Ask the expert: what should teenagers be eating?

Most teens could happily live on a diet of junk food, but it won't keep them healthy. A nutritionist outlines what they should be eating.

Friday, 28th July 2017, 5:16 pm
Updated Monday, 11th September 2017, 1:13 pm
An occasional junk food meal is OK

"All my 13-year-old son wants to eat is junk food. What advice and meals should I be giving him to make sure he stays healthy and alert?"

Nutritionist Michele Sadler, scientific director of the Health Food Manufacturers' Association says: "An occasional junk food meal is OK, as long as this isn't the major part of his diet.

"If moving him to a healthier pattern of eating seems a bit of stretch in one go, then aim to do it over time.

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"As well as needing the recommended intakes for his age group of all vitamins and minerals to stay healthy, particular ones to consider for alertness are iron, iodine and zinc for cognitive function, pantothenic acid for normal mental performance and additionally magnesium and vitamins B2, B3, B6 and C, to help reduce tiredness and fatigue.

"You might think it sounds ultra-healthy to just munch carrot sticks and fruit, but this won't provide all the nutrients he needs, or sufficient energy for a growing teenage boy. His overall diet should include five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, carbohydrate foods such as bread, potatoes, and pasta, protein foods such as meat, fish and eggs, and dairy foods for calcium.

"Essential fats from vegetable oils are also important, though they're needed in small amounts. Sufficient fluid is also important, preferably from water, tea, or low or no-sugar drinks.

"If you feel his diet's lacking in certain food groups and isn't as healthy as you'd wish, then a multivitamin and multimineral supplement targeted at his age group might be useful in the interim.

"While supplements can make up any shortfall in vitamins and minerals, there are other things to consider, such as fibre intake, and the balance of fats and carbohydrates. Adopting a healthy way of eating should be the ultimate goal."