Ensuring a balanced diet with a variety of healthy foods will promote optimal growth and development for an adolescent. Eating right will reduce an adolescent’s risk of obesity, osteoporosis, iron deficiency, and dental caries (cavities). It’s also not too early to start thinking about their heart health. What adolescents eat now does effect cholesterol levels and blood pressure, and can reduce risk of developing other chronic diseases such as cancer and diabetes.
If you’re the parent of an adolescent, here are the important nutrients and components of a diet your son or daughter may be missing:
1. Folate. This vitamin is most commonly found in many different fruits and vegetables. Most adolescents in the U.S. do not eat the recommended amount of 2½ to 6½ cups each day.
3. Calcium. Adolescents drink more full-calorie soda per day than milk. Males aged 12–19 years drink an average of 22 ounces of full-calorie soda per day, more than twice their intake of fluid milk (10 ounces), and females drink an average of 14 ounces of full-calorie soda and only 6 ounces of fluid milk. This goes without saying, not only are adolescents not getting enough calcium, but drinking way too much sugar and high fructose corn syrup from all that soda.
4. Fresh Foods. Not enough fresh foods and too many boxed or canned, processed foods. Most adolescents eat more than the recommended maximum daily intake of sodium (1,500–2,300 mg each day).
5. Fiber. Include more whole grains, such as 100% whole wheat, quinoa, oats, and brown rice, and less white food.
6. Vitamin E is low in most adolescent's diets. It's found in leafy greens and foods with healthy fat—can those options be any further from an adolescents food preferences! No wonder they’re low in vitamin E. Some top vitamin E containing foods include almonds, swiss chard, broccoli, spinach, kale, avocado, papaya, and olives.
A couple other noteworthy items:
1. Ensure your adolescent eats a healthy breakfast because it’s associated with improved cognitive function (especially memory), reduced absenteeism, and improved mood.
2. Empty calories from added sugars and solid fats contribute to 40% of daily calories for children and adolescents aged 2–18 years, affecting the overall quality of their diets. Approximately half of these empty calories come from six sources: soda, fruit drinks, dairy desserts, grain desserts, pizza, and whole milk.
I hope this summary give you a good idea of what to focus on when you’re grocery shopping for the family, packing your adolescent’s lunch, or making dinner.
In Health and Happiness,
Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods