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Healthy Eating For Teens
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 your 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 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. Worse yet, when you get a little older, you actually start losing calcium from your bones. Currently most teen girls are getting far less than the recommended 700 milligrams of calcium per day. So, reach for foods rich in calcium now.
Healthy Diet Basics
There are healthy eating tips that can help you develop food habits that promote good health. Learning to eat well now can help lower your risk of developing disease in the future. Here is a chart you can use to help ensure you're meeting key nutrient needs. Nutrient needs are best met by choosing a variety of different foods. Vitamin and mineral supplements cannot replace a healthy diet and can be harmful if used inappropriately. Talk to your doctor before taking any nutritional supplements. The recommended servings listed below probably will not provide all of your energy (calorie) needs, but you can afford to add a few higher fat foods or some sweet treats if most of your selections come from these nutrient-dense food groups.
Food Group Servings
per day
What a serving equals
Calcium-Rich Foods 3-4
  • 1 cup of low-fat milk, milk pudding or yoghurt
  • 2 oz. cheese
  • 1 cup of calcium-fortified soy beverage
Protein Foods

2-3

  • 3 oz. portion of meat, fish or chicken
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 oz. tofu
  • 4 tablespoons peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup cooked beans (soya, chickpeas, lentils, etc.)
*Choose lean meat, poultry without skin and vegetarian protein sources to limit artery-clogging saturated fats.

Breads and Cereals 6-7
  • 1 cup cooked cereal
  • 2 slices of bread
  • 1 cup pasta or noodles
  • 2 small chapati
  • 1 bun, english muffin or bagel
  • 3/4 cup ready-to-eat cereal
  • 4 biscuits
*Choose whole grain sources to enrich your fibre intake.

Vegetables 2-3
  • 1/2 cup cooked leafy vegetables
  • 1 cup cooked non-leafy vegetables
  • 1 raw carrot
  • 1½ cup salad greens
  • ½ cup vegetable juice
*Choose a good variety of vegetable. Leafy greens are great sources of folate; orange and yellow-orange veggies provide beta-carotene.

Fruit 2-3
  • 1 slice melon, pineapple, watermelon, etc.
  • 1 cup fruit salad
  • ½ cup 100% fruit juice
  • ½ cup canned fruit (juice-packed)
*Pick citrus fruits to boost vitamin C intake. Eat a variety of fruits to boost the cancer-fighting agents.

Healthy Weight
Puberty hormones will cause your body to develop curves by depositing fat in areas like your breasts, hips and thighs. This can lead some girls to think they are 'getting fat'. Try and take a realistic look at your body. Look around at other girls and people in your family. Healthy bodies come in a lot of different shapes and much of what your body looks like depends on genetics. Few people have the shape of fashion models or celebrities. If you really think you are overweight, discuss your concerns with an adult or your doctor. Don't start any weight loss diet without first getting some expert advice. Some studies have shown that girls following restrictive diets actually end up weighing more in the long run. Here are some basic tips that can help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

Get Moving
Lack of exercise is a major contributor to obesity in kids and adults. Most health organizations recommend that all kids and teens be physically active at least 60 minutes everyday. So run, walk, play soccer, swim or dance. Find a few activities that you enjoy and get your body moving; invite a friend to join you riding bikes, hiking or roller-blading. You will feel and think better if you get your body moving each day. Exercise is good for your muscle and bone development and it will help you maintain a healthy heart.

Turn off the Television
Many studies have shown a relationship between hours spent in front of the television and body weight. Unfortunately, many teens are planted in front of the TV screen five or more hours per day. A good rule is to limit TV time to weekends only; limiting TV to one hour per day is another good option. Also, teens are spending a lot of time on the computer. It is good that they are learning a new skill, however many teens spend way too much time doing that. Balance out time spent in sedentary activities with more active ones.

Drink Smart
Cornell University researchers have found that the consumption of soda and fruit drinks has tripled among American adolescents since 1978. The figures are probably not far off for Singapore teens. If you constantly quench your thirst with sugar-laden soft drinks, fruit punch or sweetened drinks, you will end up consuming a lot of extra calories. Diet drinks are less in calories but may also contain caffeine. Caffeine is a diuretic, it causes you to lose water. Quench your thirst with water and limit your soda consumption, but don't skimp on milk. Remember you have only a limited time to make those calcium deposits to your bones. An 8 oz glass of skim milk contains only about 90 calories while providing about 300 mg of bone-building calcium!

Make Choices
You do not have to give up burgers and fries to be healthy, but practice moderation. Don't order the large burger with 'super-sized' fries. Order a smaller burger and split the fries with a friend. There are not any 'bad' foods, just go easy on the portion sizes for foods high in fat or sugar. Emphasize fruits, vegetables, lower fat fast foods, lean meat and poultry when you make your food selections.

Eating Disorders
Adolescent and teenage girls are at particularly high risk for developing eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia (the binge and purge disorder). The desire for a 'perfect' slim body can be so strong that some girls will make themselves sick trying to achieve it. Some young women have an inappropriate body image, believing they are 'fat' even though their weight is in the normal range or below normal range.

Eating disorders are serious; health consequences can be severe, even life threatening. If you think you or one of your friends might have an eating disorder, talk to an adult about it right away; you may save a life. If you are a parent, you should be concerned if your child shows any of the following behaviors:
  • Refuses to eat or eats only small portions of food
  • Loses a lot of weight in a short time or shows great fluctuations in weight
  • Displays an extreme fear of being fat
  • Exercises excessively
  • Thinks she is fat even though she is not
  • Appears depressed, moody, insecure and/or hyperactive
If you suspect your child has an eating disorder, speak to a doctor, school health nurse or counselor. Your child may not understand she has a problem and will probably resist help. But the sooner she gets the right help, the better her chances of recovery.

A useful link for more information:   http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org

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