Teen: Nutrition

Growth and development are in high-speed during teenage years and the demands for calories during this period in early adolescence is more than at any other time of life.  A number of physiological, physical and behavioral changes occurs and these changes requires an increase in the amount of nutrients.  The taller kids and those who involve in sports activity will still need increased amounts of energy into late adolescence.

Though it is obvious that adolescents need sufficient energy and nutrients for their growth and development, some are inactive and eat more than they need and become overweight. If they don’t show interest to reduce their weight by controlling their intake, obesity will take over them.  Lifestyle changes will improve their weight in the long-term.


Protein is an essential micro nutrient for growth, and tissue repair. An athlete performance depends on muscle strength and these muscles are made of protein. It is not just the protein consumed in one sitting aid in muscle strength.  Regular exercise along with high biological value proteins that is spread all throughout the day will help build up muscles. Young people should do regular exercise at least for 60 mins of moderate intensity activity (walking, cycling, dancing) every day.  Protein recommendation per day for 11-13yrs is 34g and 14-18yrs is 46g. Athletes require a higher amount of protein than recommended, which is calculated by a sports physiologist/nutritionist, based on the intensity of the activity.

Teens needs carbohydrates that is vital to their health for various reasons. Carbohydrates are main source of energy. They help fuel the brain, kidneys, heart, muscles and central nervous system. It is the main fuel source of energy. But not all carbohydrates are equal.  Eating breakfast made with “slow-release” of carbohydrates, like oatmeal 3 hours before exercise will help burn more fat efficiently.

  • Whole grains are good sources of complex carbohydrates that takes longer time to digest and are high in fiber, selenium, magnesium and potassium than refined grains and products.
  • Whole fruits and vegetables add water, fiber and bulk that are packed with fewer calories and at the same time it helps to feel fuller.

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In order to maximize the amount of nutrients you take in, consume nutrient dense foods that is naturally  lean and low in solid fats, sugars, refined starches and sodium.  Beverages account for almost 40-50% percentage of added sugars consumed by teenagers. Desserts like cakes, pies, cookies, doughnuts, pastries, ice cream, frozen desserts and puddings, candies, syrups makes more than 75% of intake of all added sugars. Shift to reduce sugars consumption to less than 10 percent of calories per day. Choose beverages with no added sugars in place of sugar-sweetened beverages.

Mixed dishes (made of cheese, meat or both and sodium) like burgers, sandwiches, pizza, tacos, rice, pasta are major source of saturated fats. Shift to reduce saturated fats intake less than 10 percent of calories per day. Shift from high saturated fats to polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. Read the food labels and choose lower fat forms of foods. Best option is to change ingredients of the mixed dishes to healthier choices like vegetables, whole grains, lean meat and low-fat cheese, in place of fatty meat and cheese.

Most sodium consumed by teens comes from salts added during commercial food processing and preparation. Commercially processed or prepared mixed dishes and soups account for almost half of their sodium consumption.  Reading food labels to compare sodium content of the product will help choose the product with less sodium. Limiting sauces, mixes and instant products like flavored rice, instant-noodles, ready to eat pasta will help reduce the sodium consumption.  Garnishing the food with herbs and spices is another better option that curbs the salty desire.  High sodium intake will increase blood pressure and cause calcium losses that leads to bone demineralization that increases the risk of osteoporosis causing fragility and breakages even in young people.

Calcium rich foods like low-fat dairy products, green vegetables like watercress, broccoli, almonds, fish with bones will help to increase the bone mass in young people.  A combination of protein, calcium and vitamin C together help form collagen. So, balancing the meal is the key.

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Iron requirements increase during adolescence to help with growth and muscle development. Girls need more iron to replace their menstrual losses.  So, teens should focus more on iron rich foods. Iron from meat sources are readily absorbed by the human body. Though meat is a good source of iron, teens should go for lean protein that is low in saturated fat.  Nuts, wholegrains, dark green leafy vegetables, figs are also loaded with iron. Iron in egg and vegetarian sources are not easily absorbed by the body. Vitamin C from fruits will help absorb the iron from these sources. So, it is wise to take fruits rich in vitamin C along with these foods. For example spinach and egg salad garnished with orange slices and lemon & mint dressing is a good, colorful and natural shot of iron. In addition it is also loaded with vitamins & minerals and fibers.

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Adolescents should focus on fiber too. Fiber is a carbohydrate that aids in digestion and keeps cholesterol in control. Fiber latches onto your food and chauffeurs it through your body. Fiber is a natural laxative that promotes the movement of material through the digestive system and benefits those struggles with constipation.  Teens should aim to have 25-30g of fiber every day.

Eating disorders are seen in many teen girls, particularly those aged between 12-18yrs. During middle and late adolescence, girls eat roughly 20-30% fewer calories per day than boys. Anorexia nervosa is an illness where girls tend to keep their body weight low either by consuming less,  Some vomit after eating and some refuse to eat!  Some girls use laxatives or overdo the exercise to keep their body weight low. Bulimia nervosa is another illness where the sufferers are obsessed with the fear of gaining weight. They lack self-control and have a recurring pattern of eating large food, followed by self-induced vomiting. Some have emotional overeating like eating large quantities of food in response to negative emotions. Few teenagers are binge eaters where they eat large quantities of food in faster pace than normal.

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They are more likely to have vitamins & minerals in a scant amount. Lesser the amount of food consumed than recommended, lower the availability of vitamin A, zinc, iodine, and folate in some girls. Unless a doctor evaluation states a specific deficiency, it’s preferable to obtain nutrients from food instead from dietary supplements. Some teen boys too have eating disorders!

Awareness of food & exercise will help teens to avoid mistaken attitudes about food, weight and body shape. “A balanced meal” is the key to prevent eating disorders and regular exercise will help improve their moods!









Right food and Perfect Workout to Gain Weight

Being lean sounds great, but being underweight because of poor nutrition doesn’t sound healthy at all. Being underweight, you are more likely to pick up infections. Dearth of vitamins and minerals will hinder your growth if you are still in the growing stage and not consuming enough calcium will definitely affect your bones. With insufficient weight, you are highly vulnerable to develop osteoporosis, too. Anemia, a condition in which the body doesn’t produce sufficient numbers of healthy red blood cells that carry oxygen to the body, is the most frequently encountered blood disorder by underweight individuals.

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No worries, for there is always a healthy meal plan for a safe and effective weight gain just like a healthy weight loss plan.

Start small

An additional 200 calories a day will help your body respond well and support a gradual weight gain. Drinking mixed juices for additional calories will help improve your weight. For example, banana with peach, apple with berries, papaya with orange or lime or mango. They are rich in natural sugar and at the same time contain a combination of  vitamins & minerals, antioxidants and fibre. Consume food with additional calories (from whole grains), vitamins & minerals, but not from high fat or sugar rich food.

Embrace the complex carbohydrate

Simple carbs like white bread and white rice will cause an insulin spike, whereas the complex carbohydrates are absorbed more slowly in the body. Whole grain breads, whole grain pastas, whole grain chappatis, brown rice, brown rice noodles, quinoa, oats, barley, corn, sweet potatoes, parsnips, peas and lentils, and soy beans are good sources of complex carbohydrates. Okra, carrots, yams, snow peas, radish, beans, apples, pears, cucumbers and prunes are also rich in complex carbohydrates.

Kick start your day with quinoa pan cakes or chicken barley vegetable soup. It sounds balanced with protein, calories, fibres, vitamins and minerals.

Why don’t you try brown rice with beef or chicken, black beans and bell pepper or grilled fish with whole grain pasta and beans for lunch?

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Enjoy fat in moderation

Treat yourself twice a week with baked salmon or mackerel accompanied by mango salsa or Swiss chard that is colorful and rich in flavor. This dish is loaded with healthy omega fats and vitamins. Fatty fish at least twice a week will help improve the health of your heart.


Some underweight people have the feeling that they have a lower risk of diabetes and blood cholesterol. It is not true. A slim person can have high levels of visceral fat that plays a key role in developing diabetes. Slim person should also have their cholesterol checked regularly, for the liver naturally makes cholesterol and circulates in the blood. Higher the intake of saturated fats, higher the amount of cholesterol produced by the liver.

Stir fried, lean beef with red bell pepper, baby corn, bean sprouts, scallions served with rice or noodles is another option that sounds delicious for lunch. This meal is packed with protein, iron, vitamins and minerals that help body to gradually gain weight. Vegetarians could try cooked spinach and mixed dhal. Churning the mixture gives you a gravy texture that goes well with both bread and rice. Top up your salads with avocado, nuts, and olives to reap the benefits of omega fats.

Mackerel fish curry with okra and egg plant is rich in protein, fibre and vitamins and is perfect for dinner. Egg plants are rich in Vitamin K and bioflavonoids which strengthen the capillaries.

Snack between meals

Nuts, dried fruits, yogurt, jicama, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, avocado, green salads with egg, healthy milk shakes are good t’ween meals. Fruits with low-fat milk shake topped with nuts for mid-morning will give you adequate nutrients for muscle building. Quinoa with kidney beans and an egg salad is ample for a tea break.

Snacking on banana and milk before bedtime is awesome for serotonin formation which also aids good sleep.



Strength training exercises help gain weight by building up muscles.  You just need to lift or push weights.  Weights and resistance bands together will help achieve the strength. You don’t have to go out and buy weights for strength exercises. You just need to find something you can hold on to, easily. For example, you can hold a 500 ml water bottle in each arm and raise both the arms to your shoulder height for 5 secs and repeat 10-15 times. You can also hold a tennis ball or rubber ball and slowly squeeze as hard as you can and hold it for 3-5 secs, then squeeze slowly and repeat 10 times. That’s it.

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Enjoy colorful meals with regular exercise, every day. You will gain weight, gradually!

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