Nutritional needs are high during the teenage years as the human body experiences rapid changes in growth and development similar to the first year of life. This period in a teenager’s development causes serious nutritional challenges which not only affect their growth and development but also their future livelihoods as adults. Teenagers as a population are hard to reach, difficult to measure and therefore remain largely neglected in terms of nutritional advice.
Teenagers today have terrible eating habits. From skipping breakfast to unhealthy cafeteria lunches and fast food dinners, teens are not getting the proper amount of vitamins and minerals that their body needs, daily. Although you get vitamins and minerals from the food you consume every day, some foods have more vitamins and minerals than others. The latest data from the rolling National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) suggests that typically teenagers have diets that are high in sugar, salt and saturated fat and lacking in fruit and vegetables which is a key source of vitamins and minerals (DH, 2012). Vitamins and minerals boost the immune system; support normal growth and development, and help cells and organs do their jobs. In the UK it is recommended that you consume 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day.
The NDNS shows that girls and boys aged 11-18 years are consuming on average 2.8 and 3.0 portions per day respectively, with only 9% of this age group achieving the 5 portions per day. The data also highlighted low results for achieving targets for vitamin D, vitamin A, riboflavin, magnesium, iron and selenium through consuming food in this age group.
The teenage years are a particularly unique period in life because it is a time of intense physical, psychological, and cognitive development. Increased nutritional needs at this juncture relate to the fact that teenagers gain up to 50% of their adult weight, more than 20% of their adult height and 50% of their adult skeletal mass across the whole duration of adolescence. It is therefore imperative that teenagers, who don’t get the nutrients needed from their food consumption, take a vitamin supplement.
Alongside poor eating habits, increased physical activity, teenage pregnancies, menstruation, and a desire to lose weight or gain muscle can all lead to a teen’s additional need for supplementation. All teenagers are different therefore it is essential you address the needs of each individual according to their lifestyle requirements.
key vitamins and minerals for teenagers include:
Vitamin A: Promotes a healthy immune system; protects the eyes; keeps skin healthy; and is essential for growth and development of cells. Food sources include: milk, eggs, fortified cereals, liver, peaches, dark green leafy vegetables, mangoes.
Vitamin C: forms collagen (the tissue that helps to hold cells together); is essential for healthy bones; teeth, gums and blood vessles; helps absorption of iron and calcium, aids wound healing; and contributes to brain function. Food sources include: red berries, kiwi, guava, grapefruit, oranges, red/green peppers, broccoli, tomatoes
Vitamin D: strengthens bones (aids the absorption of calcium). This vitamin is manufactured by the body when exposed to sunshine. Food sources also include: egg yolks, fish oils, fortified milk.
Vitamin E: protects cells from damage; maintains health of red blood cells. Food sources include: vegetable oils, leafy vegetables, nuts, avocado, wheat germand whole grains.
B12 assists in the production of red blood cells and is important for nerve cell function. Food sources include: fish, red meat, poultry, milk cheese, eggs, fortified breakfast cereals.
B6 helps with normal brain and nerve function; aids the body to break down proteins; and assists with the production of red blood cells. Food sources include: potatoes, spinach, banana, nuts, seeds, red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, fortified cereals.
Thiamin(B1) converts carbohydrates into energy, and aids heart, muscles and nervous system to function properly. Food sources include: fortified bread, cereal, pasta, meat, fish, soy foods, dried beans, peas, whole grains (wheat germ).
Niacin(B3) turns food into energy; assists with nerve function; and ensures healthy skin. Food sources include: red meat, poultry, fish, hot and cold cereals, nuts.
Riboflavin (B2) is important for good vision; turns carbohydrates into energy; and assists with the production of red blood cells. Food sources include: meat, eggs, legumes, nuts, green leafy vegetables, fortified cereals.
Folate (folic acid or B9) is important for the production of DNA, and is important for the production of red blood cells. Food sources include: liver, dried beans, legumes, green leafy vegetables, fortified bread, rice, pasta.
Calcium: is essential for strong bones and teeth. The time to build strong bones is during childhood and the teen years, so it’s very important to get enough calcium now to fight against bone loss later in life. Weak bones are susceptible to a condition called osteoporosis, which causes bones to break easily. Food sources include: milk, yogurt, cheese, dark green leafy vegetables, fortified foods, soy milk, orange juices.
Iron: is important for the transportation of red blood cells carrying oxygen around the body. Symptoms of iron-deficiency anaemia include weakness and fatigue, light-headedness, and shortness of breath. Food sources include: red meat, pork, fish, shellfish, poultry, lentils, beans, soy foods, green leafy vegetables, fortified flour, cereals, grains, raisins.
Magnesium: helps muscles and nerves function; steadies the heart rhythm; keeps bones strong; helps the body create energy; and makes proteins. Food sources include: whole grains, nuts, seeds, leafy vegetables, potatoes, beans,milk, avocado, banana, chocolate.
Potassium: helps with muscle and nervous system function, and helps the body maintain the balance of water in the blood and body tissues. Food sources include: potatoes (with skins), broccoli, citrus and dried fruits.
Zinc: is important for normal growth; strong immunity; and wound healing. Food sources include: red meat, poultry, seafood, dried beans, nuts, milk, dairy products, whole grains and fortified breakfast cereals.
Selenium: fights off damaging particles (free radicals) in the body; thyroid function; and protects the immune system. Food sources include: brazil nuts, meat, fish, eggs, cereals, mushrooms.
Teenagers tend to not have the best judgment when it comes to eating healthy and what is best for their bodies. During these years, it is important for them to learn to eat healthy and give their bodies the vitamins and minerals that it needs to grow and develop adequately for later life. Parents play a key role in facilitating a positive example through advance preparation of meals and providing a vitamin supplement where needed.
Article by Harriet Green, Nutritionist, The Nutrition Nutcracker
Departmentof Health, (2012) ‘National Diet andNutrition Survey’ Headline results from Years 1, 2 and 3 (combined) of the Rolling Programme(2008/2009 – 2010/11). https://www.wp.dh.gov.uk/transparency/files/2012/07/NDNS-Y3-report_All-TEXT-docs-combined.pdf