Like in all stages of life, good nutrition is exceptionally crucial for puberty too. It lays the foundation to achieve sexual maturation and influences every aspect of growth. Read on to understand how a healthy diet for puberty forms the cornerstone of adolescence.
Important nutrients during puberty
Puberty triggers a growth spurt that increases macro and micronutrient demands. Body energy stores can influence the onset of this period of maturity as there is an increased calorie, protein, iron, calcium, zinc and folate need which must be provided adequately. If the requirements of a healthy diet for puberty are not met, it can lead to severe malnutrition, which can in turn delay the onset and progression of maturity.
Undernutrition during adolescence can:
- Retard physical growth
- Reduce intellectual capacity
- Delay sexual maturation
- Increase risk of infections
- Lead to iron deficiency and anaemia
- Lead to calcium deficiency and increased risk for osteoporosis later in life
- Decrease concentration, learning, and school performance in school-going adolescents
Common deficiencies that can happen during puberty
- Calcium: Calcium absorption and mineralization of bones increases during early pubertal development and adequate intake of calcium is important for skeletal growth. Low calcium intake during adolescence may lead to decreased bone mass thereby increasing the risk of bone fractures.
- Iron: During puberty, iron requirements increase in both boys and girls due to the increase in total blood volume, and lean body mass and also because of the onset of menses in young females. Girls of reproductive age are especially susceptible to iron deficiency anaemia which can be carried during pregnancy too. Thus puberty foods must make special allowance for this age group to meet their iron requirements.
- Folic acid: Folate (folic acid) is involved in the production of nucleic acids and proteins and is essential for cell growth. Since adolescence is correlated with rapid growth, the need for folate is quite high. A deficiency can lead to the development of a blood condition called megaloblastic anaemia in which there are large, abnormal red blood cells. Adolescents with low levels of folate may be at an increased risk of developing this condition.
- Zinc: Zinc plays a vital role in several body functions such as vision, cognition, cell reproduction, growth, and immunity. Zinc deficiency is a health problem in many communities, especially among adolescents because of their pubertal growth spurt.
Factors that can impact puberty
Along with optimum nutrition, several factors can directly or indirectly influence pubertal growth spurt.
- Gender: Most girls enter puberty earlier than boys. The age range of puberty for girls is between ages 8 and 13 years, while boys enter puberty from ages 10 to 15 years.
- Nutrition: During puberty, obese children show a less remarkable growth spurt when compared to children who are lean. Unbalanced nutrition and lack of focus on puberty diet could also be a major cause of early maturation in young girls.
- Eating disorders: Anorexia nervosa (AN) is a common eating disorder that is characterised by self-induced food restriction. Stunting of growth and restriction of prepubertal development and amenorrhea (absence of menstruation) are frequent signs of AN when it occurs during puberty. Endocrine regulation and environmental toxins: Puberty involves our endocrine system which secretes hormones to meet pubertal milestones. However, several endocrine disruptors accumulate in the environment in the long term and are introduced into the human body through water, air or foodstuffs. These include polybrominated biphenyls (PBB), heavy metals and phthalates.
- Physical activity: If adolescents who are engaged in intensive physical training do not meet their energy requirements through optimum nutrition, the negative energy balance can prolong the prepubertal stage, and delay pubertal development. Exercise-related reproductive dysfunction may also be observed due to the deterioration of energy balance which can severely impact bone health.
Foods to eat during puberty
It goes without saying that nutrition during puberty is of utmost importance. So let’s understand the concept of puberty foods and the best options to include in the diet during this crucial period.
- Optimum intake of whole-grains: These include cereals like wheat, ragi, quinoa, oats, and corn. Whole grains are an excellent source of carbohydrates, B vitamins, calcium, and iron and selected varieties may also provide a considerable amount of protein. Quinoa oats lentil Dosa and Ragi Idli Stirfry are a few foods to eat during puberty.
- Pulses and milk products: A high protein diet consists of pulses and milk products from the vegetarian food groups. Since puberty is marked by increased demands of growth, protein acts as a fuel to help in the multiplication of cells. Every cell, enzyme, and hormone is made of protein and a puberty food diet must definitely pay attention to this nutrient. Rajmah curry and Paneer stuffed Paratha are some options as foods to boost puberty.
- Meat and poultry: These include animal liver, chicken, fish and eggs. Apart from being high in good quality protein, animal sources are rich in Vit B12 too, which is the nutrient required for linear growth. Thus dishes like Vegetable Egg Wheat Vermicelli, Egg Bhurji Beetroot Frankie, and Chicken coconut Milk Soup, may act as foods that help you grow taller during puberty. Besides, animal sources also provide high levels of bioavailable iron and zinc in the diet which are important nutrients to support increased growth demands during puberty.
- Fruits and vegetables: Red, orange, and yellow coloured fruits and veggies like papaya, mango, carrot and pumpkin are wonderful sources of beta carotene which can be converted to Vit A in the body. Vit A is required for healthy vision, skin, and for maintaining the immune system. Low levels of Vit A can delay puberty, which is why a diet during puberty must contain sufficient fruits and veggies. Fruits and vegetables are good sources of potassium, zinc, folic acid, magnesium and Vit C, making them essential puberty foods.
- Nuts and seeds: One cannot miss out on this important food group when considering foods to eat during puberty. They are an excellent way to meet protein requirements and are rich in Vit E, calcium, iron, protein, healthy fats and several micronutrients that contribute to meeting the goals of pubertal growth. Mango Almond Shake and Dates and Seeds Raita are among the foods to boost puberty and provide the wholesome goodness of nuts and seeds!
Foods that can delay puberty
While some foods can boost puberty, there are other foods that can delay puberty.
- Intake of high protein foods such as eggs and fish has been associated with earlier sexual development as lack of protein is related to delayed maturation.
- Excessive consumption of processed foods and corresponding obesity can lead to earlier puberty in girls. This link is controversial in boys, and some studies connect higher accumulation of fat in boys to delayed puberty. Hence, consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables is beneficial.
Nutrition is a determining factor to ensure a timely and steady rate of puberty. As a period of increased demands, nutrition during puberty may dictate the quality of life in later years and must not be neglected.