Nutritional Needs of Adolescents – The Teenage Years

The teenage years can be a difficult time in life. Physical growth and mental development are rapid, boys' voices change, girls start having periods, and most teenagers have to face taking public examinations for the first time.

Teenagers develop unusual eating habits and often eat too many fried, fast and junk foods. On the other hand, the reverse can also be true as social pressures can lead them to cut back drastically on food, often without thought to their nutritional needs. Such diets are often deficient in protein, minerals and vitamins, and this can have a negative effect on mood and behaviour, as well as physical health.

Nutritional Needs of Boys

Between the ages of 13 and IS, boys may put on up to 9kg (20lb) and grow up to 12cm in a year. They need plenty of protein to build the larger muscles that are developing. Very active adolescent boys may consume up to 4,000 calories a day. This is a generous allowance, which should easily provide enough minerals and vitamins, but frequently does not as boys often avoid vegetables and whole-grain carbohydrates.

  • Why not try a fresh fruit drink and add 1-2 teaspoonfuls of molasses for a real mineral and vitamin boost? Molasses can also be spread on bread.

  • Snack on nuts and seeds. Feast on the minerals, protein and good-quality oils that they contain.

  • Dried fruits, such as raisins, apricots and dates, are much more nutritious than chocolate.

Nutritional Needs of Girls

nutrition needs of adolescentsAdolescence in girls starts earlier, with the main growth spurt usually occurring between 11 and 16 years. They may grow up to 10cm (4in) in a year and put on up to 8kg (18 lb). More weight conscious than boys, they usually consume fewer calories, and are therefore even more prone to nutritional deficiencies. When their monthly periods start, girls need more iron as well as calcium and zinc. Irregular and painful periods can be caused by nutritional deficiencies and, although the birth-control pill is sometimes prescribed for these problems, it also increases the need for certain nutrients.

Fast food

A daily diet of bread and cheese, sweets and packaged snack foods, washed down with a fizzy drink, will be deficient in minerals, many vitamins and possibly even protein. Equally, meals from fast-food outlets usually contain too much salt, fat, chemical additives, preservatives and sugar, and insufficient fibre, even though the protein content may be adequate.

Particular nutritional needs in adolescence

CALCIUM AND IRON are both needed for growth. VITAMIN D, which is needed to enable the body to absorb calcium, is often deficient if the diet contains no milk. Once a girl's periods have started, her need for iron increases.

CALCIUM, MAGNESIUM, BORON, VITAMINS D AND K, ZINC, COPPER AND MANGANESE are all needed to build strong and healthy bones. PHOSPHORUS is also required but is unlikely to be lacking in the diet. Failure to build good bones may increase the risk of osteoporosis in later life.

ZINC, MANGANESE, CHROMIUM AND SELENIUM are often low in the diet of teenagers as they tend to eat too much refined carbohydrate, such as white flour and sugar.

VITAMINS C AND P can be deficient if insufficient fresh fruit and vegetables are eaten.

THE B-VITAMINS can easily fall below the required level in adolescents. This is particularly important for girls taking birth-control pills and teenagers taking antibiotics for acne. ZINC, VITAMINS A AND F, especially the omega-3 fats, may help the complexion.

Are food supplements necessary?

Supplements should not act as substitutes for a nutritious diet. There are substances in food that we need, but have not yet identified and these are not included in supplements.

To avoid dietary imbalance, mineral and vitamin supplements should not usually be taken in large doses.

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