This post: 9 Powerhouse Vitamins Your Teen Needs to Stay Healthy & Energized
Written by: Natalie Nation MPH, RD, LD
Eating healthy is important at any age, but it’s especially important for teenagers.
Let’s face it, though, most teens (not all) aren’t the best at choosing healthy foods. To them, a big plate of chicken nuggets, a juicy cheeseburger and fries or fudgy brownies beats a healthy salad with lots of veggies or a lean grilled chicken sandwich any day of the week.
Still, as parents, we have to do our best to encourage our kids to eat nutritiously – especially considering that certain vitamin deficiencies can negatively impact not only their ability to perform well in school and sports but also their ability to keep up with the rigor of daily life as a teenager.
Help your teen skip the junk food and eat better by educating them about these 9 powerhouse vitamins your teen needs to stay healthy, strong, focused, and energized all day long.
9 Powerhouse Vitamins Your Teen Needs to Stay Healthy & Energized
Iron is an important mineral responsible for forming the proteins that carry oxygen in the bloodstream. This oxygen provides energy to your teen’s cells, muscles, and other body systems. It’s also very important for the proper functioning of your teen’s brain. It can play a vital role in helping your teen stay energized throughout the day, focused when they’re listening in class or studying and maintaining their stamina.
Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in kids and teens, especially in girls and gender non-conforming teens who menstruate. An iron deficiency might cause your teen to feel fatigued and weak, feel cold, have pale skin, have head or body aches or feel moody.
Non-menstruating teens need to consume 12mg of iron per day, while teens who menstruate should consume 15mg per day. (Note: Teens who follow strict vegetarian or vegan diets, and teens with heavy periods are more at risk for iron deficiency.)
Red meats like beef and pork, lean meat like chicken, fish, or seafood, non-meat foods like eggs, tofu, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, dark leafy greens, and fortified grain products like bread and breakfast cereal are great sources of iron.
The body’s need for calcium is at its highest point between the ages of 9 and 18 years of age! The main job of calcium is to build strong bones and teeth. But it also helps your teen’s muscles move and helps regulate blood pressure, among other important functions.
Without enough calcium, your teen has an increased chance of having thin or brittle bones (osteoporosis) later in life. It can also cause extreme fatigue, an overall feeling of sluggishness and insomnia.
Teens need to consume 1,300 mg of calcium a day, or about 3-4 servings of dairy products like milk, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream. Non-dairy sources of calcium include fortified soy milk and some other fortified plant milk, fortified breakfast cereals, dark, leafy greens, eggs, canned fish, nuts and seeds.
3. VITAMIN D – The Sunshine Vitamin
It’s impossible to talk about calcium without talking about its vital counterpart, vitamin D.
Vitamin D – also known as the sunshine vitamin because your body produces it when you’re exposed to the sun – is a fat-soluble nutrient that helps the body absorb and use calcium and other minerals.
Studies show that vitamin D also plays an anti-inflammatory role in the body, protecting the body from damage and preventing health issues like cancer. Researchers have also found that many people with depression have low vitamin D levels.
If your teen has been feeling more down than usual and is experiencing fatigue and back or body aches, their doctor may recommend checking their vitamin D levels.
Vitamin D-Rich Foods:
Most teens should consume about 600 IU of vitamin D each day. Vitamin D-rich foods include cow’s milk, fortified soy milk, and some fortified plant milk. Vitamin D is also added to some foods like breakfast cereal and orange juice.
4. B VITAMINS
Six different B vitamins form a powerhouse team – Niacin, Riboflavin, Thiamine, Folate, B6, and B12. These essential B vitamins help your teen’s body turn the food they eat into energy for their brain, nerves, and muscles, as well as help their body make new red blood cells. They also help support skin and immune health, the nervous system, and stress response. And, considering their bodies will deplete B vitamins more quickly when they’re stressed, eating a diet rich in “Bs” is especially important.
If their body is running low on B vitamins, your teen might feel zapped of their energy, irritable, weak, have digestive issues and even become anemic.
B Vitamin-Rich Foods:
The B vitamins are found in a wide variety of nutrient-rich foods and several of these vitamins including, Niacin, Riboflavin, and Folate, are commonly added to fortified foods like bread, pasta, and breakfast cereal. Other B vitamin-rich foods include red meat, poultry, fish and seafood, dark leafy greens, eggs, beans, peas, and legumes.
5. VITAMIN C
Vitamin C, also known as “ascorbic acid,” is used in the body to form collagen, a protein that helps form healthy bones, teeth, gums, and blood vessels. Vitamin C also helps the body absorb iron, supports the immune system, and contributes to brain function.
Although vitamin C deficiency is considered rare in the United States, studies show that extra intake of vitamin C near the onset of a cold or virus can help to shorten the length of the sick time. However, ask your healthcare provider before offering this to your teen, as some health conditions and other medications may interact with additional supplementation.
Vitamin C-Rich Foods:
Teens should consume at least 65-75 milligrams of vitamin C per day. Most teens who regularly eat fruits and vegetables or drink 100% fruit juice, get much more than that daily. Most vitamin C-rich foods are brightly colored fruits and vegetables like citrus fruits, berries, melon, tomatoes, and peppers, as well as green vegetables like spinach and broccoli.
Zinc is a mineral that supports the body’s immune system. When your teen has enough zinc, they can more easily fight off illness and infection, as well as heal quickly from injuries like cuts and scrapes. This means fewer sick days and more time in school, learning and spending time with friends!
Like vitamin C, there is also some evidence that extra zinc intake near the onset of a cold or virus can help shorten the length of the illness. However, again, ask your doctor before ramping up your teen’s zinc intake since some health conditions and other medications may interact with additional supplementation.’
Teens should consume between 9-11 milligrams of zinc per day. Foods rich in zinc include beef, pork, chicken, seafood, dairy products like milk and yogurt, nuts, seeds, beans, and legumes.
While protein is a nutrient (not a vitamin) it’s too important not to mention.
Teen bodies are going through massive developmental changes and protein is vital to meet the demands of that change. Protein helps fuel your teen’s energy and carry oxygen through their body in their blood.
It also helps make antibodies that fight off infections and illnesses and keeps cells healthy and creates new ones. For teen athletes, it helps strengthen and repair muscle tissue.
Without protein, your teen’s body will break down muscles, and that will lead to fatigue and a decreased ability to train and perform in sports. It will also make them feel tired and weak, in general.
On average, teen boys need about 52 grams of protein per day, while teen girls need about 46 grams per day. However, your teen’s weight, age, and level of activity could alter the amount of protein they need. Lean meats, chicken, fish and seafood, dairy products, eggs, peanut butter, legumes, nuts and beans are great sources of protein.
We know…. fiber isn’t technically a vitamin or mineral. However, it’s such an incredible nutrient that we couldn’t leave it off the list!
Fiber is a non-digestible carbohydrate, meaning that the body does not use it for energy. What it does instead is to help slow down the digestion of the other foods your teen eats, keeping them feeling full and satisfied for longer. A fiber-rich breakfast will help keep your teen focused on schoolwork, not their rumbling stomach!
Fiber also contributes to a healthy gut and regular bowel movements by absorbing water in the large intestine.
Pre-teens and teens should have between 20-35 grams of fiber per day, depending on height, weight, and sex. Fiber-rich foods include fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, and whole grains like oatmeal, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, or popcorn. Help your teen include at least one or two fiber-rich foods with every meal and snack.
Staying hydrated is one of the best things your teen can do throughout the day. The human body is made of 70% water, which helps to conduct electrical signals between the brain, nerves, heart, and muscles.
Symptoms of mild dehydration include thirst, dry mouth, irritability, fatigue, trouble concentrating, dark yellow urine, and lightheadedness.
How Much Water Does Your Teen Need?
Depending on their height, weight, and sex, teens should drink a minimum of 48-80 ounces of water throughout the day. This amount might vary depending on the weather, individual thirst, and activity level.
Encourage your teen to carry a water bottle with them during the day and refill it regularly.
Note: Teens who participate in sports or athletic activities should hydrate before, during, and after practices and games to prevent health complications like muscle cramping, fainting, and heat stroke.
If your teen eats a wide variety of proteins, grains, dairy, fruits, and vegetables, they’re likely getting most or all of the nutrients they need each day. The nutrients found in food are more easily absorbed by the body than the nutrients found in supplements, so whenever possible, opt for “food first!”
However, picky eaters, teens following strict vegetarian or vegan diets, teens with multiple food allergies, or teens with chronic health conditions may be more at risk for vitamin and mineral deficiency.
If you suspect your teen needs additional supplementation or has a vitamin deficiency, speak to their healthcare provider or a dietitian before starting them on any vitamins or supplements. Some vitamins and supplements can be harmful if taken in the wrong dosage or may interact negatively with other medications your teen may be taking.
About Natalie Nation:
Natalie Nation, MPH, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian and freelance writer. Her focus is adolescent nutrition and health promotion, and she loves to talk about nutrition, body image, and self-care with her teen patients and their families. Natalie lives in Minneapolis, MN with her husband, Paul, and her cat, Wedge. She can be found on Instagram @feedthatnation.
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