"You need to eat your breakfast," "that's enough soda," "please lose the junk food and eat some real food."
If you're a typical teenager with parents who always nag you about what you eat, how you eat, when you eat or don't eat, and the amount of junk food you consume, these comments will sound familiar to you. Give your parents a break, they are just doing their job. They want you to eat properly so you'll develop, be healthy, and keep your moods balanced.
Your body needs certain nutrients to feel well as you go through each day. The most important meal is breakfast, even though it's probably the most difficult for many teenagers. Breakfast is even more important if you aren't eating lunch on a regular basis, and are waiting until after school or until dinner to eat.
Your body needs a daily supply of protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats to get the fuel it needs for energy and optimum health.
Protein is a primary component of our muscles, hair, nails, skin, eyes, and internal organs, especially the heart and brain. Protein is needed for growth, for healthy red blood cells, and much more. Protein foods include eggs, cheese, soy products (soymilk, tofu, miso, tempeh), fish, beans, nuts, seeds, chicken, turkey, beef, and pork. If you are interested in following more of a vegetarian diet, choose soy products, beans, and nuts to satisfy your protein needs.
Carbohydrates are our main source of energy and play an important role in the functioning of our nervous system, muscles, and internal organs. Carbohydrate foods include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans. The foods you should eat in limited amounts are ones that contain sugar, such as packaged cookies, cakes, soda-these sugars are called simple carbohydrates; they have a negative effect on your blood sugar levels and your moods as well.
Fats are a form of energy reserve and insulation in your body, and can be burned to make energy when you don't get enough from your diet. Fats transport nutrients such as vitamins A, D, E, and K through your body and fatty tissue protects your vital organs from trauma and temperature change.
Simply put, there are "good" fats and "bad" fats. The "bad" fats are called saturated fats and are found in animal products, meats, and dairy foods; they should be eaten in limited amounts. These fats solidify at room temperature. Hydrogenated fats, sometimes called "transfatty acids" are also bad fats that are known to lead to heart disease and cancer. These hydrogenated fats are used in many packaged baked goods and margarines.
The "good" fats include the Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. Deficiencies of Omega-3 fatty acids are linked to decreased learning ability, ADHD, depression, and dyslexia. These fats need to be obtained from your food. Good sources of the Omega-3's are flax oil, ground flaxseed, cold water fish like salmon and fresh tuna, canola oil, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds. Other "good" fats to include in your diet are found in olive oil, avocados, and grapeseed oil.
Here are some ideas for healthy, quick and easy meals:
Soy shake-combine a cup of vanilla, chocolate, or plain soymilk (or use cow's milk if you prefer) in a blender with ½ banana, 2 ice cubes and blend. Add 1 scoop of soy or whey protein powder-Spirutein is one brand of soy protein powder that comes in a variety of flavors. (Optional: add 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed). If you start your day off by drinking this shake, you should notice an improvement in how you feel and function throughout the day.
Whole grain toast or bagel with peanut butter-the peanut butter should give you the protein you need to sustain your energy throughout the morning.
c. Eggs-fried, scrambled, poached, or hard-boiled with whole grain toast; 1 or 2 eggs will provide you with a great protein source to begin your day and the whole grain toast gives you the carbohydrates for energy.
Oatmeal with chopped nuts and raisins, a sliced banana, or strawberries. For extra protein, add a scoop of peanut butter to the oatmeal.
Calcium fortified orange juice-drink this before your breakfast or along with it to get the added calcium and vitamin C.
Fresh fruit-it's great to start your day with fresh fruit whenever possible-an orange, pear, strawberries, banana, watermelon, peaches, blueberries-combine your favorite fruit with a container of yogurt and add some granola for a delicious breakfast.
Egg salad sandwich on whole wheat bread with lettuce and tomato
Veggie burger with all of the toppings that you would add to a regular hamburger
Tuna salad sandwich on whole grain bread or roll
Salad bar with a colorful variety of vegetables and chick peas or red kidney beans
Wrap with turkey, chicken, tofu, or cheese and vegetables
Vegetarian chili with tortilla chips
Tacos with lettuce, tomato, onions, and cheese
Black bean soup, lentil soup, vegetable soup
Veggie pizza or pizza with any of your favorite toppings
Pasta with pesto sauce, tomato sauce, or with vegetables
Stir fry vegetables with tofu, shrimp, or chicken
Caesar salad with grilled shrimp or chicken
Broiled salmon with vegetables
Baked potato with vegetable topping or chili topping
Ravioli with meatballs and sauce
Chicken fajitas with guacamole and salsa
Your dinner choices are unlimited, and will depend on whether you or your parents are preparing your meal. Your goal in the beginning should be to eat a good breakfast and at least one other healthy meal each day. That meal should contain a good source of protein, fresh vegetables, and whole grains (e.g. brown rice, barley, millet, whole wheat, oats).
Make an effort to eat foods that don't come prepackaged or prepared. Read the nutrition labels on the packaged foods you do eat so you can learn more about the food's sodium and fat content, as well as the many ingredients that are contained in the packaged foods. If you can't pronounce the ingredients on the label, chances are the food is not your best choice nutritionally.
Along with choosing and eating more healthy foods, begin to exercise each day for at least 10 to 15 minutes, unless you already have a physically active lifestyle. Before school, jump rope for a few minutes before leaving the house to get your blood moving, you'll feel better and it will improve your ability to concentrate during the day. After school, jump and dance on an exercise trampoline while listening to music. This is a great way to get the blood circulating to your brain so you can better focus on your homework assignments. (You can purchase an exercise trampoline for about $20 at a large discount department store.)
Whatever physical activity appeals to you, make it part of your daily routine. It will lift your spirits and improve your moods. Combine the exercise with healthy, fresh foods and you'll be surprised at how much better and more energetic you'll feel. And when you do start to age like your parents, your body will be thankful that you nurtured and cared for it so well.
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About the Author
Lisa Margolin, J.D., M.S., is a holistic nutritionist and co-author of ViVa's Healthy Dining Guide, a comprehensive directory of more than 2,100 vegetarian, healthy ethnic, and natural foods restaurants, and markets across the United States.