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Feeding your teenager


WebMD Medical Reference
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Adolescence is a time of tremendous change. As teens mature, they make more food choices on their own, often in the company of influential peers.

Yet, even as teens become more autonomous, it's still up to their parents to provide them with good examples and nutritious foods. Here are some tips on how to go about doing that.

Help teenagers make good choices

Deciding what to eat and how much to exercise is part of growing up. However, too often, a child's choices give health the short shrift. Teens may lack the skills and motivation to do what they should to stay healthy.

"Balancing school, sport, social activities and work presents a major challenge to eating healthily.

On-the-go adolescents may squander opportunities for good nutrition by skimping on foods that help fuel their growth and development. Missing meals, especially breakfast, and choosing processed and convenience foods over fresh translates into too much fat, salt and sugar, and not enough of the fibre, vitamins and minerals essential for a teen's health now and later.

Calcium is critical

Calcium, critical for bone development and density, is one of the nutrients that can easily be overlooked.

Calcium needs are higher than ever during the teen years - 800mg a day for girls (aged 11-18) and 1,000mg a day for boys (aged 11-18). Yet calcium consumption often drops off in teenagers as they replace milk with fizzy drinks. Research shows that 14- and 15-year-old girls who drink fizzy drinks are three times as likely to suffer a bone fracture than those who do not drink them.

For calcium to have an effect - you also need vitamin D. Vitamin D mostly comes from safe exposure to the summer sun, plus some foods - including oily fish and fortified spreads.

It is hard to get the daily amount of vitamin D needed from food, so most adults and children aged 4 and over are asked to consider taking a supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D every day during autumn and winter.

Teenagers require the calcium equivalent of about four 225ml (8fl oz) glasses of milk daily. Here are some other foods that supply as much calcium as a glass of milk:

  • 225g (8oz) yoghurt
  • 40g (1 1/2oz) hard cheese
  • 225ml (8fl oz) calcium-added orange juice
  • 450g (16oz) low-fat cottage cheese.

Girls need extra iron

Iron, as a part of red blood cells, is necessary for transporting oxygen to every cell in the body. It's crucial for a teen's brain function, immunity and energy level. Girls between 11 and 18 years old need about 15mg per day. Boys in the same age range need about 11mg.

Iron deficiency is common in adolescent females and people who limit or eschew meat. Menstruating young women are at increased risk of an iron shortfall because their diets may not contain enough iron-rich foods to make up for monthly losses.

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