If you're a teenager -- or if you are raising one -- you're probably used to what seems like a ravenous appetite. Teens eat a lot of food, which they need to fuel their growth; teenage girls need about 2,200 calories per day, while boys need even more -- up to 3,000 calories per day, depending on how active they are. Teenagers also need to meet specific dietary requirements for nutrition to make certain they're not low in necessary nutrients.
When it comes to how much fat, protein and carbohydrate to eat, teenagers should follow similar dietary rules as adults, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. That means they shouldn't get any more than 30 percent of their daily caloric requirements from fat, and they should try to get up to 60 percent from complex carbohydrate foods, such as whole grains, vegetables and fruit. The remainder can represent protein, which most teens get more than enough of already.
Even if they keep fat below 30 percent of daily calories, teens should pay particular attention to the type of fats in their diet. Some fats are better for you than others. Saturated fat -- the kind of fat you find in meat and full-fat dairy products -- may promote the beginnings of heart disease, so even teenagers should limit that to no more than 10 percent of calories. The rest of the fat in a teen's daily diet should come from plant sources, including olive oil and canola oil; from fish, which contain particularly healthy kinds of fat; and from nuts, which also have beneficial fats.
Vitamins and Minerals
Teenagers need plenty of calcium in their diets, because their bones are still forming and growing. Both teen girls and boys should make sure they get 1,300 mg of calcium every day, or they could wind up deficient. Dairy products can provide most or all of that calcium. Some teens, especially girls, also become deficient in iron; girls need 15 mg of iron a day, while boys need 11 mg. However, teens should try to get all the nutrition they need from a balanced, healthy diet, and shouldn't take supplements unless their doctor advises them to do so.
Although teenagers grow rapidly, they're still at risk for obesity. Michigan State University reports that more than 17 percent of teens and children weigh too much for their height. However, dieting doesn't work; instead, it seems to lead to adult obesity in teens who try it. Instead of dieting, teenagers who are overweight or obese should focus on eating healthier foods, eating fewer snack foods and getting plenty of extra exercise.
- HealthyChildren.org: A Teenager's Nutritional Needs
- Michigan State University; Nutrition for Teens' Life; Beth H. Olson; May 2004
- University of Michigan Health System; Obesity and Overweight: Your Child; Kyla Boyse, et al.
- Stanford University; Researchers Find Teen Dieting Associated With Weight Gain and Obesity; Mitch Leslie; January 2000