Does your teenager know enough about their diet?

Asian inspired beef with greens. Photo: B+LNZ Inc.

Young women are risking their mental and physical health when they cut whole food groups from their diet.

Bread, dairy products and meat are wrongly thought of as fattening foods and are often the first to be removed by teenage girls trying to lose weight.

New Zealand dietitian Sarah Hanrahan says most teenagers want to make healthy changes to their diet but aren’t relying on the right sources for nutrition advice.

“While teenagers of course want more responsibility for food choices, they are not necessarily making informed decisions about foods they class as healthy or unhealthy,” says Hanrahan.

Teenage girls suffering from the ever-present pressure to be thin are more likely to eliminate red meat mistakenly thinking it is likely to cause weight gain.

In this demographic, the danger of a restrictive diet is evident as iron deficiency and anaemia are also most common among teenage girls.

Low iron can cause growing teenagers to feel weak and tired, look pale, and may impact on learning and sports performance.

Teenage girls require more iron than when they were children and more than teenage boys in the same age group.

Unnecessarily restrictive diets can lead to a multitude of other teenage issues including dry skin, breakouts, low immunity and poor sleep. Nutrient deficiencies can also impact mental health.

“These are problems that will only increase the stress of teenage years and may be easily improved or managed by a balanced diet,” says Hanrahan.

Lean red meat makes an important contribution to dietary iron and teenagers should be encouraged to eat moderate portions of red meat regularly.

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