Confidence is about taking care of yourself all-round, from your teeth to your toes. That means keeping active, engaging and challenging your brain, and staying social (and by that we mean in person, not just on screen). But healthy eating is also a major ingredient in maintaining a high self esteem; and maintaining our health as teenagers is one of the easiest ways to make ourselves look and feel good.
Your food requirements change dramatically during your teens, depending on how active you are and how much growing you've got to do. It can be tricky getting the balance between knowing what to eat and how much of it (while still making sure it tastes good and having fun), so here are some teenage health tips on how to eat right for your body.
Healthy eating guidelines
Eating well will increase your energy levels and concentration, lower your risk of long term health problems, help you maintain a healthy weight and support your ongoing dental health. Here are some simple changes you can make to your diet today to enjoy these benefits:
Make better food choices.
Healthy eating doesn't mean you can't eat out or become a social recluse. Try swapping your favourite foods for leaner options, like substituting fried chicken or fish for grilled, choosing thin crust or vegetarian pizza instead of that stuffed crust meat lovers, and swapping soft drinks for fresh fruit and vegetable juices.
Think of takeaway and junk food as a treat.
It’s okay to have it sometimes, but it shouldn’t be part of your core diet. That’s because gram-for-gram, processed food is actually very low in nutrients ― especially the ones that are essential for tooth and bone health like calcium, magnesium and vitamin D.
Learn to cook.
There's no better way to get an understanding of what goes into your food than to prepare it yourself. Plus, the DIY approach will help you to avoid the unnecessary chemicals and additives contained in takeaway and processed foods.
Be aware that alcohol is a neurotoxin
That means it’s a poison - that's best avoided by growing bodies. It can damage the brain and nervous system, impair your reflexes, and cause you to do some really silly things (that's why they make it illegal to purchase until you're 18).
Eat smaller meals, more often
Sustain your energy levels throughout the day and avoid that uncomfortable feeling of being 'weighed down' after a meal.
Vegetarian and vegan diets.
If you cut meat or animal products from your diet, make sure you compensate with another source of protein. If you're vegetarian, this might include eggs, cheese and other dairy products. If you're vegan, look for nuts and high protein, high fibre foods such as legumes, tofu and whole grains. You may also require supplements for iron, calcium and vitamin B12.
How do I know if I’m eating enough calcium?
Calcium is a key nutrient that supports bone development for healthy teenagers (and don’t forget — your teeth are bones too!). We asked nutritionist Melinda Overall from Overall Nutrition about how growing teens can ensure they get enough calcium in their daily diet.
Melinda says “you can get good amounts of calcium by regularly consuming dairy products like unflavoured, unsweetened milk and yoghurt; eating plenty of leafy green vegetables; and by eating small fish with bones like tinned salmon and sardines…”. She suggests following the National Health and Medical Research Council’s guide to recommended dietary intake to work out how much calcium you need, depending on your age:
It’s easy to meet your daily requirement once you know what foods to look out for. To give you an idea of how much calcium is contained in what you eat, consider that:
1 cup milk = 300mg
1 cup soy milk = 300mg
1 cup yoghurt = 100mg
1 slice (40g) cheddar cheese = 340mg
2 tablespoons almond butter = 110mg
90g canned sardines (in water) = 480mg
Advice for very active teens and those trying to lose weight
For those who play a lot of sport or who are really active or who struggle to keep weight on, make the effort to add some high-energy snacks to your day. Steer clear of those with minimal nutritional value (like lollies, which contain sugar and not much else); instead opt for smart snacks like almonds or macadamia nuts, some smashed avocado on whole grain toast, or a banana smoothie (preferably a homemade one without the added sugar, like some juice chain stores make).
On the other hand, if you feel like you're carrying some extra unwanted weight, it might be time to examine your diet and cut down on the junk. Don’t worry ― it’s not like you have to eliminate treats like chocolate or pizza entirely (in fact, that could backfire by making you obsess over it and gorge once you hit breaking point!). Instead, replace these less healthy options with better choices (like the ones outlined above), and complement it by ramping up your activity levels to fire up your metabolism.
Diet and your teeth
You've known since you were a kid that sugary foods lead to cavities. That's because sugar stimulates acid production in your mouth, which gradually erodes your teeth and creates holes which require a filling.
But that’s not the only way your diet can affect your teeth. If you've got other dental concerns such as a misaligned bite or tooth overcrowding, you might find it difficult to eat certain foods like meat or crunchy vegetables and snacks, which can become stuck in your teeth and cause pain. This makes it even harder to eat right for the best teenage health.
Braces may be the solution to fix this problem early and ensure you don't have to head into adulthood in discomfort. It's not as bad as it sounds; modern braces like Invisalign ® are clear and removable (so you can take them off when you eat). Plus, when treatment is over and you see your new beautiful smile, your confidence levels will skyrocket!
There's no better feeling than being your true self and being proud of the way you look — and eating right is a sure way to achieve that. But if you're struggling with a more serious weight issue (too little or too much), it's best to see a doctor or nutritionist who can put you on a plan that's right for your body.
Alternatively, if you've got other concerns about your appearance that relate to your smile, such as crooked teeth or any other dental problems that make you frown, book in to see Dr Anthony Pistolese for a consultation at Inner West Orthodontics— and let him show you just how easy it is to sort them out.
Thanks for your valuable contributions to this weeks post, Melinda! With concerns about your health, or the health of your children and the best nutritional advice in the Inner West.