The teen years are the time when your body is growing and developing in a big way, building up your muscles and bones. Eating a nutritious diet is not just about maintaining weight but also about ensuring that your body is receiving all the nutrients it requires to function well and ensure that you can perform all your daily tasks to your highest potential. Unfortunately, there is a lot of information in the media telling you either to avoid a food group completely to be healthy or to over consume other foods as they are ‘super foods’. Every week, there is a new fad diet in the media and often it is hard to make informed food choices with so much conflicting and confusing information out there. Keep in mind that you do not any need to follow any special ‘diet’. It is all about eating a balanced diet consisting of the different food groups which include wholegrain breads, cereals, fruits, vegetables, low fat dairy, protein and healthy fats. In addition, being physically active is also very important. As a teenager, you should try and avoid being inactive during the day and at night have 6-8 hours of quality sleep to ensure you are energized for the next day.
A survey done on eating patterns among adolescents found similar eating habits across the teenage population which included:
• Skipping breakfast
• Regularly eating dinner in front of the television
• Eating foods away from home which can often include more fast food meals
• Purchasing meals from the school canteen and vending machine
Here are a 5 tips to start with
1. Avoid skipping breakfast!
A high fibre, high protein breakfast that keeps you full for longer will help reduce unnecessary snacking throughout the day. In addition, you are more likely to meet your needs for Vitamin A, C, riboflavin, calcium, iron and zinc.
2. Reduce eating out
Parents should be role models and prepare healthy, nutritious meals for themselves and their children. As a teenager, you are old enough to help with grocery shopping and food preparation. Packing a nutritious lunch from home can prevent you from making wrong food choices from the school canteen and vending machines.
3. Avoid consuming sweetened beverages
Soft drinks are extremely popular among teenagers but as you may know they are full of sugar, provide you with no nutrients and in fact harm you more than you can imagine. Dental caries and weak bones can be caused by over consumption of soft drinks. In addition, due to the massive amount of sugar (10 teaspoons!), they alone can be responsible for you gaining weight.
4. Stock up on healthy snacks
It is natural for a young person to be hungry from time to time during the day specially when you study, do homework and participate in sports. There is nothing wrong with having snacks but again these snacks should have some nutrient value. Examples of healthy snacks include fruits, low fat yoghurt, wholegrain crackers with avocado or low fat cheese, vegetable sticks with hummus and air popped popcorn and nuts.
5. Make healthier choices and portion control when you eat out
Trying to be healthy does not mean you cannot enjoy an occasional treat with your friends. However it is important that the entire weekend is not a feast consisting of burgers and pizzas. Try to make healthier choices where you can such as wholegrain sandwiches and sushi rolls and/ or portion control the fast food. For example, the burger need not accompany the fries and a soft drink. You can always add on a healthy snack or a side salad from elsewhere if you are still hungry. Another way to portion control is to share your meals with your friends. It is beneficial to instil the habit early on of not letting your time with friends be a time of over-indulging on fast food, soft drinks and processed snacks. Instead it should be an uplifting and pleasant time spent with moderate indulgence on treat foods and a good amount of outdoor activities.
Bonus tip: Mindful eating
When we label treat foods as ‘bad’ or ‘forbidden’, it gives them too much power and they start controlling us more. Remember – you are in the driver’s seat. Your cravings don’t drive you crazy; you go crazy trying to constantly address your cravings. Cravings for particular foods like a ‘sugar craving’ often disappear if you distract yourself with an alternate activity like going out for a walk or talking to a friend. Furthermore, you must aim to eat adequate amounts of food to make sure that your craving is not stemming from a feeling of hunger.
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This article was written by our dietitian and nutritionist Juhi Bhambhaney.