To meet the growing demands of adolescence, during this phase, a few nutrients deserve special attention over others. Read on to understand the nutrients for teenagers and how to include them in the diet.

Nutritional needs of adolescence

Talk about the teenage years and we’re quick to recall the random mood swings and extreme emotions. However, an important part of growing up is the food we eat, as the nutritional requirements for teenagers are quite high. The teenage years mark a rapid rise in the growth curve, and this has a direct influence on the nutritional needs of adolescence. Since adolescence is considered a nutrition-sensitive phase for growth, good nutrition at this crucial time may determine the health of the teen in later stages of life. So, what are the correct nutritional requirements during adolescence?

Here’s a table with some vitamins and minerals and their daily requirements:

Nutrient Male Female
  13-15 yrs 16-18 yrs 13-15 yrs 16-18 yrs
Protein (g/day) 45 55 43 46
Calcium (g/day) 1000 1050 1000 1050
Iron (mg/day) 22 26 30 32
Zinc (mg/day) 14.3 17.6 12.8 14.2
Vit A (µg/day) 930 1000 890 860
Vit C (mg/day) 70 85 65 70
Vit D (IU/day) 600 600 600 600
Adequate Intake of Dietary Fibre (g/day) 43 50 36 38

Reference: ICMR - NIN 2020

Important nutrients for teenagers

Adolescence is characterised by intense body changes resulting from puberty and is influenced by emotional, mental, and social development. The latter years of adolescence mark the end of complete physical growth and sexual maturation, which is why nutrient demands are especially high during this phase.

How to meet nutritional requirements during adolescence

  1. Carbohydrates: During adolescence, energy needs are high due to the increased growth rate and changes in body composition. The adolescent period is marked by physical and cognitive growth, besides the spirit to participate in recreational activities. The energy to sustain these massive tasks is provided by carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates that contain dietary fibre are always a good choice for adolescents. Dietary fibre can help prevent deposition of fat around the organs (termed as visceral fat) in adolescents and is associated with lower insulin resistance, which could be a contributory factor in preventing incidence of diabetes in later years.
    Food source: Oats, barley, whole grain chapatis and more
  2. Protein: When considering nutrients for teenagers, protein needs have to be met as it plays a vital role in the multiplication of the body’s cells, thus facilitating growth and development. Moreover, protein is found in every cell and even controls the secretion of enzymes and hormones. Some studies indicate that protein intake is associated with a better bone mineral content in adolescents.
    Food sources: Egg, fish, meat, paneer, quinoa, soybean
  3. Calcium: Out of the total body calcium, 97% is present in the bones, and this proportion increases dramatically during the pubertal spurt. Adequate calcium intake is therefore essential for the development and maintenance of bone mass that peaks during adolescence. Apart from its major role in bone mineralization, calcium is one of the essential nutrients for teenagers as it also helps in the formation of blood clots in cases of injury and is involved in muscle contraction.
    Food sources: dairy products, dark green vegetables, fish, and nuts
  4. Iron: An extremely essential mineral, iron is involved in the development and functioning of the brain. It helps the blood to carry oxygen, and a deficiency of iron is often observed in stages of increased growth requirements, as is the case during adolescence. Iron deficiency anaemia in adolescent girls is often a rampant problem, which continues to be a cause of concern during pregnancy in the later stages, which is why it is crucial to ensure the development of nutritional food for teenagers sufficiently meets their iron needs. It is also found that adequate iron levels during adolescence may improve school performance, attention, and concentration.
    Food sources: Meat, animal liver, dark green leafy vegetables like amaranth, fruits like dates, seeds like pumpkin and flax seeds
  5. Zinc: The importance of nutritional needs during adolescence cannot be stressed enough, and zinc is one trace mineral that is crucial during this stage of rapid growth. It is essential in adolescence because of its role in growth and sexual maturation. Several zinc-dependant enzymes are involved in the processes that occur during the teenage years, such as vision, taste perception, cognition, cell reproduction, growth, and immunity.
    Food sources: Meat, fish and seafood like oysters, chickpeas, and watermelon seeds
  6. Vitamin D: Since adolescence is marked by increased bone growth, the daily nutritional requirements for teenagers for Vitamin D also deserve attention. Vitamin D helps in the absorption of calcium to build strong bones and may support a healthy immune system, normal blood pressure, and cognitive performance. Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to vitamin D deficiency due to higher rates of bone growth and bone mass. Vit D is the sunshine hormone and is activated by the sun, so encouraging adolescents to carry out outdoor activities during the day can help increase the body's reserves.
    Food sources: Flesh of fatty fish and fish liver oils, eggs, certain mushrooms
  7. Vitamin C: Vitamin C helps in the synthesis of collagen, which forms an important part of the skin. It also protects and supports organs and soft tissues and provides a definite structure to the growing bones of adolescents, thus enabling calcium and other minerals to be efficiently deposited on it. At a stage when adolescents’ cells are prone to wear and tear, Vit C is also associated with wound healing and repair.

A balanced meal containing a variety of foods on the platter can help meet the nutritional needs of teenagers. The following are a few guidelines on how to plan meals as per the nutritional needs of adolescence and ensure they meet their dietary requirements:

Follow the rules of MyPlate: MyPlate is a food plan based on age, sex, height, weight, and physical activity level. It helps adolescents figure out how many calories they need each day and how to distribute them, thereby narrowing down on the correct nutrition food for teenagers.

Divide the meals: A three meals and two/ three snacks system can be used to fulfil the daily nutritional requirements for teenagers. Instead of looking out for empty calories and fried foods at snack time, healthy snacks that are rich in nutrients like calcium, iron, and vitamin D can be chosen by teenagers. Oats Bread Paneer Veg sandwich and Sprouts Modak are a few options.

Read and invest in good health: While the market shelves are loaded with a variety of foods, teenagers must be taught to read food labels and make food choices. For example, instead of buying a pack of chips that are deep-fried in oil, one can opt for energy bars made from nuts and seeds that can better act as a nutrition food for teenagers.

Drinking calories count: Beverages considerably add to the number of empty calories in the diet. Thus, instead of drinking empty calories, it would be wiser to drink smoothies made from whole fruits, milk, and yoghurt, as all the ingredients mentioned are fine sources of micronutrients needed during adolescence.


Adolescence is a period of massive change, and it calls for changes in dietary habits too. To support the increased nutritional needs of teenagers, the group must undertake moderate physical activity, rest adequately and most importantly, engage in eating healthy meals, focusing especially on nutrients whose demands are high. Eating a balanced diet in adolescence can be a rewarding effort as it forms the basis of good health for the years to follow.