Adolescence is a phase that witnesses rapid physical growth and sexual maturity. In girls, this period is characterised by the onset of menstruation, and hence, consumption of the right nutrients is more essential than ever. So, parents need to understand the specific nutritional needs during adolescence, so that different health conditions can be prevented. Poor dietary habits during this phase can lead to growth retardation and hamper reproductive abilities. It can negatively impact the work-related productivity of girls too. Adolescent girls who suffer from malnourishment might also face complications during pregnancy and give birth to low birth weight babies, thus continuing the cycle of malnutrition and poor health.

The need for right nutrition

The daily nutritional requirements of a teenager can be met by providing meals that contain adequate quantities of protein, fats, carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins. Proteins are needed for building the body’s muscles and repairing the tissues. Fats and carbohydrates are rich sources of energy and fats transport fat-soluble vitamins too. Vitamins and minerals play an important role in the growth, repair, and regulation of vital bodily functions.

Iron and calcium are also required in adequate quantities during adolescence in girls, because of the rapid physical growth and changes. Calcium is one of the most essential nutrients because it affects the lean body mass and skeletal growth.

Zinc is another important nutrient that is needed for growth and sexual maturation. Eating different types of food items like dals, chapati or rice, green vegetables, seasonal fruits and milk, in the right quantities, can ensure that adolescents end up getting balanced meals.

Nutritional guidelines for adolescents state that girls need an average of 2,200 calories per day. Around 25% of the total energy should come from fats, and less than 10% of the energy should come from saturated fats. Adolescents also require about 50 grams of protein every day.

Anaemia and other problems

Lack of knowledge about nutrition, lack of sufficient food, denial of healthy food to girls, poor bioavailability of iron in food, infestations and diseases, and unhealthy cooking habits, can contribute to decreased nutrition in adolescent girls.

Girls who do not get nutritionally adequate meals grow up to be stunted women. Poor quality of iron in food and frequent infections can lead to anaemia as well. Severe malnutrition and repeated cycles of diseases cause slower and prolonged pubertal growth, which is typically seen in girls belonging to the lower socio-economic classes.

It’s important to note here that the damage incurred during adolescence affects a girl’s body during phases which require additional nutrition, like early pregnancy, and can lead to the birth of underweight babies. Poor nutrition during adolescence can also hamper milk production in lactating mothers.

Menstruation and nutrition

The onset of menstruation during adolescence makes it necessary for girls to consume additional iron. Hence, they should be encouraged to consume foods rich in iron, like green leafy vegetables, jaggery, and meat, along with vitamin C foods like oranges, lemons, and amla.

Girls need additional iron to compensate for menstrual blood loss. Anaemia, at this stage, can reduce work capacity and impair immune functions. It can also impair cognitive functioning and memory, hamper performance at school, compromise growth and development, increase lead and cadmium absorption, and increase the risk of pregnancy-related complications later in life.

Foods to avoid

Foods that should be limited during adolescence are those containing trans fats and saturated fats, which can cause heart diseases. Oils that are rich in unsaturated fats are a better alternative. Eating too much sodium can cause high blood pressure too. And added sugars can contribute to extra calories with no nutrients. So, avoid giving your adolescent daughter too many sodas, cookies, candies, and sugary cereals. Choose whole grains instead of refined grains.

To conclude, to meet the nutritional needs of your adolescent daughter, be aware of the nutrients she needs the most. Remember to check the nutrition label on food products, to make sure that you don’t give foods which are high in fats, sugars or excess salt. Also, try and offer balanced meals, which include items from all major food groups. And ensure ample hydration too, so that all bodily functions can take place smoothly.