When you think of your teenager, is the image you see in your mind that of a happy, healthy energetic young person, brimming with potential? Or is the image you have of your child not so rosy? Is your teenager tired and listless, with bad skin and extreme moods?

The teen years can sometimes seem like a constant battle. Between the ages of 12 and 18 children are growing and developing rapidly. They suddenly have hormones making them feel things they have never felt before. And their brains are still immature, causing mood swings and impulsive behaviour.

Teenagers need support and guidance from their parents. A significant amount of parental support comes in the form of food. It can feel like you are feeding a bottomless pit when your teenager is constantly raiding the fridge and eating anything they can get their hands on.

 

WHAT IS GOOD NUTRITION?

A growing body needs a constant supply of energy and nutrients1. The only way to meet those requirements is through a healthy, balanced diet. That means eating food from all of the different food groups.

Energy in food comes from carbohydrates, proteins and fats. The growing teenage body has an extra demand for calories to keep up with these developments, but also to keep up with daily activities2.

These macronutrients bring more than just calories to the table. Protein provides the body with amino acids which are essential building blocks for all protein structures in the body including muscle, hormones and enzymes. Fat provides fatty acids for brain health and the structure of cell membranes. And carbohydrates bring with them fiber which is important for gut health.

Vitamins and minerals are found in whole grains, fruit and vegetables. These micronutrients are involved in almost every metabolic process in the body. From the extraction of energy in food to the production of neurotransmitters in the brain. Deficiencies result in poor health – both physical and mental.

If you – or your teen – needs a little convincing as to why good nutrition is important at any stage in life, but particularly during adolescence, here are 15 reasons to consider when choosing the foods you eat.

 

15 REASONS WHY GOOD NUTRITION IS IMPORTANT FOR TEENS

#1 Growth and repair of body tissues
The human body can only grow and repair itself if it receives the required amount of energy and nutrients. The teenage body is undergoing enormous changes. The body is growing and developing and the brain is maturing and forming new connections3.

#2 Improved memory

Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and kale contain a compound called sulforaphane which is important for brain health4. Anthocyanins (antioxidants) in berries have also been shown to support memory function5. Make sure to include plenty of colour on your plate!

#3 Energy for work and play

The daily schedule of the average modern teen is non-stop. If they are not busy with school, they are playing sports or engaging in cultural activities. And they still need to get their homework done at the end of the day. Eating regularly to supply their body with enough energy to get them through the day is essential.

#4 Maintaining a healthy weight

Your body-conscious teen is probably starting to worry about their weight. A healthy weight comes from a healthy diet. While maintaining a healthy weight is important, general health comes first. Adolescence is not an appropriate time to start putting restrictions on your diet6.

#5 Supporting lean muscle mass

Boys in particular start developing more muscle from the beginning of puberty7. A healthy diet that provides adequate amounts of protein allows this to happen.

#6 Growing bones

Bones need calcium to grow and be strong. Support bone growth in the teenage years lays the foundation for healthy bones as an adult8.

#7 Improved concentration

As with memory, cruciferous veggies and berries can help boost concentration. Some amino acids9 ( tyrosine, l-theanine and acetyl-l-carnitine) have also been shown to be useful in improving focus. But don’t forget that your brain needs glucose to function, so make sure to give your teen healthy, balanced meals.

#8 More stable moods

Stable energy levels go a long way to ensuring stable moods. Choose whole grain, low glycaemic index carbohydrate foods to ensure a sustained release of glucose into the blood. Also important are omega-3 fatty acids from foods such as walnuts and dark oily fish.

#9 Healthy skin

The skin is the largest organ in the human body. It also needs to be supported with good nutrition. A healthy balanced diet is the key but omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants are most important.

#10 Stronger immune system

Our children are exposed to bacteria and viruses on a daily basis. If their bodies are rundown due to lack of nutrition, the immune system is not able to launch an effective attack on these nasty bugs10. Support the immune system with nutrients such as vitamin C and zinc.

#11 Good habits for adulthood

Your state of health as an adult has its roots in your state of health as a child and teenager. Making sure your teen eats well sets them up for long term health.

#12 Resilience to stress

Whether it is pressure from school or difficult social relationships, teens are experiencing significant levels of stress. A well nourished body is better able to bounce back from a stressful situation.

#13 A happy, healthy gut

The gut microbiome and digestive health is a relatively new area of research. Research has shown that a healthy gut is linked to a stronger immune system11 and better mental health12. Feed the microbes in your teen’s tummy with fiber from whole grains, fruit and vegetables.

#14 Improved sleep

Avoiding sugar and refined carbohydrates, eating plenty of fruit and vegetables, staying hydrated and eating enough protein all contribute to a good night’s sleep.

#15 Greater vitality

All parents want the image of their teen to be a healthy energetic young person, brimming with potential. A healthy balanced diet can turn this dream into reality.

With all of these reasons for your teen to eat a healthy diet, isn’t it worth a little extra effort to make sure you provide nutritious food for the family? It is not only your teenager that will benefit. The whole family will have a new spring in their step.

 

 

REFERENCES

  1. Das J, Salam R, Thornburg K, Prentice A, Campisi S, Lassi Z et al. Nutrition in adolescents: physiology, metabolism, and nutritional needs. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 2017;1393(1):21-33.
  2. Koletzko B. Basic concepts in nutrition: Nutritional needs of children and adolescents. e-SPEN, the European e-Journal of Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism. 2008;3(4):e179-e184.
  3. Blakemore S, Burnett S, Dahl R. The role of puberty in the developing adolescent brain. Human Brain Mapping. 2010;31(6):926-933.