Although proper nutrition may not be top priority for teenage girls, maintaining a healthy body weight to fit into the most stylish jeans usually is. Thirty-two percent of children and teens in the U.S. are overweight or obese, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010. However, the Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry reports that up to 10 in every 100 young women in the U.S. may suffer from an eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia. Teen girls with unhealthy diets are also at risk for malnutrition—such as iron or calcium deficiencies.
Getting plenty of calories—but not overeating--helps teen girls excel at school and sports. Calorie needs are based on gender and age. For example, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 estimate that teen girls ages 14 to 18 need 1,800 calories if they are sedentary, 2,000 calories if they are moderately active and about 2,400 calories per day if they’re active—meaning they participate in physical activity equivalent to walking more than 3 miles per day.
Protein helps teenagers maximize their lean muscle mass, and it keeps hair, skin and nails looking healthy. Teen girls ages 14 to 18 need at least 46 grams of protein each day, according to the Institute of Medicine. Active girls or those involved in sports may need additional protein. An article published in a 2008 issue of “Today’s Dietitian” reports that young athletes need 1 to 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or about 0.45 to 0.68 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day. Therefore, a 115-pound teenage athlete needs about 52 to 78 grams of protein per day depending on the intensity and duration of her workouts. Good sources of protein for teen girls include lean poultry, lean meats, seafood, eggs, soy products, legumes, nuts, seeds, peanut butter and low-fat dairy foods—such as cottage cheese.
Carbs—at least good carbs--can help teens stay energized throughout the day. According to the Institute of Medicine, teen girls of all ages should aim to consume 45 to 65 percent of their daily calories from carbohydrates. Since carbohydrates provide 4 calories per gram, a teen girl who needs 2,000 calories per day should shoot for 225 to 325 grams of carbs each day. Healthy carbs for teen girls include fruits, vegetables, milk, yogurt, legumes, whole grains, brown rice, nuts and seeds. Unhealthy carbs to limit or avoid include sodas and other sugary drinks; white bread, rice and pasta; and sweets, pastries, candy and other desserts.
Fats—especially omega-3s—are important for brain development in teen girls. Fats should make up 25 to 35 percent of a teen girl’s calorie intake, according to the Institute of Medicine. Since fat provides 9 calories per gram, a teen girl who eats 2,000 calories per day needs about 56 to 78 grams of fat each day. Omega-3 needs for teen girls are 1,100 milligrams each day according to the Institute of Medicine. Foods rich in omega-3s include fatty fish, such as salmon, purified fish oils, algal oils, flaxseeds, soybean oil, walnuts and canola oils. Other healthy fats for teen girls include avocados, olives, vegetable oils, hummus, nuts, seeds and peanut butter.
Other Important Nutrients
Calcium and iron are two key nutrients for teen girls to focus on. Iron needs increase for girls when they start menstruating, and calcium is essential for strong bones and teeth. According to the Office of Dietary Supplements, teen girls are at risk for developing an iron deficiency. The Institute of Medicine reports that teen girls ages 14 to 18 need 15 milligrams of iron and 1,300 milligrams of calcium each day. Iron-rich foods include meats, poultry, seafood, iron-fortified cereals, oatmeal, soybeans and other legumes. Foods rich in calcium include low-fat dairy products, calcium-fortified soy beverages, tofu prepared using calcium sulfate and calcium-fortified cereals.
Erin Coleman is a registered and licensed dietitian. She also holds a Bachelor of Science in dietetics and has extensive experience working as a health writer and health educator. Her articles are published on various health, nutrition and fitness websites.