Healthy eating throughout the teenage years is crucial to support the body through this time of rapid growth and change. Unfortunately this is usually easier said than done. A survey completed in 2007 found that teenage boys and girls between the ages of 14 and 16 consume only half their recommended serves of fruit and vegetables each day and one in four adolescents buys unhealthy takeaway food everyday.1 Teenagers have higher nutrient and energy requirements, in many respects, than any other age group and relying on takeaway and junk food will not provide their bodies with the fuel they need. The good news is that small changes can make a big impact. To help your teen through this often challenging stage, we’ve created a simple list of the top five vitamins and minerals they need and how to get their recommended intake from food. Because many teens have notoriously poor eating habits, this might also be a good time to take a multivitamin supplement.
- Calcium – Teens need the same amount of calcium each day as their grandparents! Adequate dietary calcium in adolescence is so important to ensure the normal growth and development of strong, healthy bones and to reduce the risk of bone thinning or weakness later in life. To get the recommended daily intake of 1300mg, teenagers should include dairy products like milk, cheese and yoghurt, dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds, figs, beans and calcium enriched soy or almond milk.2
- Zinc ‐ This one is for teenage boys who need nearly double the amount of zinc than their female counterparts. Zinc is required for building new tissues, supporting the development of cartilage and bone and is essential for the normal functioning of the male reproductive system. To obtain the recommended 14mg of zinc for boys and 7mg for girls each day , you could encourage regular consumption of oysters (good luck!) or incorporate beef, pork, turkey, cashews, almonds, peanuts, yoghurt and chickpeas into family meals.3
- B vitamins – Teens need a lot of energy to support their rapidly growing bodies, which is why you may notice their appetite soaring off the charts and your weekly grocery shop only lasting a couple of days! To help their bodies convert the food they eat into energy, teens need B vitamins. B’s are found in whole grains, green leafy vegies, raw nuts and seeds, legumes, eggs, meat and poultry,4 so ensure you stock up your cupboard and fridge with a variety of these.
- Iron – Getting enough iron is especially important for teenage girls to replace the blood lost during monthly menstrual cycles. Iron is necessary for the formation of haemoglobin, a molecule that transports oxygen to the body’s tissues and assists with energy levels. Inadequate iron may be associated with poor general health and wellbeing, increased fatigue and poorer mental performance during adolescence. To help your teen achieve their recommended dietary intake of iron (15mg for teenage girls, 11mg for teenage boys) include meat, fish, poultry or lentils in family meals and pack nuts and dried fruit into their lunchbox.5
- Vitamin A – Adequate vitamin A is involved in normal growth and development, the maintenance of healthy eyes and helps to support our natural immune defences. Teenage girls need 700mcg of vitamin A each day and teenage boys require 900mcg. To achieve the recommended daily intake of vitamin A encourage consumption of yellow/orange fruit and vegies like carrots, sweet potato, mango, rockmelon, squash and pumpkin as well as full cream milk, eggs and green leafy vegies like spinach, broccoli and kale.6