Nutrition for Teenage Years

The teen years and the arrival of puberty are the second period of remarkable growth for youngsters. It is a period of profound development that has important nutritional implications. As a result, requirements increase for energy and all nutrients. The growth and energy requirements of the teen years nudge daily calorie needs upward.

On average, boys 11 to 14 years old need to have approximately 2,500 calories per day. From age 15 to 18, daily calorie requirements increase to 2,800 calories. Teenage girls also require more calories, but in the neighborhood of 2,200 calories a day.

Most of the calories a teenager consumes should take the form of the complex carbohydrates found at the bottom of the Food Guide Pyramid. It is also a good idea for teens to have 3 servings of calcium-rich foods a day (milk, yogurt, cheese, certain vegetables) to make certain that needs are met for growing bones.

Iron is also important to the expanding volume of blood in the body and for increasing muscle mass. Teenage girls can be at risk for a shortage of iron as a result of iron loss through menstruation. To ensure ample dietary iron, encourage teens to eat fish, poultry (especially dark meat), red meat, eggs, legumes, potatoes, broccoli, rice, and iron-enriched grain products.

Growing, active teenagers have a real need to snack between meals. Encourage healthful snacks such as fresh fruits and raw vegetables, low-fat yogurt, low-fat milk, whole-grain bread, popcorn, pretzels, and cereals. Several factors challenge the ability of teenagers to eat well.

The typical teen has a busy school schedule, extracurricular activities, and often part-time employment. These may lead to skipping breakfast and other meals in favor of more meals from vending machines and fast-food restaurants, and more snacking on convenience items.

For example, adolescence is an especially important time to get adequate calcium. Inadequate calcium may make teens more prone to the development of osteoporosis and other diseases in the future. When weight gain accompanies these habits, many teenagers turn to fad diets for quick weight loss.

All of these pressures may lead to nutritional excesses, deficiencies, and, at the extreme, eating disorders. Excessive weight concerns can have more serious implications. Extremes in eating patterns, either severe under-eating or excessive overeating, may result in serious—even life-threatening—health risks.

These extremes may impair some bodily functions, including decreased hormone production, and thereby slow sexual maturation in both girls and boys. Consult a health care professional if an adolescent has a problem with weight.