Nutrition for teenage girls

Nutrition for teenage girls

What weight changes take place in the body of a teenage girl?

Just as girls start to notice their body shape, nature takes a hand in seemingly making things more difficult. At around nine years old, girls begin to catch up weight wise with boys and by 13 they probably weigh a bit more than a boy of the same age.

As they mature, during the teenage years, they also gain more fat than boys. This is simply the way they are made and it makes shedding puppy fat very difficult.

Compare the following snack foods and see which ones you think are the healthy choices:


Fat (g)

Energy (kcal)




Roasted peanuts



One packet of popcorn



One doughnut



Bag of chips












Rasher sandwich



Beans on toast



Bowl of Rice Crispies and milk



Yoghurt (plain)



Yoghurt (fruit)



How important is breakfast?

Eating first thing in the morning benefits your thinking power and helps maintain a healthy body weight. However many people skip it, seeing it as a way to cut calories and lose weight. You could not do anything worse.

Eating at breakfast time helps to stop you snacking on high calorie bars and confectionery at break time and so can help keep the total calorie bill down.

If you choose a fortified breakfast cereal, then you are also more likely to meet your calcium and iron needs. These are two vital minerals which teenage diets often lack.

What about smoking?

Smoking is often taken up by girls to help with weight loss. However smoking has a detrimental effect on the appearance making the skin, hair and eyes look dull.

It seems a strange contradiction that smoking is a popular slimming method whereas, for example, exercise can also help control weight but has the added benefit of giving the skin and eyes an invigorated appearance.

Not only does smoking smell foul, but it also increases the chances of heart disease and cancer later in life.

Three 30-minute sessions of exercise of moderate intensity, (you should be panting), is recommended per week.

What foods should a teenage girl eat more of?

As a teenager you need to pay special attention to calcium and iron.

Restrained eating practices such as avoiding milk is widely reported by Irish teenage girls and can have a detrimental affect on bone growth. From the ages of 13-17 girls will gain as much as 90% of their bone density.

Milk, cheese and yoghurt are the best sources of calcium and the need for these foods is higher than at any other time (except pregnancy when it is the same as it is for you now). Teenage girls and boys need the equivalent of a pint-and-a-half of ordinary milk or a pint of fortified milk each day. This can be made up of milk on breakfast cereal, milk in tea, coffee and cappuccino and milk in milkshakes or smoothies.

Calcium does not have to come from milk alone as cheese and yoghurt also contain calcium. A glass of milk, a carton of yoghurt and one ounce of cheese each have a similar amount of calcium. You need any five of these each day to maximise your chances of reaching your genetic potential.

A recent study of Irish teenage girls showed that almost a third of them had low iron intake. Iron is essential and the best source of it is lean red meat. You should be eating meat 2-3 times a week. This could be in the form of a burger, spaghetti bolognaise, lasagne, a chop or shepherds pie.

Iron is also found in plant foods but you need to combine these with vitamin C rich foods, for example a glass of orange juice (vitamin C) with beans (iron) on toast.

Other vitamin C rich foods are citrus fruits (orange, lemon, lime and grapefruit), kiwi, nectarines, mango, blackcurrants and drinks based on these fruits. Potatoes are also a good source of vitamin C.

What if I am a vegetarian?

If you only recently decided to become a vegetarian, you should make sure you are well-informed on the subject, through books, TV, the internet or by asking advice from a health professional. You will need to talk this over with other family members so see how your new diet can fit in with the needs of other family members.

Giving up meat, fish and chicken is not as easy as it sounds because you need to make up for the nutrition you are leaving out.

However a vegetarian diet can be a very healthy option as long as you do it well.

Alternative good sources of protein are cheese, yoghurt, milk, eggs, beans (all types such as kidney beans, butter beans, beans in tomato sauce), peas, chick peas, lentils, peanuts and hummus.

Alternative good sources of iron are eggs, fortified breakfast cereal (check the label), wholemeal bread, broccoli, spinach, prunes, apricots and Bovril.

Nuala Collins, BSc, Nutrition and Dietetics

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