Much as I am trying to put my blinders on and enjoy summer to its fullest, I’m feeling the buzz of families gearing up for school and fall sports. This year, while we are stocking up on school supplies and new kicks for our kiddos, let’s make sure we are also getting our kitchens ready to nurture our young students and athletes.
Today, many of our teens and tweens are getting enough calories but they are often lacking the nutrients to support the intense emotional, intellectual and physical growth they are experiencing as well as the demands that athletics and adolescent stressors place on their bodies and brains. In addition to getting enough protein, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates, certain nutrients like calcium, zinc, Vitamin D and B vitamins take on even more importance in the teen years.
It doesn’t help that adolescence is a time when teens love to dine out with friends, usually as cheaply as possible, which translates to a lot of fast food and poor choices. Eating out often adds a lot of extra sodium and empty calories, unhealthy fats and poor quality animal proteins while squeezing out fresh vegetables and fruits.
Girls and Boys May Need Different Nutrients
Interestingly, teen girls and boys often differ in their nutritional imbalances. While teen boys in their efforts to build mass and muscle are often getting enough if not too much protein and iron, teen girls are often deficient. According to the CDC’s “What We Eat in America” study, boys 12-19 eat about 95 grams of protein per day as opposed to girls 12-19 who are consuming only about 63 grams. And girls are consuming an average of 3 mg less iron than they should while boys are consuming 6 mg more than they actually need. The Institute of Medicine recommends teen girls get 17 mg of iron daily while teen boys should aim for 11 mg. Girls require more iron than teen boys to replace that which they lose monthly once they begin menstruating. Iron is essential to deliver enough healthy red blood cells and oxygen around the body and to the brain.
Teens Lack Fiber
Where both high school boys and girls are both seriously lacking is fiber. According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, teen girls (14 to 18 years) should get 25 grams of fiber per day and teen boys (14 to 18 years) should get 31 grams of fiber per day but teens are lucky if they are getting half of that. Fiber is essential for proper digestion, managing cholesterol levels and blood sugar and overall, in the prevention of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and obesity. And, a recent study published in Pediatrics determined that eating lots of fiber-rich foods during high school years may significantly reduce a woman's risk of developing breast cancer during her lifetime.
Fiber is available through fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and legumes, and whole grains. As consuming all types of fiber is important, including soluble, insoluble and fermentable fibers, it is recommended that you focus on all of these food groups.
Top Fiber-Rich Foods
Here are 10 excellent fiber-rich foods to add to your teen’s diet.
- Raspberries – add to lunchboxes, serve with yogurt
- Collard greens – great in soup, sautéed with sausage
- Cinnamon – sprinkle on oatmeal, in smoothies, on apples
- Lentils – enjoy in soup or as a side dish
- Green peas – add to soups, pasta, sauces
- Black beans – make yummy tacos, sides, burgers
- Kidney beans- add to soup, chili, salad
- Squash – roasted, spiralized for zoodles, pizza topping
- Pear – serve with oatmeal, roast for dessert with cinnamon, slices with almond butter
- Broccoli – pureed soup, steamed with peanut sauce, stir-fries
How to Get Teens to Eat More Fiber (and a Nutrient-Rich Diet)
Teens can often be motivated to make better choices on their own if we help them understand the impact of their diet on sports performance, clearer skin, glossier hair and skin as well as increased growth and for some kids, better grades.
Striving for independence, many high schoolers enjoy planning the family dinner menu as well as their own menus, creating their own shopping lists and having group dinners with friends. Give them a hand by taking them shopping with you and helping them with recipes.
You can help as well by adding fiber-filled vegetables, grains and fruits to every meal. For example, make a side of lentil salad on Sunday evening and serve as a side throughout the week. Swap out chips and cookies for nuts and seeds in your pantry closet. Keep high-fiber fruits washed and ready-to-eat for an easy grab at breakfast or after school.
In general, teens eat better when they eat more meals at home and spend time with friends who also enjoy eating well. Have fun at family meals, keep it light and save those potentially stressful discussion topics for another time.
Here are three of our family’s favorite high-fiber recipes:
- Black Bean Sweet Potato Enchiladas (Cookie and Kate)
- Lentil and Swiss Chard Soup (Food & Wine)
- Raspberry Pear Muffins (Rebecca Katz)
Joyful eating and enjoy these last precious weeks of summer!
References (And Helpful Resources)
Aubrey, Allison, “A Diet High In Fiber May Help Protect Against Breast Cancer,” NPR, February 1, 2016, retrieved from: http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/02/01/464854395/a-diet-high-in-fiber-may-help-protect-against-breast-cancer
CDC, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, “What We Eat in America, 2003-2004”, retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhanes/wweia.htm
Klass, Perri, MD. “The Always Hungry Teenage Boy,” New York Times, March 5, 2016, retrieved from: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/03/07/the-always-hungry-teenage-boy/?_r=0
Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, “Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010,” retrieved from: https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2010/
Sears, William, MD and Sears, Martha, RN “Teens Need Better Nutrition,” retrieved from: http://www.askdrsears.com/topics/feeding-eating/family-nutrition/teen-nutrition
Whfoods.com, “Special Needs: Teenage,” retrieved from: http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=specialneed&dbid=6
Whfoods.com, “Fiber,” retrieved from: http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=nutrient&dbid=59
Winston, Courtney, “Fiber for Teenagers,” SFGate.com, http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/fiber-teenagers-6311.html