Food, Nutrients and Your Teen

By Roberta Duyff, MS, RD, FAND
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Puberty marks the start of the teenage growth spurt. That time differs for each child. For girls, puberty typically begins at about age 12 or 13, about two years younger than for boys. From the school-age years through the teens, the average youngster grows to be 20 percent taller and 50 percent heavier. Body changes that happen as children mature are stressful for some, and may affect their self-image and, perhaps, the choices they make about eating and physical activity. (Some overweight children may start puberty sooner, but for now, there are too many unanswered questions to know why.)

How your teenage child grows – when, how and how much – has more to do with genes than with food choices. However, smart eating does help determine if your child grows to his or her maximum height potential – with strong bones and a fit body.

All teens need enough calcium for bone growth and strength, protein for every body cell including muscles, carbohydrates and fats for energy, vitamins and minerals for the "sparks" that make it all happen, and enough water. Energy and nutrient needs increase to meet the growth demands of adolescence. Teens need understanding parents who appreciate that their adolescent's growth pattern, although different from a friend's, is perfectly normal.

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