Updated April 26, 2021
7 Nutrition Basics You Should Learn in Your Teens
Being an independent teenager is great! You’re able to make more of your own decisions about music, who you hang out with, what you wear… and what you eat. With this growing independence comes more responsibility, so it’s also a good time to learn how to make smart decisions about your health. Here are seven nutrition basics everyone should learn in their teenage years.
Calories Give You Energy
Your body requires energy to grow and function properly. The calories that you get from the foods you eat and drink are what give you that energy. Eating a healthy breakfast is kind of like charging up your battery for the day.
As you go about your day, you’re burning off that stored energy, so you need to provide your body with additional calories throughout the day to keep your battery charged. That’s why eating healthy meals and snacks throughout the day is so important.
Don’t Skip Meals
Trying to lose weight by cutting out entire food groups or skipping meals isn’t healthy. Not only will you have less energy, but you may also miss out on key nutrients that your body needs. In fact, skipping meals may actually make it harder for you to manage your weight because you’ll be hungry all the time. It can also lead to mood swings and an inability to focus.
The best way to manage your weight is to find a healthy balance between your activity level and your calorie consumption. Remember, your body is still growing, so it needs energy. You should always eat three healthy meals a day. If you’re playing sports or you lead an active lifestyle, you can easily include nutritious snacks throughout the day and still maintain a healthy weight.
How to Choose Healthy Food and Beverages
Eating a healthy diet is all about making the right food and drink choices. As a general rule, try to stay away from foods that have a lot of salt, sugar, or unhealthy fats. The majority of your diet should be based around vegetables, fruit, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats.
How to choose healthy foods:
- Vegetables and fruits: At every meal, try to fill at least half of your plate with vegetables and fruits. Dark green leafy vegetables and orange/red fruits and vegetables contain the most essential nutrients like fiber, calcium, and vitamin C, so include them as much as possible.
- Whole grains: Stay away from white bread, white pasta, and white rice whenever possible. Instead, choose whole-grain bread and pasta, oatmeal, and brown rice.
- Protein: When it comes to choosing protein, the healthiest sources of animal protein are chicken, turkey, lean pork and beef, and most seafood. Eggs, legumes, seeds, and nuts are also healthy protein choices.
- Dairy: Calcium is important for growing strong bones and teeth but try to choose low-fat dairy sources whenever possible.
- Healthy fats: Not all fats are bad! In fact, healthy fats are essential for energy, growth, development, and healthy hair and skin. Healthy fats include avocados, olives, seeds, nuts, and fatty fish like tuna and salmon. Stay away from processed foods or foods that have been fried in oil.
Foods to limit or avoid completely:
- Processed foods: Processed foods that come premade in a can or package are usually high in sodium, chemicals, additives, and other unhealthy ingredients. They usually have little to no nutritional value, so you’ll want to eliminate them from your diet as much as possible.
- Processed sugars: Baked goods, soda, and other foods that contain added sugar to make them taste sweet usually contain tons of calories but very little nutrition. When you’re craving something sweet, have a piece of fruit instead.
Not All Foods Are Good For You Personally
While some foods are good in general, they aren’t necessarily beneficial for you personally. That’s why some people can thrive eating nuts and others get anaphylactic shocks and can’t breathe. Clearly, our bodies respond to foods differently.
Most people, for instance, can eat tomatoes – one of the healthiest foods in the modern diet. But for some people, they’re a nightmare. They cause an immune response and foster overgrowth of certain bacteria in the gut that cause bloating and flatulence.
The fact that we are all different is one of the reasons for the explosion in allergy testing sweeping the Western world. People want to find out what they can and can’t eat, without having to go through painful experimentation. It’s best to do this in your teens to avoid suffering later in life.
Make Sure You’re Getting Enough Essential Nutrients
Eating a healthy diet will go a long way toward ensuring that you’re getting enough essential nutrients. However, many teens don’t get enough of the following nutrients:
- Calcium: essential for strong bones and teeth
- Vitamin D: for healthy bones and immune system
- Potassium: for healthy blood pressure
- Iron: for growth and healthy cells
Nutrient deficiencies in the teen years could lead to health problems later in life. No matter how hard you try, there will always be days where you don’t have access to the right foods, or you simply don’t have time to prepare healthy meals and snacks. Taking complete organic vitamins every day is the best way to make sure you’re getting enough of the most important nutrients and fill in any nutritional gaps in your diet.
Learn About Portion Control
You probably already know that a portion is how much of a certain food or drink you consume in one sitting, whether you’re at school, home, at a friend’s house, or in a restaurant. The thing is, many people consume much larger portions than they really need, especially at restaurants and fast-food places.
Eating oversized portions is a leading cause of unhealthy weight gain, so eat until your hunger is satisfied, but don’t stuff yourself or eat until you’re so full it’s uncomfortable.
Staying active is every bit as important to your health as eating a healthy diet. Regular physical activity not only helps you maintain a healthy weight, but it also helps you build stronger bones and muscles. That doesn’t mean you have to play a sport or go to the gym if you don’t want to.
Any physical activity that you enjoy can be great exercise, whether it’s riding your bike, walking the dog, swimming, dancing, or shooting some hoops. It doesn’t have to be all at once, but you should shoot for about 60 minutes of physical activity each day.
Get Plenty of Sleep
Life can get busy, especially if you have a part-time job or a lot of activities going on. Just like eating a healthy diet and staying active, getting enough sleep also plays a key role in your overall health. If you aren’t sleeping well, you won’t be able to focus at school, you’ll be moody, and your immune system won’t work as effectively. Teens between the ages of 13 and 18 need about eight to 10 hours of sleep each night.
Learning the basics of good nutrition in your teenage years is important now, but it will also help you later in life. Eating a healthy diet, taking a multivitamin, staying active, and getting plenty of sleep are the keys to staying healthy overall. There’s nothing more important than that!