Humans have greater nutritional needs during adolescence then any other time of life. Because teens are still developing physically, balanced nutrition is crucial. And, because they tend to be more active, they also require more calories. The following diet plan is based on the USDA food pyramid and its specific recommendations for growing teens.
Grains are the basis of any healthy diet plan. They provide both soluble and insoluble fiber. They are rich in B vitamins, which are important for metabolism. Starches, or carbohydrates, are our main source of energy. According to the revised food pyramid, teens need 6 to 7 ounces of grains each day, with at least half of that coming from whole grains sources such as brown rice, oatmeal and whole grain breads.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables provide a variety of vitamins and minerals. They are also rich in antioxidants, which support a healthy immune system. While any fruit or vegetable product counts toward the daily requirements, it is important to include a few raw fruits and vegetables as well. Cooking destroys most vitamins and all of the natural enzymes which promote digestion. Teens need at least 2 1/2 to 3 cups of fresh vegetables and 1 1/2 to 2 cups of fresh fruit each day.
Dairy products are made from milk, and include: cheese, butter, pudding, cottage cheese, yogurt and kefir. Although pasteurization destroys most vitamins and enzymes, commercial milk products in the US are vitamin-fortified. They are our main source of vitamins A, D and calcium. Vitamin D and calcium are essential for developing bones and teeth. Soy products may also provide some calcium, but they do not contain all the same nutrients as milk, and should not be used in place of all dairy products. Teens need at least three servings, or three cups from the milk group each day.
Meat and Beans
In addition to milk, meat and beans provide dietary protein. Protein is made up of amino acids, the building blocks of all tissues, muscles and organs. Because teens are still growing, adequate protein is essential for their development. They need at least 5 to 6 ounces of protein-rich food each day. Healthy sources of protein include: meat, eggs, fish, dried beans and other legumes, nuts and seeds. Choose fresh meats over processed meats such as hot dogs and bologna.
Oils and Fat
While many adults avoid fat to cut back on calories, teens should not follow a low-fat or fat-free diet. Fat is essential for the absorption of the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, and is a precursor for many hormones. Both saturated fats (such as butter) and unsaturated fats (such as olive oil) are used by the body. A few of the other groups in the food pyramid already contain fat. Meat and dairy products provide fat. Other healthy sources of fat include avocados, nuts, seeds, olive oil and vegetable oil. The USDA recommends 5 to 6 teaspoons daily for teens.
In addition to nutrition, the USDA food pyramid also includes exercise. It recommends a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity each day. This can include jogging, biking, swimming and playing sports. Exercise is important for growing teens as it contributes to proper muscle development and bone density. Teens who do not participate in sports should still try to get some form of regular exercise. This could be accomplished by walking or biking to school, for example. The pyramid even suggests doing household chores for exercise.