Adolescence is one of the most rapid periods of growth-in fact, it’s second only to infancy. During this time teens are experiencing puberty and bones are maturing. It’s also a time of independence for teens who are now bombarded with advertising and peer pressure.
Puberty occurs between ages 10-12 for girls and between 12-14 years for boys. Body composition changes for both girls and boys as they start to transition into adulthood. Body fat increases in girls, while lean body mass increases in boys.
Because of the special concerns related to growth during the teenage years, it’s important to steer them in the right direction. Adolescents tend to be at nutritional risk, not only for their increased nutritional needs but also for their lack of nutrients in their diets. Previous NHANES (National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys) studies found that among all age groups, adolescents tend to have the highest prevalence of poor nutritional status. During this time soft drinks, energy drinks, coffee, tea, and possibly even alcoholic beverages tend to replace more nutritious drinks such as 100% fruit juice and milk. Adolescents also tend to skip meals (especially breakfast), eat more meals away from home, and start to diet.
So which nutrients in particular should we be interested in during adolescence?
- Calcium-Bones reach their peak density during this time. Calcium needs are greater during puberty than during childhood. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends four servings of dairy during this time (or other foods high in calcium such as broccoli.)
- Iron-Iron needs increase during this time because of increased muscle mass and blood supply. This is especially important for girls who must account for the blood loss during menstruation. The best absorbed sources of iron are meats. Other sources include dark green vegetables, beans, and iron fortified grains (like cereals). Drinking a glass of orange juice with a source of iron helps with absorption.
- Zinc-Zinc is an important nutrient during rapid periods of growth, as well as for sexual maturation. Just like iron, meats are a great source of zinc. Oysters provide more zinc per serving than any other food.
- Energy-That means more calories! This is especially true for teens that are physically active or are ill. Adolescent boys between 14 and 18 years old may need even up 3000 Calories each day.
It’s important to realize that dietary needs during adolescence are special-different from both childhood and adulthood. Be on the lookout for possible poor food choices that tend to characterize adolescence and know which nutrients and foods should be a focus.
I hope everyone has a great weekend! We’ve had my dad and stepmom in town all week helping us watch the kiddo. It’s been great having company, and I’ve been very spoiled with the cooking and even cleaning . Next week, I start my new job and I’m very excited!
Any plans for the weekend?