04 DecAre Your Teens Eating Right?

Tyler bolted out of bed and pulled on his sweatpants and sweatshirt. He glanced at the clock before running down the stairs. It read 7:00 a.m., so there was no time for breakfast. The wrestling coach had warned him not to be late for practice again. Tyler grabbed a pack of gum from the counter and ran the four blocks to the Brooklyn College Community Partnership building. Panting, he lined up with his teammates for the first drill.
After practice, Tyler’s friend Matt asked, “Do you want to go for breakfast before class starts?”

Tyler lifted up the can of soda he had grabbed from the vending machine and shook his head. “Thanks, but I’ll stick with this. I have to study for the math test I have after lunch. I’ll probably even skip lunch today.”

“That’s too bad,” Matt said. “They’re having burgers and fries today in the cafeteria. It’s your favorite.”

Tyler frowned, then patted his stomach. “Oh well, I need to lose some of this weight anyway.”

After school, Tyler ran into Matt again. “How did the math test go?” Matt asked.

“Not great,” Tyler said. “I just couldn’t remember anything I had studied. It was like I just blanked out.”

“Maybe that’s because you don’t eat right!” Matt said.

Tyler shook his head and unwrapped a candy bar. “Nah, I just need to study more. Besides, I eat right. This candy bar has nuts in it, and nuts are good for me.”

Should Tyler be concerned about his diet? Check this out. Research reports that students who are not eating well-balanced meals on a regular basis are more likely to become sick, miss class, and score lower on tests. Skipping breakfast can affect your performance in school. Eating a diet of fatty fast foods and too many sweets puts teens at risk for obesity. In fact, the percentage of young people who are overweight has more than doubled in the past 30 years. This is not good news for those overweight teens. Poor diet and inactivity contribute to at least 300,000 deaths among U.S. adults each year.

These statistics show the consequences of unhealthy eating. Yet, more than 84 percent of young people eat too much fat, and more than 91 percent eat too much saturated fat. Fewer than half of all teens eat more than one serving of fruit each day. Twenty-nine percent eat less than one serving a day of vegetables that aren’t fried. Many teens skip meals or fill up on sweets rather than choosing healthy foods. Does this mean that most teens don’t know what’s healthy? Not really.

Most people agree that good eating habits need to start at a young age in order to decrease the risk of health problems later in life. Do you have those good eating habits? How much do you know about the foods you eat?

Trisha’s and Andrew’s Food Diaries

Trisha and Andrew, both age 16, each kept a food diary showing everything they ate for one day. Read each food diary on pages 8 and 9 and then see if you can answer the questions that follow.

How well do their meal and snack choices fit into the Food Guide Pyramid’s recommendations?(See www.nal.usda.gov/ fnic/dga/dga95/fig01.html.)

Who ate more fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol?

The American Cancer Society recommends eating 20 to 35 grams of fiber each day. Does either of these teens meet that recommendation?

Trisha complains that she doesn’t have much energy. What energy-giving nutrients is she lacking in her diet?

Did either teen consume enough calcium?

Check Out the facts

1. The Food Guide Pyramid is a practical tool that everyone can use to meet their Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for nutrients that keep them healthy. The RDAs don’t need to be met every day, but not meeting them day after day can lead to health problems. In order to meet their RDAs, Trisha and Andrew need to eat 6 to 11 servings of grain foods, 2 to 4 of fruits, 3 to 5 of vegetables, 2 to 3 from the meat group, 2 to 3 of dairy products, and only a small amount of fats and sweets. (Note that some selections counted for more than one serving.)

Trisha ate less than the recommended servings in each group except in the fats and sweets group. She ate 5 grain servings, no fruit, 2 vegetable servings, 1 dairy serving, and 1 meat serving. She topped off the pyramid with 5 servings of fats and sweets.

Andrew ate appropriately 10 servings from the grain group and 2 servings from the dairy group, but missed the other recommendations. He got most of his calories from the 13 servings of fats and sweets that he ate. He had 5 servings of meat, but missed the boat completely with no fruits and only 1 vegetable.

2. Andrew ate more grams of total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol than Trisha. However, nearly one-half of Trisha’s total calorie intake came from fat. Only one-third of Andrew’s calories came from fat. The American Heart Association recommends that 30 percent or less of your daily calorie intake come from fat. Only 10 percent of that should be saturated fat. Both Trisha and Andrew got more than 40 percent of their fat calories from saturated fat.

Some fat in your diet is important, but most people eat too much. Saturated fat and cholesterol can clog your arteries and cause heart attacks and strokes. So try to limit these types of fats to 10 percent, or one-third of your fat calories. Then choose a variety of foods from all the food groups to balance out the rest of your calories.

3. Most people don’t eat nearly enough fiber, and Trisha and Andrew are no exception. The green beans and popcorn Trisha ate were her only sources of fiber–and that’s about 4 grams. Andrew took in about 6 grams of fiber, which he got from the vegetables on his sub sandwich.

Fiber has a lot of health benefits. It makes you feel full without providing a lot of calories, prevents constipation, and lowers blood cholesterol levels. It can also help protect you from certain types of cancer and heart disease. Fiber is not found in animal foods, but whole grains, fresh fruits, and vegetables are excellent sources.

4. You get energy when you eat adequate calories from a variety of foods containing carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins, and minerals. Trisha is lacking many of these nutrients. By skipping lunch and skimping on snacks, Trisha is missing out on the calories and protein she needs to meet her energy needs. Most teen girls need about 2,200 calories and 44 grams of protein each day. Trisha only ate 1,200 calories and 34 grams of protein.

Trisha doesn’t meet the RDA for any of her B vitamins or iron, either. B vitamins, which include vitamin [B.sub.6], [B.sub.12], niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, and folate, come mostly from grain foods and help your body make energy. Iron carries oxygen in the blood; it comes from meats and whole and enriched grains. By eating a few more servings of grain foods and another serving of lean meat, Trisha might find that she has more energy.

5. Neither Trisha nor Andrew met their calcium needs. Teens need 1,300 mg of calcium each day to build healthy bones. In order to meet this RDA, teens need to choose a combination of at least three high-calcium foods such as milk, cheese, pudding, or yogurt. Other medium-calcium foods–such as cottage cheese, ice cream, corn tortillas, broccoli, refried beans, and almonds–help to meet this goal.

Getting a Diet Makeover

Kindy Peaslee, a registered dietitian and leader in a program that promotes a diet-free lifestyle, says that most teens understand general good eating information, but they don’t always follow it. Instead, they often choose foods that are quick and inexpensive. Parents, peers, and the media also influence a teen’s food choices. If this sounds familiar, you may need to make some changes in your eating habits. That doesn’t mean that you have to eat three family-style meals each day. Instead, eat six small meals using nutrient-dense foods.

Here are some tips:

* Start off each day with breakfast. Skipping breakfast and other meals is like forgetting to fill your car with gas. You won’t run out of fuel right away, but you will eventually. Similar to a car, your body works better when it gets fueled regularly. By eating something nutritious every 3 to 4 hours, you will have more energy, be in a better mood, and your metabolism will work better.

Breakfast doesn’t have to include the traditional cereal, eggs, and toast to be healthy. A low-fat granola bar, a bagel with cream cheese and a juice box, or a piece of fresh fruit with string cheese are nutritious breakfast choices you can eat on the run. Diane Noack, a registered dietitian, suggests mixing plain or vanilla non-fat yogurt, low-fat cottage cheese, high-fiber cereal, chopped apples, raisins, and nuts for a quick, satisfying breakfast treat, Whatever you choose to eat in the morning, make sure you like it and it fits into your lifestyle.

* Choose fast food carefully. Fast foods are a big hit with most teens, but they can be high in fat and sugar. By being careful about what you order, you can make wise choices. Steer clear of words such as “big,” “deluxe,” or “super size” in a sandwich, burger, milkshake, or fries. They mean extra calories and fat. Split an order of fries or milkshake with a friend. Choose 1% low-fat milk or orange juice instead of a soda. Order vegetable toppings on pizza and have a side salad with only a small amount of dressing.

* Drink a glass or two of milk each day. Whether it’s white or chocolate, milk is packed with nutrients that will jump-start your day or night. Along with calcium, one cup of milk contains vitamin D, protein, potassium, vitamin A, vitamin [B.sub.12], riboflavin, niacin, and phosphorus. These nutrients help build and maintain strong bones and teeth, repair muscle tissue, regulate your body’s fluid balance, keep your eyes and skin healthy, and produce energy.

* Eat a dark colored vegetable several times each week. Most vegetables are low in fat and calories unless they have been fried. They are packed with vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals (plant chemicals). When eaten regularly, phytochemicals are thought to reduce your risk of cancer and heart disease. They aren’t something you can get in a pill, so you have to choose the correct foods. In general, the darker the color of the vegetable, the more nutrients it contains.

Broccoli and tomatoes are just two examples of vegetables high in phytochemicals. Broccoli has more nutrients than any other vegetable. It contains the antioxidants vitamin C and beta-carotene that protect cells from damage that can lead to cancer and heart disease. Tomatoes contain lycopene, a plant chemical that researchers believe helps fight cancer.

* Finally, eat a wide variety of foods. For example, suppose carrots are your favorite vegetable. Carrots are healthy, but if they are the only vegetable you eat, you will be missing out on the B vitamin folate. Folate comes from green leafy vegetables and is needed to prevent one type of anemia. Eating a lot of different foods is healthier than cutting out certain “unhealthy” foods. Overall, there are more than 40 nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy, prevent disease, and provide energy. The only way to get all of these nutrients is by eating a variety of nutritious foods in each group of the Food Guide Pyramid.

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