The nutrient demands of adolescents

Good nutrition is needed to support the growth and developmental changes of adolescence whereas undernutrition has been shown to delay the adolescent growth spurt. Therefore, it’s SO important to ensure that not only do teenagers receive food from appropriate sources, but that their digestive system can digest and absorb the food that they eat.

Half of adult bone mass is obtained during adolescence.

Why is adolescent nutrition so important?

Here’s a quick snapshot.

  • Girls generally begin their adolescent growth spurt at an earlier age (ie around 9 years of age) than boys (ie around 11 years of age).

  • The growth spurt typically lasts between two to four years, with the average rate of linear growth being 5-6 cm/year.

  • Girls have greater increases in adiposity (fat) which is required for normal menstruation. Weight gain typically happens six months following the greatest gains in linear growth

  • Boys experience a higher rate of growth and a longer growth spurt than girls. Weight gain in boys is usually coincident with increases in height.

  • Boys also gain more lean mass than girls throughout adolescence.

  • Boys experience greater gains in bone size and bone mass compared to their female counter parts.

Studies have shown that teens are falling short of the nutrients they need to power their growth. One of the major reasons that whilst they are eating (constantly it may seem!) that they are predominantly eating energy-rich but nutrient poor foods – think fast food, processed food and sugar sweetened beverages (some laced with high levels of caffeine!). This is a recipe for short term mood swings, long-term diabetes and failure to thrive and be healthy throughout adulthood.

A wide variety of nutrient dense foods are always recommended however, here are some of the key micro nutrients they need during this important period of growth. We'll deal with macro's later...


Vitamin A, B6, Folate, B12, D, E


Calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, sodium, zinc

So what should they be eating?

The simple answer is a diet that consists of real food #jerf .

Not packaged, processed, deep fried, high sugar, high salt, high caffeinated FAST food.

The more detailed answer is a diet rich in

ZINC : essential for growth and development, immune function, neurological function, and reproduction. Adolescents are at increased risk of zinc deficiency due to the demands of growth.

The RDA for adolescent boys and girls, aged 14 to 18 years, is 11 mg/day and 9 mg/day, respectively.

Sources: pumpkin seeds, red meat (grass fed), nuts (brazil, almond, cashew, chestnuts, peanuts, pecans, pine nuts, walnuts), chicken, duck, turkey, hard cheese, sundried tomatoes, eggs, tahini, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, garlic, green peas, fresh parsley, fresh basil, broad beans, butter beans, spinach and mushrooms

CALCIUM – for the mineralisation of bones and teeth. Vit D is also needed to enhance the uptake of calcium in the body The RDA* is set at 1,300 mg/day; this level of calcium intake is expected to cover the needs of 97.5% of adolescents.

Sources: rich foods such as sheep, cow (A2) and goats milk, tahini, yoghurt, sardines, anchovies, snapper, almonds, brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, cabbage, bok choy, spinach, fresh basil, fres chives, fresh parsley, figs (dried), egg (yolk) and leafy green vegetables.

MAGNESIUM is involved in more than 300 essential metabolic reactions that are generally involved in energy production and the synthesis of nucleic acids, proteins, carbohydrates anf lipids (fats).

The RDA* of magnesium for those aged 14 to 18 years is 410 mg/day for boys and 360 mg/day for girls.

Sources: I generally recommend this as a supplement as our soil is so deficient that is hard to get adequate doses from our food. However, sources include red meat, chicken liver, pork, chicken, turkey, almonds, brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, tahini, sunflower seeds, mustard powder, goats milk, dried fruit (avoid sulphates!) eg apple, apricot, figs, sultanas, prune, passionfruit, banana, blackberry, raspberry, legumes, shallots, spinach and parsley.

IRON - Important for oxygen carrying capacity in the blood, immune function, enzyme activity, brain function. Adolescents have increased requirements for iron due to rapid growth and girls are particularly at risk because of the loss of iron (via blood) during menstruation.

The RDA* of iron is 11 mg/day for adolescent boys and 15 mg/day for adolescent girls

Sources: Heme iron, found in meat, poultry, and fish and eggs, is more readily absorbed, and its absorption is less affected by other dietary factors than nonheme iron from sources such as tahini, parsley, fresh coriander, spinach, silverbeet, chicory, fresh basil, sundried tomato, miso and sesame seeds.

...and a good fish oil supplement as well for essential fatty acids.

Tips for Parents:

· Be a positive role model by eating nutritious food yourself

· Eat meals together as a family

· Encourage teenagers to make healthy food choices

· Encourage teenagers not skip meals

· Cut back on junk food – make this occasional rather than the norm

· Limit their intake of foods that are high in fat, sugar or salt

· Encourage 10mins of sunlight exposure on limbs per day for Vitamin D (without sunscreen)


This is for information purposes and it not intended to be used as medical advice.


*RDA above are based on general guidelines cited from and may need to be adjusted on the activity levels, growth, development stage of the invidivual.

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