Even though the brain has completed most of its growth by adolescence, it still continues to make vital connections. Second to infancy, adolescence is the most critical time for nutritious eating. This is another window of opportunity for brain growth when a healthy diet is important. However, adolescence is generally a time when there is a lack of essential omega 3 fatty acids in their diet. There are several reasons for this deficiency: Adolescents tend to eat a lot of saturated fat foods and foods that contain hydrogenated fats. Also, due to pressure to please their peers and compete in athletics, teens often restrict their fat intake in order to keep fit and trim. When they cut out fat in general, they also cut out healthy fats, such as the omega 3′s found in cold water fish, like Salmon. During teenage growth spurts, adolescents need extra calories, and they should be nutritious ones. Most teens are over fed and undernourished; teen brains need more fish and fewer fries. Here are some tips to improve the growth and performance of your teen.
- Model healthy eating habits rather than preaching them. Show your teens how to shop. Make each trip to the grocery store a nutrition lesson. Encourage teens to help with shopping selections and dinner planning, so they connect good food with good health.
- Say no. Especially resist the pressure of packaged foods (which are nutrient poor and loaded with hydrogenated fats) and drinks which are loaded with sugar, artificial colorings and chemicals that can rob the bones of the growing teens of calcium.
- Use teen thinking to your advantage. Teens want to grow, so you talk about foods that help them grow and foods that don’t. For example, if your teen sees some of his peers growing at a faster rate (which is genetic, not nutritional), take this opportunity to talk with him about calcium rich foods and “grow foods” which can give them more calcium and protein that boosts bone and muscle growth. Adolescents are appearance conscious. Talk to them about the correlation between nutritious food and healthy-looking skin, fast food and weight maintenance, and how nutrition affects sports performance. These are all opportunities to teach your child more about the importance of nutrition.
This form of teaching uses the principle of “relevance.” In order for a message to sink in, teens must believe the nutritional message has specific reference to them. Be specific. Tell them how it is going to affect their growth, their looks, their emotional feelings, their sports performance, or whatever seems to be the most important to the teen during that particular week. Besides, “grow foods” call nutritious foods: “soccer foods,” “football foods,” or whatever she’s into. Since omega 3′s contribute to healthy skin we call salmon “pretty skin food” for the appearnce-concious teen.
Here are the specific extra nutritional needs of your teen:
- More protein. Teen males need around 25% more protein, at least 15 more grams than a pre-teen. Most adolescent females, on the other hand, need less daily protein than males.
- More iron. When entering adolescence, males need around 20% more iron during the phase of rapid muscle growth. Females need around 33% more iron once they begin menstruation. Click here for food sources.
- More zinc. Adolescent males need about a 33% increase in their daily requirements for zinc; adolescent females need about 20% more zinc than pre-adolescent females.
- More calcium. Both adolescent males and females need around 33% more calcium than pre-adolescents (1,200 milligrams a day versus 800 milligrams).
- More vitamins. Both males and females show at least a 20 to 30% increase in daily requirements of nearly all the vitamins as they grow from pre-teens to adolescents.
Finally, avoid the Barbie Doll syndrome. Teen magazines can be hazardous to your children’s emotional and nutritional health, leading them to feel that they can never measure up to the perfect body and perfect skin on the perfect model shown in the magazine. Many teens equate their self-worth with what they look like – an unhealthy perception that is fostered by the unrealistic photos and messages in publication targeted to adolescents.
One of the ways that we have shaped the tastes of our adolescents is to have frequent one-on-one “dates” or “sport outings” with our teens. Either Martha or I take our teen to one of their favorite restaurants with the condition that it must have an exciting and nutritious salad bar. Watching how we carefully select a variety of fruits, grains, and vegetables will, we hope, have a lasting effect on the eating habits of our teens.