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The skinny on healthy eating

Proper diet promotes growth, prevents adolescent diseases

Competitive athletes may need to consume an extra 600 to 1000 calories each day  

October 3, 2000
Web posted at: 3:43 PM EDT (1943 GMT)

In this story:

What to eat and how much

Drink your milk

Gotta grow

Squares to pyramids


If you're heading to the soccer field, remember the shin guards... and four glasses of milk. You'll need both to protect your bones.

Calcium is the most important nutrient in a teenager's diet, but it's not the only one, so a balanced diet is essential.

Health professionals often talk about what effect poor eating habits will have later, but solid nutrition practices are important now.

Growth occurs during adolescence. Teens who eat poorly could become puny adults. And an inadequate diet could lead to poor school performance, weak bones, a lack of energy and disease.

"Doctors talk about eating right to prevent disease later. Well, disease is starting now," said Kris Rudolph, a registered dietitian at the Teen Health Center Adolescent Nutrition Program at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center in Ohio.

"We're seeing an increase in diabetes, high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels in teens," she said. "That's happening now. It's not waiting until they are 40."

What to eat and how much

A healthy diet includes servings from the milk, meat, vegetable, fruit, bread and fat groups. The heaviest concentration should come from the bread and cereal group with a teen consuming six to 11 servings each day. That group contains complex carbohydrates which supply humans with energy.

Fats should be the lesser elements in a diet and not exceed 73 grams per day.

Teens need two to four servings from the milk group and two to three servings of meat.

Vegan and vegetarian youths should make sure that soy-based products have calcium added to them and that they use an adequate amount of foods rich in protein to substitute for the lack of meat in their diet.

People should eat two to three servings of fruits each day and three to four of vegetables.

The number of servings might seem high, but a serving isn't necessarily a complete vegetable or fruit. A half-cup of broccoli is a serving as is one slice of bread. Every little bit helps, Rudolph said. Adding two or three tomato slices to a sandwich provides half of a vegetable serving.

With vegetables, strive for variety, Rudolph said, and consider how you prepare it. A medium baked potato has 120 calories and only a trace of fat. But an order of fries has 225 calories and 11 grams of fat.

Drink your milk

Calcium is critical in a teen's diet for proper bone development. Without sufficient amounts, their bones can become porous and they could get stress fractures, particularly if they play sports.

Each teen needs 1,300 to 1,500 milligrams (mg) of calcium a day. An 8-ounce glass of milk contains 300 mg. An orange has 35 mg. Other foods such as broccoli and collard greens contain calcium, just not as much as milk.

"You get more bang for your buck in a glass of milk," Rudolph said.

Calcium supplements are acceptable, but people should try to get calcium from their diets first, she said. Many foods, such as orange juice, cereal, graham crackers, waffles and even margarine, are now calcium fortified.

Gotta grow

Proper eating habits are crucial for teens because they experience a growth spurt during adolescence. Girls begin growing at 10 or 11 and stop at 15. Guys start growing at 12 and stop at 19.

Caloric needs vary, depending on a teen's growth rate, activity level and body composition. But generally, females between 11 and 14 need 2,200 calories a day and 2,100 calories between 15 and 18. They need less in the later years because they've stopped growing, Rudolph explained.

But males' caloric needs increase from 2,700 calories between ages 11 and 14 to 2,800 each day between ages 15 and 18.

Competitive athletes might need to consume 600 to 1,000 more calories a day, Rudolph said.

Squares to pyramids

The elements for a healthy diet are based on a pyramid with grains and breads comprising the majority of a diet and fats, sugars and oils constituting the smallest part.

That food pyramid is a relatively new concept from the United States Department of Agriculture, the federal agency which establishes nutrition standards.

Before the pyramid became the nutrition standard in 1992, the USDA recommended three square meals derived from four basic food groups - meat, milk, fruits and vegetables, and bread and grains. People needed two servings from the meat and milk groups and four from the latter groups.

"There were fewer servings with the basic food groups because that was a foundation guide - the basics for a diet," said Trish Britten, a nutritionist for the USDA's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. "The pyramid is a total diet."

Study: Junk food raises teens' risk of heart disease
March 14, 2000
'Extreme eating' may equal extreme problems
September 3, 1999

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