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  • Mar 15, 2017

Teenage Tips for Healthy Eating

Have you noticed a sudden surge in the amount of food your child is eating?

By Alexandra England, NP, CHA Cambridge Teen Health Center.

They may be about to hit puberty. Kids often get hungry right before a growth spurt, something that usually happens for girls around age ten and boys around age 12 in conjunction with puberty.  The amount of increased food consumption can be obvious (especially as it relates to your food budget) and it usually continues through the teenage years. By following some general nutritional guidelines, you can help your teen stay healthy and build strong eating habits that will stick with them in adulthood.

What’s a calorie?
Calories are used as a method to measure how much energy is in food. Technically, a calorie is the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of one gram of water, one degree. What we need to remember is that calories are the energy that our body gets from food. We need energy to survive.  The problem comes when calorie intake is out of balance. Too much energy and our body seeks to store it – that’s called excess weight.  Protein, carbohydrates, and fats are all a part of the nutrients we need to stay healthy, but we need to balance them out.

Protein: Most US teenagers get enough protein – especially if they’re meat eaters. It’s important because 50% of our body weight comes from protein.

Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are more complicated. Carbohydrates are found in sugars and starches and are broken into two categories of simple and complex.  It’s best to focus on getting complex carbs like whole grains, acorn squash, and quinoa because these have natural fiber, vitamins, and minerals.  Simple carbs are the ones to avoid – they’re found in sugar and processed foods like white rice and white bread.

Fats: Fats are important too because they help our bodies absorb vitamins A, D, E and K.  But too much fat leads to weight gain and increased cholesterol – ultimately heart attacks and other complications that usually happen later in life. It’s better to eat foods with monounsaturated fats like nuts, olives, and peanuts and limit saturated fats found in most meat, cream, coconut oil, and palm oil.

The examples I’m providing are not a comprehensive list and it’s worth doing more research to gain a better understanding of how to balance your diet.

Tips for healthy eating
Eating healthy doesn’t have to be complicated.  It can also be fun. Here are a few tips to help you get started.

Eat together: Family meals lead to lower body mass index, lower cholesterol, and lower blood pressure. One reason is that the meal itself is usually more nutritious when time is put into preparing it.  Cooking together is a fun way to teach your kids what a healthy meal looks like and that it’s normal for it to take a bit of effort to prepare.

Avoid fast food: If it’s quick, it’s usually not healthy. Most fast foods are highly processed, making them easier to transport and prepare. And, they’re usually pretty cheap for a variety of reasons.  If you’re in a bind and need something fast, buy the salads and limit the amount of dressing. Get the foods that are grilled and always avoid the soda – these are loaded with sugar (11.5 teaspoons of sugar in a can of soft drink). There are newer restaurants that offer healthy options like tasty salad bowls. They’re just as fast and they’re pretty close in price to a full meal at a traditional fast food restaurant, especially if you drink water – the healthiest option.

Eat more veggies and fruit: Preparing vegetarian options can help with the budget and also help teens get the nutrients they need from vegetables.  Kids are supposed to eat 3-5 servings of vegetables and 2-4 servings of fruit every day. One serving is one cup of leafy greens, ½ cup of other veggies or sliced fruit.

Eat according to your culture: Immigrants often gain weight when they shift to an American diet.  Eating according to your culture can keep you healthier as long as you adhere to basic nutritional principles outlined above.

CHA Teen Health Centers offer teenagers a convenient and safe place to get health information and health care.  Primary care, urgent care, mental health services, reproductive health, and much more are all available and all your teen has to do is walk across the hall. 

This articles provide general information for educational purposes only. The information provided in this article, or through linkages to other sites, is not a substitute for medical or professional care, and you should not use the information in place of a visit, call consultation or the advice of your physician or other healthcare provider.

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