When you hit puberty (the time your body matures into an adult’s body), you may begin to gain weight. To meet the ‘standards of shape or figure’ you may eat less and manage your weight. But this is not the right way.
Your teenage years are the years you grow and become an adult. These changes have different nutritional needs, which must be met for a healthy teenage and adulthood. Let us understand, these needs and their importance.
Why is a healthy diet important for growing girls?
Diet majorly influences the quality of life of an individual. This is a fundamental factor in determining the lifestyle of young women. Nutritional deficiency at this age can result in retarded or delayed physical growth.
The changes during puberty increase the nutritional requirements of an individual. The growth spurt during puberty is the second-fastest phase, after initial years of life. These changes increase the demand for energy and nutrients. Physical growth and nutritional status are two factors dependent on each other. Hence, meeting these requirements is essential to achieve complete growth.
Undernutrition can have a negative effect on pubertal girls. It can reduce their learning ability and productivity, affect growth, sexual maturation, and bone strength, and may affect the development of future children. It is well-known that children born to thin, short women are at great risk of undernourishment and stunting.
As ‘fast foods’ or junk foods have become easily available, adolescent girls have averted their interests to these foods, which impacts their nutritional status significantly. Studies have shown that fast foods can affect the normal menstrual patterns in school-going children. Hence, importance must be given to menstrual health among young girls, as this can prevent conditions like polycystic ovarian disease, infertility, cardiovascular disease, hyperlipidemia, diabetes and respiratory diseases.
Which foods to focus on?
Pubertal girls require sufficient amounts of calories (on an average, 2200 calories per day), proteins, dietary fat, calcium, iron, zinc and other nutrients. These nutrients can be obtained from the following healthy foods:
Grains: Grains provide the energy required by the pubertal girls. Prefer foods with a low-glycaemic index such as whole-wheat bread, pasta, noodles, etc, which will keep you full for a long period of time.
Fruits and vegetables: A variety of fruits and vegetables are a good source of energy, fibre, vitamins, antioxidants and water. Include more orange, dark green and red vegetables, legumes, and starchy vegetables. Have any fruit or 100% fruit juice. Make sure to eat fruits and vegetables at every meal and for snacks.
Protein-rich foods: Proteins are essential for growth and muscle development, especially during puberty. Protein-rich foods include eggs, chicken, fish, lean meat, nuts, seeds, beans, and peas. These foods are also rich in other vitamins and minerals, like iron, omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, and vitamin B12. Omega-3 fatty acids obtained from fish aids in brain development and learning.
Dairy foods: Dairy foods are good sources of calcium and protein, which are required to build strong bones and muscles, and for the functioning of the nervous system. Focus on low-fat or fat-free alternatives of milk, cheese, yogurt, etc. In case you cannot have dairy products, eat calcium-fortified products such as soy milk, cereal, bread. Broccoli, tofu, nuts, seeds are also rich sources of calcium.
Iron- and folate-rich foods: Iron is required for pubertal girls for rapid growth, expansion of muscle mass and blood volume. Good sources of iron are legumes, enriched or whole grains, leafy vegetables, chicken and beef.
Folate is essential for protein synthesis. The requirement for folate increases during puberty. The rich-sources of folate include orange juice, ready-to-eat cereal, milk, bread, and lentils.
Zinc-rich foods: Zinc plays an important role in the growth and sexual maturation. During adolescence, the rapid growth and hormonal changes cause a decrease of serum zinc levels; thus, the requirement of zinc increases. Natural sources of zinc include whole grains, red meats, shellfish, zinc fortifies breakfast cereals.
Oils obtained from nuts also contain essential nutrients, which can be included in the diet. Along with following a healthy diet, regular exercise and daily physical activity are important for menstrual health.
These foods should be eaten along with some healthy drinks. The best drink for you is water. Most tap water is fortified with fluoride, which will help build strong teeth. Reduced-fat milk is another option for pubertal girls; it is rich in calcium.
The above-mentioned foods must be consumed throughout the day as follows:
|Food group||Nutrients obtained||Number of servings per day|
|Grains (breads and cereal)||Fibre, Zinc, Magnesium, B vitamins.||7|
|Fruits and vegetables||Fibre, folate, vitamin C, Beta carotene, Magnesium, Potassium.||5 vegetables, 2 fruits.|
|Eggs, meat, nuts, legumes||Protein, zinc, iron, Vitamin B 12.||2.5|
|Dairy foods||Protein, calcium, zinc, magnesium, potassium||3.5|
|Oils and fats||Vitamins A, D, E, K.||Small amounts|
Foods to avoid
Foods and drinks to avoid
Your child should avoid ‘sometimes foods.’ These foods include fast food and junk food, such as chips, dim sims, pies, burgers and takeaway pizza. They also include cakes, chocolate, lollies, biscuits, doughnuts and pastries.
Foods that contain a high amount of saturated fat, salt, sugar and are low in fibre and nutrients must be avoided. Regular consumption of these foods can increase the risk of teenage conditions, such as overweight, obesity, and type-2 diabetes. These foods include fast foods and junk foods such as potato chips, hot chips, pies, burgers, pizza, chocolate, biscuits, pastries, doughnuts, etc.
Eating more sweets or juices can cause tooth decay, as they have a high amount of sugar. Avoid drinks like flavoured water, fruit juices, soft drinks, cordials, sports drinks, flavoured milks, etc.
Caffeine should also be avoided in teenage girls, as it reduces the absorption of calcium and can cause sleep problems and affect their concentration. Caffeine foods and drinks include tea, coffee, chocolate and energy drinks.
A word of advice
As you become a teenager, you may become independent and make your own decisions. Somehow, you may not prioritise your food habits. If you live away from home, you may indulge in fast food, junk foods and foods that are easy to make. But to maintain menstrual health, make sure you make healthy food choices and provide all the nutrients required by your body.
- Soliman A, De Sanctis V, Elalaily R. Nutrition and pubertal development. Indian J Endocr Metab 2014;18, Suppl S1:39-47
- Puberty and Nutrition. https://2012books.lardbucket.org/books/an-introduction-to-nutrition/s17-03-puberty-and-nutrition.html. Accessed on 14 September 2020.
- Healthy Eating During Adolescence. Stanford’s Children Health. https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=healthy-eating-during-adolescence-90-P01610. Accessed on 14 September 2020.
- Food and nutrition for adolescents. The Women’s The Royal Women’s Hospital Victoria Australia. https://www.thewomens.org.au/health-information/staying-well/adolescent-girls/food-and-nutrition-for-adolescents. Accessed on 14 September 2020.
- Healthy eating for adolescent girls. Victoria State Government. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/healthyliving/healthy-eating/womens-nutrition-for-life/healthy-eating-adolescent-girls. Accessed on 14 September 2020.
- A Teenager’s Nutritional Needs. Healthy Children.org. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/teen/nutrition/Pages/A-Teenagers-Nutritional-Needs.aspx. Accessed on 14 September 2020.
- Nutrition and healthy food for teenagers. Raising children.net.au. https://raisingchildren.net.au/teens/healthy-lifestyle/daily-food-guides/nutrition-healthy-food-teens. Accessed on 14 September 2020.
- Pramanik P, Dhar A. Impact of Fast Foods on Menstrual Health of School Going Adolescent Girls in West Bengal, Eastern India. Global Journal of Biology, Agriculture and Health Sciences. Vol.3(1):61-66
- Puberty And Nutrition. 2012books.lardbucket.org. https://2012books.lardbucket.org/books/an-introduction-to-nutrition/s17-03-puberty-and-nutrition.html. Accessed on 14 September 2020.