5 essential tips for the teenage diet. Why ‘teenage’? Because when it comes to nutrition – teenagers need a bit more of it than adults.

You will probably have heard of The Eatwell Guide. It’s a policy tool used to define UK government recommendations on eating healthily and achieving a balanced diet, introduced in March 2016 updating the ‘Eatwell Plate’. Our dietitian team here at Ellern Mede believe that its basic approach is a reasonable rough guide. But in our particular area of specialism – nutrition for active children and young people up to young adults – we believe it is really important to look at their particular nutritional requirements which can be really quite different from an average adult. And where the ‘eatwell’ guidance has a lot of don’ts because its intention is to guide a population in which over-consumption may be a problem, in an Eating Disorder Unit, our population is very different.

So let’s take a look at each bit of guidance and put a bit of ‘teenage’ eating disorder perspective on it:

1. Treat Foods – the Eatwell warning we need to ignore
What we call ‘treat-style foods’ are often criticised in today’s society and have been excluded from the plate of the Eatwell Guide. However, these can be ideal in allowing teenagers to meet their high energy requirements as they tend to be calorie dense. Furthermore, complete avoidance of this food type can lead to cravings. The fact is, exclusion of food groups can have a negative effect on young people’s mental health. Additionally, these food types can be really important in terms of teenagers being able to socialise with their peer group, a vital part of their life and one of the difficult areas for a young person with an eating disorder.

2. Beans and Pulses – the wonder food that is not really such a wonder if it’s in isolation

Although beans and pulses are good sources of protein, the protein found in these foods is known as ‘incomplete’. This means it does not contain all 9 essential amino acids! So in order to get these, you would have to consume a huge variety of different beans and pulses throughout the day! It may not be a Vegan or Vegetarian’s choice but from a Dietitian’s perspective the best sources of ‘complete protein’ are meat, fish, poultry and dairy. Meat is also one of the main sources of Iron and vitamin B12. However here at Ellern Mede, we always offer a vegetarian diet plan which is suitably rich in protein, iron, and vitamin B-12.

3. Dairy – don’t be too quick to refuse it
The guide warns you to check the fat and sugar content in dairy products. Whilst that is good advice, don’t underestimate the value of dairy in your diet, particularly if you are under 25. Oliver Street said: “Whole milk contains less than 4% fat meaning that it is over 96% fat free. That doesn’t sound like something high in fat to me.” Dairy products are important in an adolescent’s diet due to being good sources of calcium and vitamin D, which play an important role in bone growth and development. Teenagers require a much higher level of calcium than adults, as during this time bone is being deposited to allow the skeleton to grow in size and density. A large majority of bone mass (90%) is acquired by the time you are 18/20 which is why calcium is so important for children/adolescents. You still have 10% of bone mass to acquire at age 18 in girls and 20 in boys.

4. The truth about cereal and that warning to choose high fibre, low fat
Yes, you do need to be aware that not all cereals are of equal value. But don’t underestimate their importance in the diet of a growing child. That easy, quick breakfast option is SO much better than having the excuse that you don’t have time for breakfast. We know breakfast is vital for a child’s concentration span and memory whilst learning. And cereals are often fortified with vital nutrients such as iron.

5. A teenager’s calorie requirements are different
The calorie recommendation of the Eatwell Guidance – 2,000 kcals a day for women and 2,500 kcals a day for men refers to that of a typical adult who is probably not doing a lot of physical exercise. Adolescents have higher energy requirements. Ellern Mede recommends around 3000 calories for boys and 2500 for girls to meet their basic nutritional requirements at a healthy weight. This is because of the energy their body needs during growth and development and also because their lifestyle is likely to be more active.
In the next Eating Disorders Dietetics blog: Read about how Ellern Mede’s Dietetics Team has designed the ideal nutritional menu for young people.