A balanced diet contains varieties of foods in certain proportions so that the need and requirement for calories, minerals, proteins, vitamins, and alternative nutrients is adequate. Besides, a balanced diet also offers bioactive phytochemicals like dietary fiber, nutraceuticals, and antioxidants that have positive health benefits. It should provide around 60-70% of total calories from carbohydrates, 10-12% from proteins, and 20-25% from fat.
In this article, first of all, we will study calories and nutrients requirements, what to eat as a balanced diet, and what causes nutritional deficiency. We will also highlight symptoms of poor diet, the importance of a balanced diet, and a healthy diet plan for teenagers at the end.
The human age divided into four categories as:
- Child refers from 0-12 years
- Teenagers are from 13-18 years
- Adults are from 19-59 years
- Senior Adults are from 60 years and above
Physical Growth and Mental development are rapid during the teenage years, and the demand is high for calories and most nutrients. At this stage, a variety of transitions take place like physiological, physical, and behavioral changes occur in the body.
About Calories and Nutrients Requirement:
The number of calories in food determines the amount of energy obtained after its consumption. On average a person requires 2,000 calories per day to maintain his weight. Calories requirement depends on factors like age, sex, and physical activity level.
- Female aged 9-13 years require 1,400-2,200 calories
- Male aged 9-13 years require 1,600-2,600 calories
- Active female aged 14-30 years require 2,400 calories
- Sedentary female aged 14-30 years require 1,800-2,000 calories
Food and drinks containing insignificant nutrients but are high in calories are called empty calories. Male adults take 923 empty calories on average per day whereas female adults take 624 empty calories on average per day.
A study from 2010 stated that around 40% of total calories that humans aged 2-18 years old from the US are empty calories. Empty calories are present in products such as Soda, dairy desserts, such as ice-cream, grain desserts, such as muffins and cookies, pizza, etc.
There are few nutrients that teenagers need more for their increased growth, for example, calcium. Demand also differs between boys and girls, for example, boys require more protein than girls as they have a high lean body mass. Protein is required in gram (g) quantities. Vitamin C is required in milligram (mg) quantities (1/1000 gram).
Vitamin B12 is required in microgram (µg) quantities (1/1000000 gram). Nutritional requirements of each individual are related to age, gender, health, and level of physical activity.
What To Eat As A Balanced Diet?
A balanced diet should include the following:
- Fruit, legumes (e.g. lentils and beans), vegetables, nuts, and whole grains (e.g. unprocessed maize, oats, wheat, and brown rice). Dark green, red, and orange vegetables have high levels of the nutrients like vitamin C, calcium, and fiber.
- At least 400 g (i.e. five portions) of fruit and vegetables a day, excluding potatoes, sweet potatoes, and other starchy roots.
- Intake of saturated fats (pastries, pie, puddings, and burgers, etc.) must be reduced to less than 10% of total energy intake and trans-fats (cake, frozen pizza, and microwave popcorn, etc.) to less than 1% of total energy intake. In particular, industrially-produced trans-fats should be avoided.
- Less than 5g of iodized salt (equivalent to about one teaspoon) a day. The deficiency of iodine impairs mental function and causes goiter.
- Choose whole grains like whole-wheat bread, oatmeal, brown rice, and whole-grain cereal, instead of refined grains cereals, and white rice.
What Causes Nutrient Deficiency?
A lack in the consumption of whole fruits and vegetables and whole grains in the diet lowers the fiber content in teens. Low-fiber diets result in constipation, and likely to cause bowel cancers and heart disease later.
Allergies to certain groups of foods or food intolerances (e.g. lactose or gluten) might result in nutrient deficiencies if changes are not effectively managed.
For eg. Lactose intolerance results in a decreased calcium intake. Hence make sure to adapt alternative sources like lactose-free cow’s milk or calcium-fortified dairy or yogurt.
Due to Celiac disease, a person cannot take fiber adequately which likely increases deficiency of iron due to gut inflammation. Hence make sure you should have adequate iron-rich foods in the diet like red meat and leafy green vegetables.
Junk foods, sugary drinks, large portions, and processed takeaway foods are common dietary contributors to excess weight gain. So they need healthy eating habits in conjunction with physical activity and exercise to reach a healthy weight.
Chips, lollies, cakes, biscuits, chocolates, and take-away foods should be limited to special occasions. Sugary drinks like soft drinks, juice, flavored waters, and energy drinks should be avoided.
Symptoms of Poor Diet:
Symptoms of a poor diet can include:
- being underweight, overweight, or obese
- constipation or changes in bowel habits
- poor physical growth
- Chronic disorders like anemia, dental caries, and rickets
- being pale or lethargic
- tooth decay
Importance of Balanced Diet:
A balanced diet supports the transition that takes place in teenagers including physical, behavioral, and physiological. Teenagers who do not intake healthy foods may face poor academic and growth and development problems. Without a balanced diet, people are more prone to disease, infection, low performance, and fatigue. Here are few points which highlight the significance of a balanced diet:
- Healthy eating provides adequate energy and improves the body’s functioning. It also strengthens the immune system and prevents weight gain.
- A healthy diet contributes majorly to body weight and obesity.
- National surveys stated in England (2013), the proportion of boys and girls who were either obese or overweight are 34% and 39% respectively aged 13-15 years.
- A balanced diet with sufficient micro and macronutrients avoid nutritional deficiencies and associated disorders.
- Like healthy eating, physical activity helps to maintain body weight, stronger muscles, and bone and make you more flexible.
- Vitamins and minerals facilitate your immunity.
- It helps to prevent the risk of developing certain diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Few nutrients also help to regulate blood pressure.
According to the Centre for Science in the public interest, 4 out of 10 top leading causes of death in the US are directly linked to a diet which includes heart disease, cancer, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.
Here are below essential nutrients that must be present in your daily and healthy diet with sources imparting health benefits:
Iron: It helps in growth and muscle development. The reference nutrient intake for girls aged 11-18 years old is 14.8 mg of iron per day, while for boys of the same age should be 11.3 mg of iron per day. The deficiency of iron causes anemia and severe health-related consequences.
Sources: Iron present in liver and red meat is more readily absorbed by the human body compared with iron found in other non-meat sources(non-haem iron) such as dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, whole grains, beans, and dried fruits (e.g. apricots).
Broccoli contains 0.6-0.7 mg of iron whereas dried apricots contain 1.5mg of iron.
Vitamin C: It helps in the absorption of non-haem iron. Tea and coffee reduce the absorption of non-haem iron so they should not be taken with meals.
Source: Orange juice
Calcium: It helps in a rapid increase of body mass and to build strong bones and teeth. The reference nutrient intake for boys and girls aged 11-18 years old is 1000 mg and 800 mg per day.
Cheese contains 355-435 mg of calcium whereas cooked soybean contains 90 mg of calcium.
Vitamin D: It keeps your bone healthy.
Sources: Orange juices and tuna etc.
Potassium: It helps to lower blood pressure.
Sources: Banana and baked potato with the skin
Fiber: it helps you to feel full and stay regular.
Sources: Beans and celery
Protein: It helps you to build your body and provides you muscular strength.
Sources: Peanut-butter, eggs and fish 
Healthy Diet Plan:
A handy way to manage your diet plan regarding how much of each food group to eat must be taken on a plate. The USDA’s “ChooseMyPlate” initiative describes:
- You should fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables
- You should fill just over one quarter with grains
- You should fill just under one quarter with protein foods
- You should add dairy products on the side
- Drink plenty of water, 6-8 glass recommended
- You should also conduct 160-minute moderate exercise every week
The USDA also provides an interactive tool, My plate plan” where you can fill in your details to find out your balanced diet plan.
Teenage years are a time of rapid growth and mental and physical development. Thereby, healthy and balanced diet intake becomes crucial at this stage. Such diets fulfill the requirement of adequate calories, vitamins, minerals, proteins, fibers, and bioactive phytochemicals to benefit your health. On average 2000 calories are recommended to feel energetic and active. Empty calories are present in food items such as pizza and french fries avoided. Intake of definite proportion and portion of fruits, legumes, vegetables, iodized salt, vitamins, and food items containing proteins, fibers, iron, calcium, and vitamin D makes a balanced diet which facilitates several health benefits. A balanced diet prevents serious health consequences like anemia, Ricketts, dental caries and hair fall, etc. A person with a not-so-good diet may look pale and lethargic. They may become obese or underweight and impaired mental and physical growth. Teenagers must be aware of the significance of a proper and balanced diet in their growth phase and taught by their parents, teachers, and peers.
- How to maintain a balanced diet https://www.narayanahealth.org/blog/how-to-maintain-a-balanced-diet/
- About calories https://www.healthline.com/health/balanced-diet#calories
- Everything you need to know about calories https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/empty-calories#what-are-they
- Nutrient requirements https://www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritionscience/nutrients-food-and-ingredients/nutrient-requirements.html?limitstart=0
- Teenagers, retrieved from British Nutrition Foundation, page no. 1-7 https://www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritionscience/life/teenagers.html?showall=1
- Healthy diet https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/healthy-diet
- Take charge of your health: a guide for teenagers https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/weight-management/take-charge-health-guide-teenagers
- Nutrition – school-age to adolescence https://www.rch.org.au/kidsinfo/fact_sheets/Nutrition_older_children/.
- Healthy eating for teens https://www.aboutkidshealth.ca/Article?contentid=638.
- Benefits of a balanced diet https://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/disease-prevention/nutrition/a-healthy-lifestyle/benefits-of-a-balanced-diet.