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What is Your Teen Eating?

Setting a Firm Foundation for Lifelong Health

As parents, we worry about what our children eat. The marketplace is flooded with information guiding concerned parents on how to nourish their children, but as parents of teenagers will tell you, what works for the under 10 crowd may not always apply to the over 11 set.

It is discouraging to see so little helpful information to guide the parents of teens at this very critical time of development. Teenage girls are at particular risk of malnutrition and setting up unhealthy lifelong eating habits. The food choices teenage girls make have repercussions beyond just one person, it can affect generations.

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This is because most of them will one day become mothers and care providers. This is not to imply that our young men are not equally important, but boys are not encouraged by society to restrict their caloric intake.

Teens, because of their age and desire to become independent, need different strategies and suggestions to get them interested and excited about eating well.

Where Should I Start?

As a parent, it’s important to know what motivates your teenager. If you have a son, he more than likely wants to build muscle and have clear skin. If you have a daughter, her diet is probably motivated by weight loss and having a glowing complexion. Yet if we starve or gorge, we will not achieve these goals.

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When we do things like skip meals or not eat because we want to be “thin,” over the long run we gain weight. When we do not eat, our body thinks we are starving, so it holds onto fat. So the best way to lose weight is to eat a balanced diet, drink plenty of water and be active.

A girl needs at least 17% body fat to maintain a healthy nervous system, brain and menstrual cycle. Not having a period is not a good thing. Not having enough fat also can lead to depression.

I am sure we have all seen the proverbial teenage boy gorging on animal protein and pasta to “bulk up.” However, when that young man is in his late 20’s or 30’s, he may find himself bulking up in the wrong way. As my grandmother used to joke, “Gee youï؟½re growing, but in the wrong direction.” Overeating is not a way to speed up the natural process of building muscle, what young men are learning is to set up unhealthy binge-like eating habits. ï؟½

Both girls and boys experience growth spurts at this age and need minerals like zinc, found in nuts and seeds, and the B vitamins which are abundant in whole grains. If we just look at their rapidly expanding skeletal structure, we know they need calcium.

They also need magnesium and vitamin D, which are necessary for our bodies to use calcium. Milk is not the best source of calcium; sesame seeds and broccoli are both richer sources. Magnesium is abundant in almonds, cashews and un-sulfured black strap molasses.

Vitamin D is found in cold water fish (like salmon and tuna), butter, egg yolks, kale, and chard and free from the sun. This is not to say that other vitamins and minerals are not important, they are, and this is why a diet that is varied and pulls from a diversity of land and sea based foods is the best way to go.

To Eat or Not to Eat

So which kinds of foods should your teens be eating and which foods should they avoid? Here are a few tips to get them started on their way to a healthy life style:

Skip the Soda

What is Your Teen EatingSoda is mostly sugar and phosphate. Sugar depresses the immune system and phosphate is antagonistic to calcium and will actually cause the bones and teeth to leach calcium causing bone loss.

Water is a must. It is after all the solvent of life. In order to calculate your optimal water need, take your body weight and divide it by two. Take that number and that will be how much water you need a day, in ounces (if you weigh 110 lbs/2= 55 oz), just to maintain “normal body function.”

If you are sick, eat animal protein, drink juice and you will also need to drink more water. Appropriate water intake helps keep us trim with glowing skin.

If you must have sweet drinks, experiment with making your own juice. If you use the pulp, you get the fiber which helps with weight loss and helps prevent acne (it improves liver and bowel function).

Eat Fruits and Vegetables

Fresh fruits and vegetables can be better than a multi vitamin. They contain all of the nutrients, in the correct amount and they are all ready for our bodies to use. Typically organically grown fruits and vegetables yield more nutrients. ï؟½

Commercially grown produce is usually lacking in vitamins and minerals because the farmers use fertilizers that only contain 3-4 nutrients. Organic farmers cultivate their soil so that there are multiple minerals and vitamins. When you get hungry, reach for a fruit or vegetable. They are a sound caloric investment and their calories are used up quickly.

Eat Fats, Proteins and Whole Grains

Most fad diets (Macrobiotic, Atkins, Zone, Vegan and Paleolithic diets) exclude or severely limit one of the macronutrients, i.e. fat, protein or carbohydrates. We need all three at different ratios depending on who you are to maintain optimal health.

You need fat. Your brain is mostly fat, but all fat is not created equal. In my practice I find that most people do not consume enough fat or are eating harmful fats. Once we correct this, they lose weight, their skin and hair become soft and supple and their health turns for the better.

Canola oil is not healthy at all. When you buy it in the supermarket, it is already rancid-rotten. Butter, ghee and coconut oil are healthful because they do not go rancid easily and they are the best for cooking.

Flaxseed and olive oils are best for non cooking needs. Olive oil can be added at the end of cooking. Avocados, olives and nuts are also a wonderful source of fat. I typically recommend three tablespoons of fat a day, to be increased gradually.

Protein does not mean animal protein. Milk, yogurt, nuts, seeds and beans are all sources of protein that do not tax our bodies and environment so heavily. Depending on who you are, you may not need to eat animal protein more than 2-3 times a week.

When you do this, you allow for a greater variety of foods to be added to your meals. Recommended protein intake varies greatly depending on age, gender and life situation. It is best to consult with a holistic nutritionist for recommended daily intake.

Carbohydrates have come under fire as fat building food. A carrot is a carbohydrate and so is a cookie. What most nutritional experts are referring to are simple carbohydrates like white rice, white flour and sugar, not carrots.

Whole grains, fruits and vegetables are complex carbohydrates. Whole grains contain many beneficial nutrients, most important being the B complex vitamins. The Standard American Diet (SAD) is severely lacking in the B vitamins because of the use of white flour instead of whole grain flour. The B complex vitamins, for one thing, help our bodies deal with stress.

Avoid Empty Calories

Sugar and junk food are what really causes weight gain. It is well known that diabetics tend to gain weight uncontrollably. It is because of an inability of their bodies to control blood sugar levels. To a lesser extent, when we consume excessive amounts (2-3 times a week) of junk food, the same thing happens in our bodies.

Simple carbohydrates also contribute nothing to our bodies, except calories. They actually cause our bodies to use up its precious store of enzymes and nutrients. Eating junk food is a ticket straight to bad skin, poor body composition and disease.

It is important to remember that if someone has spent years eating processed foods and simple carbohydrates, rich in rancid fats, sugar and sodium, it may take time for their taste buds to come back to life. Go slowly and in stages.

First date of publication is Oct 30, 2008.

About Anisa Abeytia
Anisa Abeytia, B.A. USC , M.A., Stanford is an integrative health specialist currently pursuing a M.S. in Holistic Nutrition. Over the past ten years Anisa has pursued various fields of holistic and traditional medicine. She has studied at the oldest herbal school in the United States and pursued a two year certificate program in Islamic Healing. She writes regularly on the topics of health and nutrition. She maintains the website Women's Healing Circle, a site dedicated to the natural health of women and their families.