Teen Nutrition

We hear in the news how obesity in our youth reached epidemic status with 33% being overweight or obese in 2012.  However, according to the most recent CDC report (Oct 2017), that has decreased to 20.6% (ages 12-19) being overweight or obese.  This is a great improvement, but there is still work to do.  Even if our teenager doesn’t have a weight problem, many may have a nutrition problem.  Regardless of which category our teens fall into, the goals for their nutritional health are the same as ours, but they can have some unique needs such as rapid hormonal changes, growth spurts and intense physical and mental activities that can be helped or harmed by good nutrition.

Mood swings and depression have been linked to high sugar type of diets.  When any of us eat large amount of simple carbohydrates like sweets, soda, etc., we can cause imbalances in our body and create mood issues and even depressive difficulties.  Add to that rapid hormonal swings due to puberty and growth spurts and our teens can have an even harder time.  Complex carbohydrates such as lots of veggies, whole fruits, whole grains and legumes help keep our blood sugar stable and can help to keep our hormones in the proper progression.

Growth spurts are another factor that adults don’t face, and adolescents can see the most rapid ones.  Their bodies need more calories, for sure, but the right calories to feed their rapid muscle and bone growth.  Good, lean protein sources (avoid the fried options whenever possible) and complex carbohydrates are key for teens as they grow and change.

Many of our teens are the most active athletically in their life during the teen years.  Most of them will play sports in high school, some at a pretty intense level, and may not play in college.  Learning how to eat for athletic needs is important for when they perform now and also how to change their eating patterns when they are not playing those sports any longer.  Complex carbohydrates from whole food sources, lean protein and hydration are important for athletes, with larger portions based on the intensity of their sport.  For example, cross-country and track will need more calories because they burn more calories than softball or baseball players.

Muscle building is intense for many of our teens in their sports during adolescence, but don’t allow them to over do it on large amounts of protein shakes and powders.  There is certainly an increased need for both protein and good carbohydrates, but too much protein can be harmful.  Consult a sport nutritionist for the best plan for your athlete and don’t let them rely solely on their coach or their buddies for the best advice.

Mental energy is intense in the teen years, as well.  High school classes are designed to up the ante to get our kids ready for college, and they need to be mentally sharp and focused.  Sugary foods are not great choices for our brain focus either.

All in all, our teens need to learn to make good choices.  Snacking on whole grain type of snack bars, whole fruits, packs of veggies and avoiding fast food restaurants are key to laying a good foundation for the adult years and preventing illness and disease.  Our body responds to cumulative efforts on our part, whether good or bad.  Make good nutrition a focus for your whole family and the benefits will accumulate in all areas of life.