Good nutrition is essential for everyone, but it’s especially important for growing teenagers. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to eat well. A few simple changes will make a huge difference. You’ll feel better, manage your weight, improve your skin and even save money!
Junk food = poor fuel (or surprise new food facts)
Around 40% of a teens daily energy (kilojoule) intake comes from junk foods (1). This might be fizzy drinks and high-kilojoule snacks like potato chips, chocolate and lollies. Your body can’t run properly on low quality fuel. Compared to home-cooked food, junk food (which includes most fast foods) is almost always:
- Higher in fat, particularly saturated fat
- Higher in salt
- Higher in sugar
- Lower in fibre
- Lower in nutrients such as vitamins and minerals
- Served in larger portions, which means more kilojoules.
A poor diet can cause weight gain, high blood pressure, constipation, fatigue and concentration problems – even when you’re young. While health issues might seem too far away to be real, it may surprise you to know that what you do now influences your health later.
No fuss changes (or how to improve your diet without even trying)
Small changes can make a big difference. Try these tips:
- Cut back on fizzy sugary drinks. When reaching for a thirst quencher, choose water instead – try adding a slice of lemon, lime or orange for a bit of zest. If you like the fizz, then go for plain mineral water with a squeeze of lemon.
- Keep a fruit bowl stocked at home for fast and nutritious, low-kilojoule snacks.
- Eat breakfast every day so you’re less likely to snack on junk food at morning tea.
A wholegrain breakfast cereal served with low fat milk can provide plenty of vitamins,
mineral and fibre. Other fast and healthy options include yoghurt or wholemeal toast.
- Don’t skip lunch or dinner. Eating regularly provides you with the energy you need to
perform at your best throughout the day.
- Help with the cooking and think up new ways to create healthy meals. Make those old
family recipes lower in kilojoules by changing the cooking method – for example, grill,
stir-fry, bake, boil or microwave instead of deep frying.
- Watch the size of your meals - your plate should be half vegetables, a quarter protein,
and a quarter good quality carbohydrates.
- Avoid using the salt shaker – try experimenting with spices such as chilli, garlic and black pepper.
- Look for healthier options when you visit a fast food outlet with your friends. Many of the popular fast food chains now have healthier food choices on the menu.
- Change your meeting place. Rather than meeting up with your friends at the local takeaway shop, suggest a food outlet that serves healthier foods such as salad rolls or sushi.
New food thoughts
There are lots of myths around healthy foods and healthy eating.
Avoid making food choices based on incorrect information.
Here are some healthy approaches to get you thinking:
- Compare the price of junk food against the price of healthier food options to see that ‘healthy’ doesn’t have to mean ‘expensive’.
- Experiment with different foods and recipes. You’ll soon discover that a meal cooked with fresh ingredients always leaves a limp burger or soggy chips for dead.
- Try different ‘fast’ options like a wholegrain breakfast cereal, muesli, wholemeal bread, wholegrain muffins, fruit, yoghurt or noodles with veg. ‘Fast food’ doesn’t have to mean ‘junk food’.
- Don’t think that eating well has to be ‘all or nothing’. Eating well doesn’t mean you must be a health food freak. A healthy diet includes enjoying the occasional treat and enjoying your food.
Take charge of your environment (or eat like a boss)
Surrounding yourself with healthy food increases your likelihood of making healthier food choices. Here are some ideas:
- Ask your school canteen to include a range of low-price healthy food choices.
- Help with the grocery shopping and choose fewer processed foods.
- Get involved in the kitchen at home. Check out the recipes on the ACT Nutrition Support Service website for inspiration.
Where to get help
- Your doctor
- An Accredited Practising Dietitian
- Dietitians Association of Australia www.daa.asn.au
- ACT Nutrition Support Service
Remember this …
A teenager who eats fast food regularly is more likely to put on weight than a teenager who eats fast food only occasionally.
Many teenagers wrongly assume that healthy foods are expensive and tasteless.
Eating well doesn’t mean you must be a health food freak – a healthy diet allows for your favourite junk foods occasionally.