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Daily nutritional requirements
The eating habits of teenagers are often rather strange, and teens take many nutritional risks. They may miss family meals and fill up on fast food; they may skip breakfast and experiment with meal supplements. Some girls cut calories to lose weight; some boys pack in calories to gain weight: In brief, they've turned a corner and realized that they can do whatever they want with their bodies.
How to start
Lay out wholesome breakfast foods, provide nutritious snacks that they can tuck into a backpack, and set regular dinner times. Teens may act savvy, but they still rely on their parents for meeting their nutritional needs. They also look to parents for nutritional guidance.
Look for the "teachable moment." When you're both sitting at the breakfast table gazing at the cereal boxes, point out the nutrition information. Compare and see which cereal scores highest in iron, fibre, and the B vitamins. If, after a night of bingeing on snack foods, she feels nauseous, help her make the connection between the food she eats and her physical and mental well-being.
Teens need to aim for the maximum number of servings suggested in Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating to get the basic nutrients they need. However, the diets of many Canadian teens are low in both calcium and iron. Growing teenagers, male and female, need the maximum number of servings of milk products for calcium and the maximum of meat products for iron.
The importance of calcium
During adolescence, kids grow faster than at any time except infancy; in fact, half of their growth occurs in this period. They need calcium-rich foods, such as dairy products, to help build strong, healthy bones. A calcium deficit during childhood and adolescence might never be fully overcome in later years. Reducing or eliminating milk products during this all-important growth spurt could mean that your child will fail to reach her growth potential and may contribute to her developing osteoporosis in later life.
Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating recommends that youths aged ten through sixteen have 3 to 4 servings of milk products a day. After age sixteen, it's 2 to 4 servings. Examples of one serving are: 250 mL (one cup) of milk, 50 g (2 slices) of processed cheese, 50 g (1 in. x 1 in. x 3 in.) cube of cheese, or 175 mL (3/4 cup) of yogurt or ice cream.
A single serving of milk packs a big nutritional punch: as much protein as a large Grade A egg, almost as much potassium as a banana, 45 percent of the daily requirement for vitamin D -- a total of 25 nutrients in all. Vitamin D is essential to the proper absorption and utilization of calcium, which is why milk is fortified with vitamin D.
Are you kids addicted to cola?
But in spite of this, many teens start to snub milk and substitute cola for the milk they used to drink. Some teens drink 2 L a day, as if addicted to cola. Caffeine -- whether it's in cola, coffee, or tea -- may increase one's excretion of calcium. If your teen drinks cola instead of milk, his store of calcium is reduced both by not consuming milk products and possibly by leaching the calcium out of his body. Don't challenge the cola-crazy teen, but don't put cola on your shopping list either. Pour a glass of milk for him at dinner. If he doesn't drink it, try chocolate milk the next day; the nutrients from milk are still there.
Page 2 of 4 -- Learn what your child should be eating on page 3.
Ensuring your teen is eating well
Stock your fridge with tubs of yogurt and your freezer with frozen yogurt and ice cream, ready for teens to grab when hunger strikes. Tuck individual servings of cheese, pudding, yogurt, or yogurt beverages into your teen's lunch bag.
Try the following ideas to increase your whole family's calcium intake:
• Begin the day with a fruit frappé or milkshake. Make it "to go" if your teen is running late for school.
• Add a slice of cheese to a lunch sandwich.
• For an after-school snack, have fruit and a yogurt dip.
• Make hot chocolate (with milk) on frosty days. Make milkshakes on hot days.
• Dilute condensed soups with milk, not water.
• Crown casseroles with a bubbly cheese topping.
• Grate cheese over salads.
• Pour cheese sauce over steamed broccoli or cauliflower.
• Serve quiche, cheese soufflé, and cheesy pasta dishes often.
• Add skim-milk powder to meat loaf, mashed potatoes, casseroles, and baked goods. Just 15 ml. (I tbsp.) of skim-milk powder contains 70 mg of calcium.
• Serve a cheese tray with crackers and apple and pear slices as dessert.
• Make a milk dessert -• pudding, tapioca, rice pudding, or baked custard.
• Use evaporated milk when baking. It has double the calcium of regular fresh milk.
Ironing out the differences
A diet that's low in iron can lead to decreased immune function, loss of energy, and a reduced capacity for learning. It can also lead to iron-deficiency anemia, which is characterized by a pale complexion, listlessness, and irritability. During adolescence, the incidence of iron deficiency decreases in boys but increases in girls. Girls can be low in iron because of dieting; eating inadequate amounts of meat, poultry, and fish; and increased iron losses due to menstruation. Experts offer widely different estimates on the percentage (from 29 to 84 per cent) of young Canadian women who don't meet the recommended nutrient intake (RNI) for iron.
Meat, fish, and poultry contain heme iron (from animal blood), which is more easily absorbed and used by the body than the iron in vegetables and grains. However, heme iron and vitamin C enhance the body's ability to absorb the iron in grains and vegetables.
To increase your family's iron intake:
• Pick whole-grain cereals and iron-fortified cereals. Read the nutrition panel on the label, and check the amount of iron (sometimes identified as ferrous sulfate listed; choose ones that also have fibre -• oatmeal is among the best.
• Choose whole-wheat breads to make school lunches.
• For an after-school snack, bake bran muffins chock full of raisins and dried apricots.
• Serve meat, fish, and poultry often.
• Add red kidney beans to casseroles.
Page 3 of 4 -- discover what your kids shouldn't be eating on page 4.
Gradually reducing fat
Adolescence is a step-down period from the higher-fat diet of childhood to the lower-fat diet of adults. Reduce the fat component of your meals gradually so that by the time your teens achieve their full growth potential, their fat intake includes the same lower-fat foods appropriate for the adults in the family.
During their growth phases, many teens need the calories of higher-fat foods. As a concentrated source of calories, nutritious higher-fat foods such as peanut butter and cheese are particularly important to vegetarians, kids involved in sports, and teens who can't seem to find the time to eat. The Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) has concluded that people should not eliminate or restrict foods that are nutritious just because of their fat content.
This message from the CPS differs from that of the Committee of Nutrition of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) which suggests that parents start cutting back on fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol for their children after the age of two. The CPS, however, cites cases of parents, overzealous in their reduction of fat intake, whose children have suffered delayed growth and delayed puberty because of the misapplication of dietary advice meant for adults, not children.
Vitamin and mineral supplements
A study of over 200 kids aged eight to fifteen in Saskatoon revealed that 36 per cent take vitamin or mineral supplements. However, only 14 per cent consistently use the same supplement throughout the year. Beta-carotene may have been the rage last month. Now zinc's hot. Adolescence is a time to experiment, and the multi-billion-dollar supplement industry is ready to supply their desires.
Teens who eat the number of servings recommended in Canada's Food Guide don't need vitamin and mineral supplements. But a daily supplement containing 100 per cent or less of the RNI of vitamins and minerals is usually safe. If your teen's meals are particularly erratic, it may even do a little good, but it won't substitute for the hundreds of nutrients supplied by a balanced diet of real foods.
It's when kids self-prescribe individual vitamins that they can get into trouble. Supplements of a single nutrient may interfere with the absorption of other nutrients. For example, if he takes large doses of zinc over a prolonged period of time, your son could become deficient in iron and copper. As a general rule, the water-soluble vitamins B and C can be taken without major health hazards because you excrete the excess in your urine. But no vitamins, even the water-soluble ones, are safe in excess.
What vitamin dosage?
Help your teen determine if the dosage she's taking is within healthy limits. Ask her to consider consulting your doctor or a dietitian at the public health department. Diet books and infomercials offer a lot of contradictory and inaccurate information, so she needs help in selecting information from reputable sources. If your daughter has thrown caution to the wind and is consuming a cocktail of supplements, it's time to intervene-her health is at risk. Of particular concern are mega-doses (more than five times the recommended adult dose) of the following nutrients:
- Vitamin A At 25,000 International Units (IU) a day, vitamin A can cause serious liver damage, hair loss, and bone and joint pain. If there's a chance your daughter may be or could become pregnant, more than 10,000 IU increases the risk of birth defects.
- Vitamin D Prolonged use of 2,000 IU of vitamin D a day can cause nausea, high blood pressure, and kidney damage.
- Niacin At 2,000 mg a day, niacin can cause an irregular heartbeat and liver damage. However, some people experience headaches, flushing, cramps, and nausea with just 50 mg a day.
- Selenium Over 150 mcg a day of this antioxidant mineral may cause baldness and nail and tooth loss.
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