisps and fizzy drinks.

A recent survey, conducted by Oxford University, revealed that teenagers are the age group with the worst diets in the UK, with many failing to get basic vitamins and minerals needed for growth and good health.

Only 9% of teens currently manage to eat the actual recommended five-a-day of fruit and veg

'We are in the middle of a teenage malnutrition epidemic in which junk foods are depriving their brains of vital nutrients,' says Professor John Stein, Professor of Physiology, at Oxford University.

Professor John Stein Oxford University

We are in the middle of a teenage malnutrition epidemic in which junk foods are depriving their brains of vital nutrients.

A lost generation

It's a far cry from the early years. A time when parents have complete control over what their children eat and go to great lengths to ensure that they follow a nourishing, balanced diet.

However, immediately these kids hit their teens, a period when the growth rate is as rapid as that of early childhood, nutritionally they become almost a lost generation without the same focus and support.

It's at this crucial stage in their development, they suddenly acquire a mind of their own and become influenced less by parents and family and more by peers, media messages and body image issues.

A time of great change

Adolescence is a period of enormous change - physically, emotionally and intellectually. It is also during the teenage years that puberty will kick in. Girls develop a more womanly shape that is defined by an increase in body fat levels and boys begin to increase their muscle mass and start filling out. All of which requires teenagers to eat enough nourishing foods to enable their bodies to develop correctly.

'Age 13-18 is the period of growth spurts, frantic hormone activity and high academic stress - in fact the body needs a higher amount of nutrients then more than at almost any other time in life,' says nutritionist Yvonne Bishop-Weston

Know your nutrients

During the teen years it is important to follow a healthy and varied diet but there are certain nutrients that are essential during this vital stage in development. These include:

PROTEIN: important for physical growth. Good sources include fish, chicken, eggs and also vegetarian options such as beans, quinoa, nuts and seeds.

IRON: expanding blood volumes and growing muscle mass means teens generally need more iron. Girls also have extra iron needs because of their periods. Iron-rich foods include lean, red meat, dark green leafy vegetables, eggs, soya, dried apricots and fortified breakfast cereals. To help the body absorb iron more effectively, always accompany with food that contains vitamin C, such as a glass of orange juice or a piece of fresh fruit.

CALCIUM: almost half of all skeletal growth occurs during adolescence so large amounts of calcium (at least 3 servings a day) are needed to help build strong bones. Include dairy products such as yogurt, cheese or green leafy veg, soya, almonds and sesame seeds. To ensure proper absorption and utilisation of the calcium, vitamin D (found in dairy produce and eggs) is also needed.

OMEGA-3: vital for brain function, skin health and general wellbeing. The best source of omega-3 is found in oily fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel and sardines. Other sources include linseed (flaxseed) oil and pumpkin seeds. Also consider topping up with a supplement such as Vitabiotics WellTeen Plus, £13.25, which includes a comprehensive multivitamin and a omega-3 capsule.

How to get teens to do healthy eating

Leading UK nutritionist, Dr Marilyn Glenville, has these top tips:

  • ​Eat with your teens as often as you can. Or at least sit with them and talk to them while they eat. Wherever possible make mealtimes a social, enjoyable event.
  • Give them a say in healthy, family eating by involving them in the food shopping, searching for recipes online and planning and preparing meals.
  • Avoid filling the cupboards with crisps, biscuits and chocolate bars - instead provide a balance of nourishing foods, allowing for occasional sweet treats such as good quality dark chocolate or unsalted nuts and fruit.
  • Teach them simple cooking skills so they can get actively involved in the food preparation. Staples such as pasta (ideally wholemeal) with a tomato or pesto sauce provides a tasty meal in minutes.
  • Lead by example - by being thoughtful about food and choosing foods that are tasty and nutritious, you let your teenager know that food is something to enjoy but is also extremely important to the body.

To find out more visit http://www.marilynglenville.com

Lead by example. Make tasty and nutritious choices to let your teen know food is something to enjoy and is also important for the body.

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Snacks to tempt them

  • Hummus with carrot, cucumber or pepper sticks or wholemeal pitta bread. Made from chickpeas, hummus is a great source of protein and healthy fats.
  • Wholemeal bread with peanut butter makes a nutritious snack that provides complex carbs for sustained energy release, a source of protein, important minerals including iron and healthy fats.
  • Home-made smoothies. Simply slice up a banana, add a handful of berries into a blender with some milk and a tablespoon of natural yogurt for an instant pick-me-up.
  • Freshly sliced mango or a small bowl of grapes.

DISCLAIMER: The material presented on this website is not intended to replace the advice and recommendations from a qualified doctor or other health practitioner. Always consult your doctor or health practitioner if you have any health concerns and before embarking on any health, fitness or wellbeing programme. See my full Disclaimer here

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