Nutrition Series: Teens

By Mariely Lopez, A Nutrition Communication Undergraduate at Arizona State University


Part four of a four-part series. 

Part one: Preconception

Part two: Pregnancy

Part three: Toddlers and Preschoolers 


As your child enters his or her teen years their bodies being to change and what they put in their bodies can influence their lean body mass, skeletal mass, and body fat in major ways, as their bodies begin to mature.


As parents or legal guardians it’s important to note what a growing teen body needs during puberty in order to maintain a state of well being. As you read along, be sure to note why each nutrition component: energy, protein, carbohydrates, dietary fiber, calcium, vitamin D, iron, and folate—is essential for your child and why we must guide them along the way.


Pre teen girls in school



We all need it. We require energy from the moment we come into this world in order for our bodies to function properly. Teens, for the most part, are highly active and due to their high activity they require more energy than at other stages for our lives. Another reason why teens require more energy is to help pubertal progression and development.


Gender is also one of the key contributors to take into consideration when it comes to energy increases. Males 14 to 18 years old, who are moderately active, require an estimated energy recommendation of about 3,152 calories a day; females, who are moderately active, require about 2,368 calories1.


If teens do not meet their nutritional requirement intakes then they will most likely have delayed sexual maturation and may have linear growth delays.




When children move into their adolescence stage their bodies grow and develop at lightening speeds. Increasing protein intake allows for your growing teen to maximize additional lean body mass during their growth spurt.


Protein, for most teens, requires a higher intake than most adults, which is about 0.85-g/kg-body weight/day. This simply means that teens (14 to 18) require between 46-52grams of protein per day. It may seem as though it is not much but in the large scheme of things it makes a great difference1.




As stated earlier, energy is important for growing bodies. Carbohydrates are found in foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.


The estimated recommendation for teens is about 130 g/day or about 45-65% of their daily energy needs. However, a large portion of carbohydrates consumed by teens comes from added sugars, but to be more specific, about 21 percent of teen’s carbohydrates comes from candy, baked goods, and soft drinks1.


This is an unhealthy way to get “carbs.” Added sugars need to be limited because they can lead to major health complications in the long run. Research is showing high incidents of diabetes and other related diseases as a result of these poor choices.




The recommendations for fiber are different for teen girls and teen boys. Typically teen boys require more fiber than teen girls. The recommended intake for males is 31 g per day and for females it is 26 g per day1.


Fiber plays a huge role in the prevention against a number of different chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes. Aside from it aiding in the prevention of some chronic disease it has also been thought that fiber can help with cholesterol and sugar levels, and decrease the threat of obesity.




If there is anything that I want you to take from this reading, it is the importance that calcium has on your teenager’s body. Calcium is critical to their health, as it is a unique contributor to your teen’s growing bones. Over half of their bone mass occurs in their teen years, so it’s important that teens get the recommended calcium intake in order for them to maximize and/or meet their peak bone build. If they meet their required dietary intakes of calcium your teens will also reduce their risk of future fractures and they will minimize the chances of osteoporosis.


Like protein and fiber, calcium is also different for both male and female teens. For males it is recommended that they consume about 1300 mg per day and for females it’s important that they consume about 948 mg per day1.


Vitamin D


Along with calcium, it’s also important to know that vitamin D is just as important. Vitamin D facilitates, or helps with, the absorption of calcium. This vitamin synthesizes the body through sun exposure and is critical to bone formation. The reason why I categorized vitamin D with calcium is because if your teenager is vitamin D deficient then it can result the lack of reabsorption of calcium in the gastrointestinal tract, which can result in bone demineralization; this in turn, can lead to health complications like systolic blood pressure and or obesity1.




Puberty, growth, and the increase of blood volume that occurs during teen years utilize and increase the demand for iron. The amounts in which iron is recommended differentiates with age. Iron needs will be the highest during puberty, which would be the growth spurt among teen boys and after teen girls get their first menstrual cycle. It is important to speak to your family physician to get the appropriate recommended intakes of iron, since they fluctuate with age.




The recommendation for both teen boys and teen girls is the same: 400 mg per day. However, folate plays a much larger role in teen girls. Folate deficiency can increase the chances of their own children having spina bifida and also increases the chance of giving birth to a baby with Downs syndrome1. Although folate plays a major role among teen girls, teen boys need to make sure they are meeting the recommendations because it can affect them, and teen girls as well, in sexual maturation.


Teen years are the most critical years because it’s where teenagers do most of their growth and development; it is the foundation for maintaining and living a long and healthy life. And as I mentioned earlier, if there is one thing that I want you to take from this reading is that calcium and vitamin D work together to help aid in bone formation. Of course everything that I have mentioned is important and should be followed if you want your child to be strong and healthy.


Remember, you can find healthy recipes on Fill Your Plate.


  1. Brown, Judith E., and Janet S. Isaacs. Nutrition through the Life Cycle. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, CENGAGE Learning, 2011. Print.
Share This:
This entry was posted in Food, Food Facts, Health Tips, Healthy Eating, Kids and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *