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Family Health Online / Pharmacy at Safeway
Family Health Magazine - NUTRITION

Healthy Eating for Teens
Beyond Ichiban™

The teen years are characterized by a period of rapid physical, emotional, social and sexual growth. Accompanying these changes are greater independence, peer pressure, challenges to self-esteem and increased demands on time and energy. Today's teenagers live complicated lives. In a time of information overload, they are targeted by the media with images of how to look and behave.

From about the age of 10, children are in a growth spurt. This means they need more nutrients and energy until they reach their mid to late teens. Generally the growth in girls peaks at age 12 and is completed by 15. Girls tend to become more weight conscious as their body naturally lays down fat in the abdomen and pelvic areas. The growth spurt in boys usually peaks at 14 and stops at 19. Boys experience an increase in muscle mass and bones. Boys too are very sensitive about their changing weight and shape.

There are three important issues when speaking of teens and nutrition. Their lifestyle and eating habits, their concern with weight and body shape and their increased need for specific nutrients for optimal growth must be considered.

Lifestyle and eating habits

Busy lifestyles often lead to erratic eating habits, skipped meals and high intakes of convenience foods. This has an impact on a teen's nutrition by increased fat in the diet, increased energy (calories) from fast foods and fewer nutrients overall.

Just what do teens eat? Is it all chips, pop and "Ichiban™-style" dried Oriental noodle mixes? Researchers at the University of Alberta in Edmonton found some surprising information when they interviewed 400 teenagers in 1999. Overall, the teens ate quite well, especially the boys who had good nutrient intakes simply because they ate more than the girls. On average the teens ate only three meals a week in a restaurant, a lower figure than was expected.

Snacking proved to be an extremely important eating habit for teens who live busy lives juggling the high energy demands of school, working and activities. A whopping 98 per cent of the teens ate snacks.

Many of the typical adolescent eating habits - snacking, skipping breakfast and indulging a well-developed taste for "junk" food - are no cause for concern on their own. There could be problems down the road for teens who don't think of healthy food and don't necessarily get enough fruits and vegetables. The researchers found that teens understand the importance of healthy eating at an "intellectual level." Yet they walk out of a classroom lecture on nutrition straight to a lunch of chips and pop.

Time, convenience and taste are much more important to a teen than healthy food. Now you know why those instant Oriental noodle soups rate so highly with teens!

Some nutritional survival tips:

Here are some ways to offset the barriers to healthy eating for your teen:

  1. If healthy eating is not a priority for your teen, make the easy choice the healthy choice by having healthy foods available in your home. Involve your teen in planning and preparing meals which are more likely to be eaten. Cooking with your teen encourages healthy eating and develops wonderful skills that will last a lifetime.
  2. Invest in a good low-fat cookbook, one that contains recipes that would appeal to your teen. Check out the appetizer section to see the variety of recipes that would be excellent as snacks such as pizzas, quesadillas, pita wraps and sandwiches. Home made tortilla and pita chips are easy to make and taste great with salsa.
  3. If fruits and vegetables don't taste as good as other foods to your teen, add them to foods they like. Extra vegetables in the spaghetti sauce or an added fruit in a milkshake can give your teen more from that food group. Buy fruit juices instead of pop. Make those instant soup mixes more nourishing by adding some frozen peas, corn and carrots. For convenience, keep a bowl of prepared raw vegetables, such as carrots, sweet peppers and celery in the refrigerator.
  4. Keep up on what your teens like to eat. Don't forget peer pressure - eating yogurt with a spoon may no longer be okay. Yogurt in a tube may be more acceptable.
  5. If your teen is "starving" and says there is nothing good to eat in the house, there are some tips that may help.
    • Check out single portion frozen foods like pizza pockets or burritos. Leftovers from last night's supper may hit the spot. A bowl of cereal makes a great snack.
    • Keep several types of sliced breads and rolls in the freezer for toast in the morning. By adding a slice of cheese or meat they can be lunch for school or work.
    • Prepare chicken, tuna or salmon salad using a small amount of light mayonnaise. Cover and refrigerate for use for lunches and snacks. Peanut butter, eggs and cheese are power packed foods for teens.
  6. If your teen has a "craving" for a particular food, see if you can substitute it with another similar tasting food. Offer pretzels instead of chips, chocolate milk instead of a milkshake, a juice-based beverage instead of pop, or a bagel instead of a donut.

Eating in fast food restaurants - things to consider:

Fast food restaurants have a place in our society: they are convenient, cheap and have value as a family or friendly outing. There is nothing wrong with the occasional fast food meal. However, if it becomes a regular habit, your teen may get more fat than recommended and not enough fibre and essential nutrients. Here are some suggestions you can offer to make those fun meals nutritious.

Body shape and weight concerns

Is your young teen eating constantly and getting rounder? Don't comment and don't let others comment either. With puberty comes a voracious appetite and a rapidly changing body shape. These changes are totally normal.
Teens can be preoccupied with their weight and complain of being "fat" when they are clearly not overweight. In past generations, females wanted to lose weight while males want to gain weight (as muscle). Now more and more boys want to lose weight. In a question asked of the 400 students in Edmonton "Are you eating less than usual to lose weight?" - 33 per cent of female and 12 per cent of males answered "yes."

Dieting is often the precursor to eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorders. Girls will start to restrict calories and fat in order to be thin and to be popular. Unfortunately, eating disorders often lead to isolation and depression. Be concerned about your teenager if you see the following signs:

Because of varying growth rates, a wide range of weights is considered normal during adolescence. Teach your teen to be realistic about a desirable size and weight. Ask her to think of a few friends or family members of her approximate age and body frame. . . people who look normal to her, and not like fashion models and ask how much they weigh.

Teenagers are vulnerable to the ideals of body weight and shape that their friends and society admire. It is important that you, as a parent, maintain a healthy attitude towards weight, healthy eating and exercise so you can help your teen through these crucial years.

Nutrient needs

Missed breakfasts followed by nutritionally unbalanced lunches can spell potential health risks for teens. A teen who is rarely home for meals may not be getting the food and nutrition needed to stay healthy.

Iron is a nutrient that is essential to support growth and development. Teenage girls are at risk for iron deficiency because they are growing and because iron is lost in menstruation. As well, some girls may reduce their food intake of meat, fish and poultry, foods that contain essential iron. Some signs to watch for are fatigue, irritability, loss of concentration and lack of energy.

A small percentage of the girls in the University of Alberta study had low iron stores in their blood. The boys showed little sign of iron shortage because they eat more. If you are concerned about your teen's iron status, see your family doctor. The test for iron deficiency is a simple laboratory blood test.

Calcium, used in bone growth, is another essential nutrient needed by adolescents. Calcium is most readily available in milk and milk products. If your teen is not consuming foods from the milk food group, a calcium supplement may be required.

Some other nutrition challenges

Some teens experiment with vegetarian diets. There are excellent books on the market to help you to cook vegetarian. This can be a wonderful opportunity for you and your family to try different meals with beans, peas and lentils.

Nutrition for the growing athlete must be balanced and healthy with enough fluids and calories to meet the extra energy needs.

Acne is not linked to diet. Don't blame acne on eating greasy foods. However, if a certain food seems to precipitate a flare-up, eliminate it for a few weeks and see if the acne decreases.

A question for teens

On my way home from my final exam, I picked up a grilled chicken sandwich, a salad with low fat dressing, an orange juice and a frozen yogurt bar. How does my meal fit into Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating?

Answer: Congratulations, you pass with flying colours. Variety is the key to a healthy diet. Your meal gets credit for at least one serving in each of the four food groups. Remember, the four food groups are milk products, grain products, vegetables and fruit, and meat and alternatives.

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FAMILY HEALTH is written with the assistance of
College of Family Physicans of Canada
Alberta College of Family Physicians
FAMILY HEALTH is written
with the assistance of
The College of Family Physicans of Canada
Alberta College of Family Physicians
While effort is made to reflect accepted medical knowledge and practice, articles in Family Health Online should not be relied upon for the treatment or management of any specifid medical problem or concern and Family Health accepts no liability for reliance on the articles. For proper diagnosis and care, you should always consult your family physican promptly. Copyright 2012, Family Health Magazine, a special publication of the Edmonton Journal, a division of Postmedia Network Inc., 10006 - 101 Street, Edmonton, AB T5J 2S6  [NU_FHb00]
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