Nutrition tips for the teenage rollercoaster
Over the weekend we had friends over whom we haven’t seen in years.
Everything clicked right back into place and before we knew it, the drinks were flowing for the adults and the kids were off in the garden playing a game they found on TikTok — something to do with a spoon and a potato. So random! But they were apparently very happy and it was amazing hearing the laughter bubble up over the hedge. There’s so much drama in the preteen and early-teen world it’s heart-warming to witness the lighter moments too.
I was thinking the other day how crazy the rate of change is for a teen. If you think about it for a moment, the change between 7 and 11 years of age is significant, but compare it with the change between 14 and 18. That transition just seems so much more rapid and intense. No wonder our kiddos can act a little bonkers. It seems a cruel twist of fate, therefore, that this transition often happens at the same time a mum’s hormones go a little crazy too (especially if the teens coincide with the late- to mid-40s).
While there’s a lot about the teenage rollercoaster that’s unavoidable, I have definitely found a few nutrition steps ease the ride somewhat. These should be helpful for balancing hormones, steadying energy levels and keeping anxiety at bay. As a bonus, they are helpful for any mums going through hormonal changes too!
Protein at breakfast
Including protein at breakfast is a great idea for sustained energy through the day. As grumpy or groggy as a teen might be, most people feel better with breakfast — especially with a morning of classes ahead of them. Eggs are an amazing option as they provide some healthy, brain-boosting nutrients, so scrambled eggs or an omelette work perfectly. For something faster or on-the-go, a smoothie with a scoop of pumpkin seeds (see below) and a teaspoon or two of nut butter would be perfect. Even an apple and a handful of nuts works in a push!
I want to say healthy snacks, but I also want to be realistic! By balanced, I mean we’re looking for snacks that combine both carbs (for energy) and protein (for endurance, growth and hormone support). Healthy examples would be fruit (carbs) with nuts (protein) or carrots (carbs) with hummus (protein) or organic Greek yoghurt (carbs and protein) with berries (extra carbs) and ground seeds (extra protein). However, if the carbs are more likely to be cookies or even candy, then it’s still worth teaching your teen the value of adding protein to a snack. Protein slows the release of sugar from the carbs meaning two things: 1) sustained energy and 2) less risk of a sugar “crash” (which feels crappy and leads to cravings for more junk). So as an example, even if the snack is cookies or chocolate, persuade your teen to add some nuts too. Peanuts are probably the least healthy, so try experimenting with almonds, pistachios, macadamias, walnuts and Brazils.
Avoid refined sugar and caffeine
OK, here’s the logic that helps to explain the above point too! Sugar just provides short-term energy, often leaving you feeling cranky and tired. Sugar highs (and the corresponding sugar lows) can also contribute to unbalanced hormones and anxiety. Sugar also provides EMPTY calories, meaning that although calorie needs may be fulfilled, nutrition needs aren’t met. This often results in low B vitamins. As B vitamins are necessary for supporting the nervous system, a low B intake can result in further anxiety and even apathy and depression. The solution? Eat wholefood carbs instead of sugary carbs (wholegrain cereals/crackers/toast, oats, fruit, beans and lentils) that are slow-release and provide a natural source of B vitamins. Note that caffeine often triggers blood sugar level imbalance (triggering anxiety and hormonal problems) as well as depleting the body of B vitamins further if drunk in any large quantity.
Include zinc-rich foods
Zinc is an essential nutrient for growth and hormone support and is often deficient in teens. Deficiency commonly manifests in white spots on nails and/or skin problems. You can supplement but I always suggest seeing a professional (and definitely take zinc supplements with food). You can also just ensure lots of zinc in the diet: pumpkin seeds (add to muffins, granola, granola bars, salads etc), oats, shrimp, grass-fed beef/lamb, eggs.
Bump up the Omega 3
Omega 3 is essential for nervous system support and balanced hormones. Most of us, especially those who eat a lot of grain, end up with way too much omega 6 compared with our omega 3 intake. You can boost omega 3 in your teen’s diet by buying “omega 3 eggs” (chickens are fed flax seed which in itself is high in omega 3) and providing pumpkin seeds, flax/chia seeds, walnuts and wild salmon.
So many teens I know under-hydrate. If drinking plain water is a struggle, then increase fluids by using Nuun electrolyte tables (the caffeine-free options), Spindrift, La Croix or Waterloo sparkling waters. You can get leverage by explaining that even a small amount of dehydration is connected to poor concentration (affecting learning) and diminished sports performance.
If you have a teen that’s on the birth control pill, or a teen that regularly takes antibiotics, then do make sure they are getting a good quality probiotic too. Probiotics are important for digestive health which has a knock-on impact on skin health (especially acne) and even the immune system too.
• Catherine Burns is a qualified nutritional therapist. For more details: www.natural.bm, 505-4725, Natural Nutrition Bermuda on Facebook and @naturalbda on Instagram