Teenagers need more calories per day than any other age group because they're active and growing quickly, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Boys need about 2,800 calories per day, and girls need 2,200. Despite these caloric requirements, teens need to eat the right foods to avoid obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Unfortunately, the average teen’s diet is too high in sugar and fat and too low in nutrients.
Where Calories Come From
An estimated one-third of all teens eat fast food daily. Because most fast food is low in nutrients and high in fat and sugar, this isn’t good news. Fast and processed foods also have a lot of sodium and very little fiber. Further, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says that teens get nearly a fourth of their daily calories from snacks, which are typically high in sugar and fat and low in vitamins and minerals. Adding to the problem are the excess calories coming from colas.
Fruits and Vegetables
Teens ages 14 to 18 eat less than the recommended amounts of nutrients advised by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. According to a 2011 National Academy of Sciences report, teens should eat at least 2 cups of fruit per day but actually eat less than 1 cup. As for vegetables, teens need 3 cups per day, but most eat only 1.36 cups.
Grains, Dairy, and Protein
Adolescents need 8 ounces of grains per day and do get almost the right amount. But only a half ounce of those grains are the whole grains recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The average adolescent eats only 4.36 ounces of meat, poultry or beans per day but needs at least 6.5 ounces. Most teens consume just a little more than 2 cups of dairy products daily, compared with the recommended 3 cups per day. Most of the average teen’s diet comes from added sugars and fats, which account for nearly 900 calories per day. This is far greater than the recommended 362 calories.
What Should Teens Be Eating?
Only 30 percent of daily calories should come from fat, and only 10 percent from saturated fats found in meat and cheese products. Instead of fast and processed foods, teens should be eating whole grains, lean protein, fruits and vegetables. Check food labels for amounts of fat, sugar and sodium. A balanced diet including all food groups should deliver sufficient amounts of all essential vitamins and minerals.