Adolescence is a significant stage in human growth and is marked by rapid growth and intensive changes in nearly all aspects of physical, mental and social life. Healthy eating during this stage is critical because the body changes affect the teen's nutritional and dietary needs. Therefore it is recommended that adolescents eat enough of the right kinds of food to meet their energy and nutrition needs. Adolescent nutrition is an essential component of teenagers' health and a precondition for wellness and quality of life (Ambre and Rupali, pg 67). Across the globe, many adolescents particularly the female experience nutritional deficits that put their health and well being at risk.
Under-nutrition in adolescent females often goes unnoticed. Encouraging healthy dietary behaviors in adolescent females is vital for proper growth and development, prevention of diseases and establishment of good dietary patterns that can be sustained to maturity (Marilyn & Quezada, pg 52). Nutritional deficiency during adolescence can have serious effects on the future health of girls. For instance, failure to eat a healthy diet can result in delayed sexual maturation and retarded physical growth. During adolescence, girls undergo rapid physical changes that have a direct influence on their dietary needs due to increased demand for energy and nutrients. Puberty stage is a critical time for girls to prepare for their nutritional demands of pregnancy and lactation in later stages of life. Therefore it is important to note that malnutrition can persist throughout the reproductive life of women.
The United States Department of Agriculture provides dietary reference intakes guidelines that help individuals determine the nutrients consumed and over consumed. Essential nutrients for adolescent girls include carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, fats, and oils, foliate, zinc, calcium, iron and others basic micronutrients. This comes from consuming the right amount of balanced diet and physically active lifestyle.
According to Dietary Guidelines for America 2010, adolescent females require a minimum of 1600 calories while those who are active require approximately 2200 to 2400 calories each day. Their energy needs are influenced by rigorous activity, basal metabolic rate and increased demand for supplements to support pubertal growth and development. To meet these calorie requirements adolescent girls should consider eating a variety of foods rich in energy such as high protein food sources, fruits, whole grain, poultry, vegetables and healthy fats. Adolescent girls consuming too little calories may experience hormonal changes, irregularities of menstrual cycles, infertility, weakened bones, retarded growth and lack of concentration. Consuming the right amount of calories can reduce the chances of various health problems.
Adolescent girls require proteins to grow and develop properly. Proteins play a significant role in the growth of tissues, organs, gland, and maintenance of healthy skin. Adequate protein intake is therefore paramount for the healthy development of teenagers. According to the Institute of Medicine, the recommended dietary intake for teenage girls is 34 grams of protein each day for girls aged 9-13 and 46 grams for teen girls aged 14-18. Active adolescent girls may require additional RDA for protein to maintain muscle tissues after rigorous activities. Recommended high protein foods include lean meat, seafood, poultry, soy products and legumes. Vegetarian teens can meet their protein needs by consuming plant-based foods high in proteins (Jamie & Brittany, pg 29). Whereas protein is highly recommended for teen, too much of it can have serious health effects. Typically, girls need less protein than men because of their low muscle mass. Excess proteins can lead to weight gain and may increase the risk of diseases such as kidney damage, diabetes, heart disease and osteoporosis.
Almost 45% of peak bone mass is achieved during teenage and therefore adequate calcium intake is highly recommended for development of healthy dense bone mass as well as reduction of fracture risks and osteoporosis. Therefore, Calcium needs are high in adolescent stage than any other developmental stage. The recommended calcium RDA for adolescents is 1200 milligrams each day. Examples of foods rich in calcium include milk, almonds, cheese, whey protein, and sardines. Teen girls who are conscious of their body weight and shape often do not meet the recommended dietary intake of calcium.
The adolescent stage marks the onset of the menstrual cycle which imposes an iron requirement for girls. Iron is essential for oxygen transport. As teenage girls grow rapidly more iron is required to help their cells obtain enough oxygen for energy (Francesco, pg 14). The RDA for iron in teenage girls is 12-15 milligrams each day. Food sources include legumes, meat, chicken, leafy vegetables, liver and dried fruits. Low iron intake can lead to anemia, fatigue, and lack of concentration. Iron and Zinc intake should be balanced because the two compete for intake. Zinc is an essential nutritional requirement for teenage girls due to its role in the growth and sexual maturation. Zinc is abundant in foods such as shellfish, whole grains, and red meat.
Social and Economic Problems of Adolescence
The adolescent period is a time for the potential crisis which is brought about by the uncertainties of physical and social transition. During this period many teens have exerted pressure from family, peers and the society and number of social problems often crop up (Christopher, Jungmeen and Kirby, pg 32). At home, adolescents may have a sense of independence over their parents and a great force towards their peers. This comes with unruly behavior which with lots of disobedience towards the elderly. At school, many teenagers develop truant behaviors if the school environment does not provide an environment for social development. Emotional instability is common in adolescents and can sometimes lead to introvert behaviors and bipolar conditions. Adjustment with other sex can also lead to social problems. At this stage, adolescents develop a strong attraction towards the opposite sex. While some may find it easy to associate with opposite sex others find it difficult thus withdrawing from social groups. Those who find it difficult to interact with the opposite sex sometimes end up in drug abuse to gain their confidence.
The adolescent stage also comes with financial challenges. At home, parents may find themselves spending more on food than usual. The general quantity of food intake for teens may increase at this age. Requirements for teen girls may also increase due to the need for the sanitary towel, fashion clothing, cosmetics and other needs. Boys also may need additional finances to bankroll parties, drugs abuse, girls treat and fashion clothing. At school, the management may find itself increasing the budget to accommodate more social development events such as sports, parties, and trips.
Nutritional teaching plan for an Adolescent
It is important to be conscious of the normal biological and physical changes take place in your body as an adolescent. As a teenage girl, your body is preparing for motherly roles when the right time comes. Just like in infancy your nutrition at this stage will determine how your body responds to different things in the future. In this regard, as a nutritionist, I have developed 10 key points that should guide you in your nutritional requirements for good health, growth, and development. They are outlined in the following:
- Ensure that you eat three meals each day with healthy snacks in between. Skipping meals slows down metabolism and can lead to weight gain which can cause diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
- Eat balanced meals to supplement your body with the necessary nutrients required for growth and healthy development. A balanced diet should include macro and micronutrients in their right proportions.
- Drink a lot of water. Drinking less water can lead to dehydration and problems like constipation, fatigue, poor concentration and fainting.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables. Fruits are rich in many essential nutrients such as folate, fiber, potassium and vitamin C. Consuming fruits each day can boost your vitality and reduce risks of chronic diseases.
- Avoid foods with excess fats and oils. Eat lean proteins and vegetables. Too many calories mean more weight and this is bad for your health. Enough is good.
- Limit sugar and salt intake. Overconsumption of junk food with excess sugar can lead to brain damage, weight gain and heart problems. Too much sodium from salt intake can increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
- Avoid too much weight loss. This can interfere with growth and development. Your body needs most of the nutrients.
- Don't overeat. Eat what is enough for your stomach. Excessive food intake can lead to obese conditions.
- Engage in physical activities such as yoga, running, and games for at least one hour in three days a week. This is beneficial for a positive body image and increased metabolism. Staying active can reduce depression, stress, and mental health-related issues.
- Engage in social activities to reduce stress. Stress is not good for your body.
One day meal plan
Breakfast: Skimmed milk, high fiber cereal(Weetabix), toast bread, boiled egg and fresh fruit juice
Mid-morning: Nuts, apple slices, cream cheese
Lunch: Lean meat, lentils, tomato sandwich, chopped carrot, yogurt, water
Mid-afternoon: Oatcakes, dried fruit, smoothie
Evening Meal: Mashed potatoes, fish, rice, cottage cheese, berries and beet juice
Evening snack: Air popped popcorn, peanut butter
Bedtime: Passion fruit tea with a little honey.
Ambre, Sneha Prakash, and Rupali Sengupta. "Effect of Nutrition Education Program on Dietary Eating Patterns of Adolescent Girls (16-19 Years)." Int. J. Pure App. Biosci 3.2 (2015): 427-431.
Branca, Francesco, et al. "Nutrition and health in women, children, and adolescent girls." bmj 351 (2015): h4173.
Holmes, Christopher J., Jungmeen Kim-Spoon, and Kirby Deater-Deckard. "Linking executive function and peer problems from early childhood through middle adolescence." Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology 44.1 (2016): 31-42.
Massey-Stokes, Marilyn, and Alejandra Quezada. "Critical Issues in Adolescent Nutrition: Needs and Recommendations." International Handbook on Adolescent Health and Development. Springer, Cham, 2017. 207-239.
Stang, Jamie S., and Brittany Stotmeister. "Nutrition in adolescence." Nutrition Guide for Physicians and Related Healthcare Professionals. Humana Press, Cham, 2017. 29-39.
US Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary guidelines for Americans 2015-2020. Skyhorse Publishing Inc., 2017.
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