Is there a teenager in your life currently, or perhaps a preteen? Are you wondering how to better support their growing body to help them get through puberty and beyond? I’ve got some insights for you today that can help you support your child through these amazing years to make them as healthy as possible.
Do teens have the same nutritional requirements as adults? What about teen hormonal health?
Teens nutrition requirements vary a bit for a few reasons -one they are still growing and in order to grow one may need more nutrients causing them to want to eat a lot more (in case you haven’t noticed how much a teenage boy can eat -let me tell you, it’s amazing to watch them). Also, not only are they growing structurally they are going through puberty and adjusting to their new hormonal state if you will. In order to make healthy hormones, again, nutrients are required.
Also, teenagers are typically VERY active and again this will increase their need for fuel. Nutritionally speaking, the typical mainstream thinking regarding nutritional requirements really misses the mark. Teens really need lots of good quality fats and adequate protein and moderate carbs can be okay. Keeping teens away from a S.A.D is gonna be important because you want them to build healthy hormones for their entire future. You can’t build healthy hormones on soda and McDonalds (or processed foods).
Eating well is often hard for teens. Hanging around with friends, frequenting fast food outlets and snacking can lead to excessive intake of fat, sugar and calories and insufficient intake of important vitamins and minerals. Adolescence is a time of increased nutrient needs. During the rapid growth of puberty, the body has increased need for calories and key nutrients including protein, calcium, iron, folate and zinc. Iron and calcium are particularly important nutrients for your body during adolescence.
Iron helps your blood carry oxygen to all your muscles. It helps your brain function and helps your immune system fight disease. Menstruation increases a girl’s need for iron. Choosing iron-rich food sources can help keep their body working optimally.
Your body will actually absorb more calcium from the foods you eat during puberty. The increased need for skeletal growth signals your body to “grab” all the calcium it can. The problem is most adolescents simply are not eating enough calcium-rich foods and the co-factors needed to meet their needs. If you do not meet your calcium needs during this critical time when your bones are growing, you may end up with weaker bones that are more prone to fractures.
Experts estimate that for every 5 percent increase in adolescent bone mass, there is a 40 percent decrease in the risk of bone fractures later in life. There is a limited time window to deposit calcium into bone. Bones grow and incorporate calcium rapidly during teen years. By the time you reach your early twenties, however, calcium is no longer added to bone. Currently most teen girls are getting far less than the recommended 700 milligrams of calcium per day.
Now, I’m gonna veer off a bit here for a second and say that calcium actually requires several other things to work properly, other than just getting adequate dietary intake of this nutrient, overall systemic pH needs to be working properly (sugar/soda SAD diet influence this negatively), hormones affect calcium absorption, other minerals are critical (magnesium is a biggie too), certain vitamins, fatty acids, proper digestion. I just want to mention that briefly because the mainstream puts so much emphasis on calcium alone and it’s inaccurate to focus on it alone. Really a properly prepared nutrient dense diet is a good place to start, getting D levels checked and making sure vitamin D is included, as well as other minerals. Another cofactor for calcium absorption and function is adequate hydration -which is a big miss for most teens, I”ll get into that in a future post…
Boys will tend to eat more than girls will. Protein requirements increase a lot from the pre-teen years. As will need for the fat-soluble vitamins which makes sense because those are need to make healthy hormones. Read more about the best quality proteins to consume and what good fats to choose.
Girls tend to eat a bit less for various reasons -one they begin to gain weight and get more fat deposits and are more concerned about ‘weight’. This is very problematic and can often lead to mild or even severe eating disorders. It is more common for a girl to become vegetarian in these years a critical time of growth when animal protein and fats are desperately needed. Moms of girls – hair analysis would be a huge help for your daughter if she is struggling with these issues. I find moms of teen girls can team up together and work on a game plan through hair analysis – this is a great way to improve thyroid function, adrenal function, help improve their menstrual cycle and mood.
Let’s talk a little bit about hormones….
When your body reaches a certain age, your brain releases a special hormone that starts the changes of puberty. It’s called gonadotropin-releasing hormone, or GnRH for short. When GnRH reaches the pituitary gland (a pea-shaped gland that sits just under the brain), this gland releases into the bloodstream two more puberty hormones: luteinizing hormone (LH for short) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH for short). Guys and girls have both of these hormones in their bodies. And depending on whether you’re a guy or a girl, these hormones go to work on different parts of the body.
For guys, these hormones travel through the blood and give the testes the signal to begin the production of testosterone and sperm. Testosterone is the hormone that causes most of the changes in a guy’s body during puberty. Sperm cells must be produced for men to reproduce.
In girls, FSH and LH target the ovaries, which contain eggs that have been there since birth. The hormones stimulate the ovaries to begin producing another hormone called estrogen. Estrogen, along with FSH and LH, causes a girl’s body to mature and prepares her for pregnancy.
So that’s what’s really happening during puberty — it’s all these new chemicals moving around inside your body, turning you from a teen into an adult with adult levels of hormones.
Puberty usually starts some time between age 10 and 12 in girls and 12 and 14 in guys. I notice it seems to fall between 5th and 7th grades. Some people start puberty a bit earlier or later. Each person is a little different, so everyone starts and goes through puberty on his or her body’s own schedule. During these years of puberty guys can gain a lot of weight and grow as much as 4 to 5 inches per year.
If a teen does not have the proper building blocks already in place for healthy hormone production – this time of their life will be rocky. Prepare for moods galore….especially for the ladies as they begin their menstrual cycle.
Are there any foods teens and pre-teens should be having more of while growing?
Yes, good fats and healthy proteins! Good quality fats and proteins should be consumed at every meal and snack since they are the building blocks for healthy hormones. Additionally, they should be taking fish oil -either cod liver oil, krill oil or salmon oil OR eat fatty fish or salmon a couple times per week so long as it is not overcooked. Whole milk from grass fed cows, if dairy is tolerated vs. the skim milk or 1% milk most Americans are choosing is better for your teen. Too many teens are not eating any of these foods on a daily basis. Some live on processed sugars and starches primarily – this is a recipe for disasterous hormonal health and bad moods.
Roles of Fats:
- Provide a source of energy (fats are the longer lasting fuel, the “logs” with carbs being the “kindling”)
- Are important in the makeup of cell membranes (as you can see in the graphic…the lipids, the cholesterol, the fatty acid tails…)
- Are necessary for healthy liver function: building healthy cholesterol and bile
- Are required for the absorption of fat soluble vitamins: A, D, E, K
- Are required for the adequate use of proteins
- Serve as a protective lining for the organs of the body
- Play a role in slowing the absorption of food for proper energy regulation
- Are imperative to managing the inflammation process
- They make your food TASTE GOOD!
Many hormones and neurotransmitters are made of fat. Hormones and neurotransmitters are substantial players in our mental well being. This makes healthy fats extremely important in the diet of a teenager because it’s a time when hormones are changing dramatically. American kids are eating the wrong kinds of fats.
The brain is composed of mostly fat…about 60% of its dry weight. All our cells have a lipid bi-layer of fat -or in other words they are lined with fat -we need good fats to have cells with integrity. This is a critical time to have cells develop from healthy fats and not bad ones as it could even impact our teens future children (of course they won’t want to hear that), as parents we can be concerned and make sure our teens are eating quality fats such as coconut oil, REAL butter (cultured or from grass fed cows, better yet RAW if possible) or cultured ghee and other animal fats like lard or tallow, whole milk, cream, egg yolks, nuts/seeds, avocado, olive oil and sesame oil. Read more here and get a pdf to print out of all the good fats and how to use them, as well as which to use cold and which to heat.
*One thing to note is that your child may not actually be able to fully digest the healthy fats they consume if they have already impaired health. For example: both of my teens are slow oxidizers, this means they have a harder time digesting their fats and need some digestive support. A good way to determine this is through hair analysis.
The Role of Protein:
Proteins are the building blocks of our bodies. Our body uses and assembles 50,000 different proteins to form organs, nerves, muscles, and flesh. Complete animal proteins are responsible for building enzymes, antibodies, hemoglobin and hormones. All proteins are combinations of 20 amino acids: 10 of which are essential, meaning the body cannot produce them. The other 10 are nonessential and can be synthesized by the body.
Amino acids are responsible for creating neurotransmitters (such as norepinephrine, serotonin, GABA, acetylcholine, aspartate, and glutamate). Amino acids are extremely important components of many hormones as well as help to regulate healthy moods. Sex hormones are made up of amino acids plus fats. 95% of muscle is made up of amino acids. 95% of the heart is made up of amino acids. RNA and DNA also require amino acids for proper regulation.
In other words, amino acids are necessary for our genes to function properly. Therefore, daily consumption of proteins is critical to optimal physical function and health. A good daily amount of protein to consume is at least 30% of your overall intake, kids in slow oxidation (or adrenal fatigue, combined with slow thyroid function) need more like 40% of the diet to contain protein. Read more about healthy protein choices here.
As you can see, it is a great challenge to obtain enough good fats and proteins in the diet of a modern American teenager. Just watch how a group of teens eats when they are together. They tend towards processed, refined carbs, starches and sugars. As parents we can support our teens by feeding them nourishing food in the home regularly to help build healthy hormones and good moods, as well as decrease the amount of junk food they do eat overall. Assume they won’t eat healthy outside of the home when they are with friends, at school etc…because most likely they will only have processed foods as an option.
Stay tuned: I’ll be sharing more about my preteen (12 year old) son’s health issues in a future post. His hair tissue mineral analysis test showed he is in adrenal exhaustion, slow thyroid, elevated copper, some heavy metals and impaired immune function. After that I will share more about my 16 year old son’s health, he has Hashimoto’s and adrenal fatigue as well.
If you want to help your pre-teen or teen with their health a hair tissue mineral analysis test is a great place to start. A hair analysis gives a lot of information about the body’s current biochemistry, which then gives direction on what foods to focus on in the diet, what exact supplements to take and a lifestyle plan to follow.
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