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Fri Jan 13 2023

Importance of nutrition during adolescence

As per the World Health Organization, the age group between 10 and 19 years is the adolescent stage. According to UNICEF, about 16% of the world’s population is adolescents.

In many cultures, this phase is associated with physical changes that start with puberty. Adolescence, the period after childhood and before adulthood, is when a child rapidly gains height and weight.

However, the scientific community believes this stage is not just limited to physical growth and changes. It encompasses the moral, social, and psychological terrains of the child too. It is a complex phase characterized by neurocognitive maturity, puberty, and role transitions in the social gamut. All of these are directly or indirectly linked to nutrition.

Typically, the phase is divided into two sub-categories: early adolescence between 10 and 14 years and late adolescence between 15 and 19 years. With growth, mental and physical, being the key factors in this stage, nutrition has an essential role to perform. Micronutrient deficiencies can delay growth and risk the development of chronic diseases during adulthood.

Importance of Nutrition During Adolescence: Overall

• Habits developed during adolescence remain during the adult stages of an individual. Good eating habits like a healthy diet ensure that the individual remains optimally productive throughout the rest of his/her life. Bad dietary habits can have long-term health effects.

• Performance in school is directly linked to the nutritional habits of the adolescent. For example, foods like citrus fruits, avocados, nuts, and eggs help improve brain performance and mental health. The right food, various research shows, helps in enhancing memory and alertness. Foods rich in proteins and fibers enable faster information processing abilities in the child.

• Proper diet and meal plans ensure high immunity levels in the child. For example, cruciferous vegetables that are rich in vitamins A, K, and C and minerals like iron, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and antioxidants help improve immunity in the child.

• Eating the right kind of food also keeps the child protected from high-risk factors of developing non-communicable diseases in later life, which can have serious or fatal consequences.

• Undernourishment in teens and young adults is a major concern worldwide. It can result in stunted growth, causing physiological and psychological stress, with the risk of affecting the day-to-day life as the child grows up. If your child needs to adhere to a restrictive diet due to health reasons, ensure that they are not consuming processed foods.

Meeting the Nutritional Needs of Adolescents: Importance of Key Nutrients During This Stage

Unfortunately, while it is easy to serve and feed nutritious food to toddlers, by the time they reach the age of 10 or 11, the kids tend to become independent in their dietary choices. Most of it gets influenced by their peer group. Chances are high that they switch to unhealthy options like unhealthy snacks, eating from outside, consuming energy-dense and processed foods, etc.

The degree of urbanization, socioeconomic background, family environment, etc., also influences their food choices. Dieting and weight loss are some of the persistent issues faced by girls at this age who prioritize body image rather than health. What they need to understand is that they can maintain their weight and body shape even while eating traditional food that is healthy and tasty.

Parents and guardians need to ensure that their adolescents include the following in their daily diet:

1. Rainbow Food

A nutritious diet must include naturally-colored foods like fruits and vegetables. For example, red bell peppers and blueberries are rich sources of vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants that help prevent health issues like osteoporosis and obesity in later life.

Similarly, orange fruits and yellow vegetables contain vitamin A and C that keeps the eyes healthy, prevents cell damage, and lowers cholesterol. Green veggies like spinach have vitamins like B, E, and K that support gut health, memory power, and healthy bones.

2. Calories

This is the time of physical growth spurts. The muscle mass in boys increases; therefore, they need higher calories for optimal metabolism rate. On average, a teenage boy should consume 2,200-2,800 calories per day, and girls need about 2,000 calories every day.

Nutrient-rich snacks are ideal for meeting the hunger pangs of the kid.

3. Carbs

Carbohydrates are energy boosters. This nutrient is food for the brain. In the adolescent stage, the child is growing fast. Therefore, his/her diet should be carb-rich.

Teenagers should consume at least 130g of carbs every day. This comes from veggies, fruits, dairy products, and whole grains. Kids into physical exercises and sports need more carbohydrates to stay energetic.

4. Proteins

This micronutrient is essential for growth, repair, and muscle development. During puberty, both girls and boys gain weight. Additionally, for lean muscle development, proteins are a must.

However, too much protein consumption is not recommended because the excess is converted to fat. Rich sources of proteins are milk, egg, cheese, meat, and fish. The ideal choice is to depend on lean meat for unsaturated fats. Vegetarians can go in for soybeans, legumes, and nuts to meet their daily protein intake.

5. Fats

The body and the brain need fats for optimal functioning. Crucial vitamins like A, K, D, etc., are fat-soluble and can be absorbed by the body only when fats are consumed.

Not all fats are bad. It is critical to consume unsaturated fats like Omega-3 fats and leave saturated & trans fats out. The latter two categories of fats promote bad cholesterol causing the heart to work overtime.

6. Minerals

For optimal cognitive development and proper bone and muscle growth during this stage, adolescents need to consume iron, calcium, and vitamin D essentially.

• Iron: Girls need to consume higher iron content in their puberty and adulthood. Boys need higher iron to help in lean body mass development. In their adulthood, the requirement drops. Recommended foods are fortified grains, lean meats, beans, nuts, raisins, etc.

• Calcium: This is essential for healthy bone growth. Boys and girls in their teenage years need about 1,300 mg of calcium per day. Items like milk, yogurt, soybeans, kale, broccoli, spinach, etc., are ideal for consumption. Kids with milk allergies can go in for a vegan diet.

• Vitamin D: This essential nutrient is required to absorb calcium in the bloodstream. The requirement is the highest during puberty. The daily dietary requirement is about 15 mcg daily. Sources of vitamin D are sunlight, mushrooms, eggs, salmon, tuna, fortified oats, etc.

Conclusion

After infancy, adolescence is the fastest-growing stage in our lives. That is why there is an increased need for multiple micronutrients. Critical nutrients like minerals and vitamins support optimal growth. In the absence of the necessary nutrients, growth retardation can set in with the chances of impairing productivity, working capacities, reproductive potential, and more during adulthood.

Parents and kids should not underestimate the power of nutrition during this time when the body grows mentally, physically, and psychologically.