Puberty is a stage in life which every human being achieves as they grow up and their reproductive organs start developing. In girls, it is a stage when she starts ovulating for the first time, and in boys, puberty marks the onset of ejaculation. Physically, a lot of changes take place in the body of all children as they enter this stage, like the growth of pubic and facial hairs, prominent genitals and appearance of breasts in girls. Along with physical changes, many psychological changes also start occurring. Nutrition and puberty are closely related and hence, this article explores the same.

How does puberty start?

As stated, puberty is caused by normal hormonal changes in the body. The process starts in the brain. The hypothalamus signals the pituitary gland to start the production of the relevant hormones. It is this hormone that brings about changes in the ovaries of a girl and the testes of a boy. In girls, at this stage, the ovaries start releasing ovum that causes menstruation every month and produces the female sex hormones – oestrogen and progesterone. In males, it starts producing sperm and the male sex hormone – testosterone. It is these hormones in both girls and boys that mark the development of reproductive organs and genitals.

In India, girls attain puberty at somewhere around 13 to 14 years of age. However, it is not the same with every girl and the age may differ from one case to another. The range of attaining puberty for girls is between 8 years and 13 years of age.

Nutrition and puberty

To ensure proper development of kids during this hormonal change stage, nutrition is of prime importance. Puberty is a progressive development phase where an individual goes through vital biological, physical and psychological changes. Very minute changes in diet and the food that is consumed can have a huge impact on the oestrogen levels and other hormones that start getting produced in the body of a girl. Following a high-quality puberty diet has a direct impact on the hormones.

What are the nutritional requirements during puberty?

Let’s look at what girls attaining puberty need for proper nutrition.

  • Calories: Calories are vital for providing energy and kids attaining puberty need a lot of it. An average Indian girl between the age of 10 and 15 years needs around 2000 to 2330 Kcal per day, as per ICMR, 2010. ●
  • And a boy between the ages of 10 and 15 years needs around 2190-2750 Kcal/day as per ICMR, 2010, depending upon their level of activity. As physically active and exercising preteens need more energy, they would require more calories per day at this stage.
  • Micronutrients: Vitamin D, vitamin K, and vitamin K12 are key micronutrients required during puberty. Calcium is a key mineral for the development of strong bones, and girls need more iron, as they lose blood through menstruation. All of these vital micronutrients should be made available to the body through a proper diet.
  • Macronutrients: Carbohydrate is important at this stage for all your child’s energy needs. Carbs with fibre are ideal and should constitute the bulk of the total intake at this stage. Fats also play a key role in the development of the cells and should be eaten in moderate amounts.

Obesity and puberty

It is true that nutritional requirements during puberty must be met as adequately as possible. However, excessive calorie intake and an improper diet comprising mainly junk foods can lead to obesity. Obesity is a growing concern in India, due to poor lifestyle choices, junk food, and lack of physical activity. Obesity can affect proper pubic growth in many ways.

Obese preteen girls face a lot of problems in their adult life apart from serious health concerns like diabetes, heart problems, and blood pressure issues. Improper pubic development, lack of libido, height issues, lack of mental development, and decrease in sexual interests, are some of the key issues faced by obese children during puberty.

Some vital foods that ensure healthy puberty:

Listed below are some foods that should be a part of the daily diet of girls going through puberty:

  1. Milk: Milk provides the two key ingredients needed during puberty – calcium and vitamin D. These two are essential for the development of bones and muscles.
  2. Omega-3 fatty acids: Fatty fishes like rawas or Indian salmon, pomfret, hilsa, and rohu provide the body with proteins and antioxidants, apart from the valuable omega-3 fatty acids. These nutrients go a long way in regulating moods, improving concentration, and boosting immunity.
  3. Beans: During the critical stage of puberty, the body craves certain micronutrients that can easily be found in beans. Iron, magnesium and dietary fibres are essential for the proper growth of muscles and their restoration.
  4. Eggs: Eggs are vital for a growing body too. High in selenium, proteins and saturated fats, eggs provide energy and promote brain development.
  5. Nuts: Loaded with healthy fats and protein, nuts help pubescent girls to stay full and prevent them from gorging on unhealthy foods. These are the best snacks for growing preteens as well.
  6. Yoghurt: Enriched with the goodness of probiotics, yoghurt helps in keeping the gut healthy and thereby enhances immunity, digestion, and brain function. A healthy gut is important for good health for a lifetime.

The aforementioned Indian foods during puberty can ensure the proper development of girls during their pubic years. Understanding the challenges and issues faced during puberty is the best way to take care of preteens.