Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Adolescent Nutrition

By: Natalie Wiggins, N.D.

The adolescent years are a period of amazing growth and development. With it may come some common complaints, including acne, menstrual irregularities and hormone imbalances, and depression. Other prevalent health concerns are weight gain, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. Many of these can be overcome or significantly improved with proper nutritional support.

During the pubescent years, children grown, on average, an astonishing 3.1 inches yearly. With accelerated linear growth comes an increased demand for nutrients in the body. Girls ages 11-18 require an average of 2100 calories daily. Boys ages 11-14 require an average of 2500 daily calories, which increases to 3000 daily calories from age 15-18. Choosing optimal sources of calories can decrease a ferocious appetite and incessant cravings.

Protein is an essential nutrient required for proper development. Protein requirements in this age group range from about 46-52 grams daily. Teens often crave sources of protein that are less than ideal, including fast-food burgers, pizza with meat toppings, and deli sandwiches. Since these foods commonly contain hormones and saturated fats, they can exacerbate acne, hormone and mood problems, with continued over consumption leading to obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Safer protein sources combinations of whole grains and legumes, lean organic poultry, wilk pink or coho salmon, varied nuts and seeds, and wild game. When combined with beneficial fats, protein can cause prolonged satiety, thus decreasing frequent snacking.

Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) play multiple roles in the body. They affect inflammation, mood, and cellular signaling, to name a few. The Standard American Diet (SAD) tends to be deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, which can increase the tendency to develop cardiovascular diseases. Proper supplementation of EFAs can help in the treatment of menstrual complaints, mood imbalances, acne and elevated cholesterol. Additionally, DHA is beneficial for cognitive function.

Calcium, Magnesium, Zinc, B Vitamins, and Vitamin A are nutrients that are commonly deficient in the adolescent diet- a result of improper nutrition. Appropriate supplementation can benefit skin conditions, menstrual cramping, growth and mood.

The key to optimal adolescent nutrition is preparation. Anticipate that your young person will be hungry often throughout the day, and have nutritional options available. While it can be difficult to wake a sleeping teen, it is important to allow time in the morning for an adequate meal. Beginning the day with a balanced breakfast can set the tone for the entire day. Send a healthy snack to school with your children that they can quickly and easily eat between classes. Typically, children also need a healthy snack after school to tide them over until dinner. Family dinners are a great way to connect with your child after a busy day, but if it must be eaten on the run, planning ahead prevents the temptation to succumb to fast-food options. Having well-balanced snacks and meals throughout the day balances blood-sugar levels, which can help control or prevent diabetes, decreases the likelihood of obesity, benefits moods, and aids in learning.

Here are some tips:
  • Do the week's shopping on the weekend and plan ahead for the following week.
  • Focus on hormone-free, organic, whole foods.
  • Have your child prepare readily accessible, nutritious snacks for the week ahead. Some ideas include baggies of raw vegetables, baggies of nuts and seeds, hard-boiled organic eggs, rice crackers with nut butter/hummus/tofu spread, and baggies of thawed and lightly salted edamame.
  • Have your child help with preparation of some meals. For example, if you decide to make pizza, have your child grate the cheese, and prepare desired toppings ahead of time.
  • Have organic deli meats, cheeses, spreads, vegetables, but butters and jelly available so your child can make a nutritious sandwich quickly if he or she must eat on the go.
  • Have packages of organic instant oatmeal. Your child can prepare it for breakfast in a few minutes. Increase protein, fiber, and antioxidants with a handful of nuts and frozen berries.
  • Have frozen berries, fruits, and organic yogurt or protein powder available for your child to make a quick smoothie.
  • Make a few grains (brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat grits) and legumes (lentils/beans) in advance to cut down on meal preparation times. They can easily be thrown together to make hearty soups, toppings for salads, or as side dishes. Meats can be prepared ahead as well and used throughout the week in casseroles, tacos, and soups.

Healthful eating habits are valuable tools for adolescents that can be carried throughout life, and can help control many health concerns. Happy eating!