What your teen eats has a profound impact on their development — from their brains to their bodies to their mental and emotional stability.
If you left it entirely up to them, your teen probably wouldn’t always make the best food choices, opting for what tastes good over what’s good for their minds and bodies. Thankfully, that’s where you come in.
By the end of this article, you’ll understand how nutrition positively impacts your teen’s mental and physical health, be able to pass this information off to them and guide them into adopting a diet that feeds their mind and body.
The Crucial Role Diet Plays in Your Teen’s Mental and Physical Well-Being
As important as things like an exercise regime and stress coping mechanisms are to your teen’s physical and mental well-being, their diet might be even more vital.
When your teen eats healthy foods regularly, they get critical nutrients that keep their body functioning properly and fighting off diseases. In addition, food plays an integral role in mental health, mood stability, and how energized your teen is.
Let’s take a more detailed look at how a nutritious diet benefits your teen’s mental and physical wellness and the best foods to incorporate into their meals.
Boost cognitive function
Food can impact the structure and performance of your brain. Feeding your teen certain nutrients can aid their memory, concentration, and learning processes. Here are some of those nutrients, how they boost cognitive function, and where they naturally occur:
- Lutein: A plant pigment found in the brain that aids learning, memory, and processing speed. Spinach, sweet potatoes, avocados, and egg yolks are rich in lutein.
- B Vitamins: Help break down homocysteine to protect the brain from dementia. Dairy, whole grains, and lean meats are top sources of B vitamins.
- DHA Omega-3: A healthy fat that helps build brain and nerve cells and produces more gray matter in the brain that controls decision-making, memory, and emotion. Fatty fish like salmon and sardines as well as soybeans and flaxseeds are rich sources of DHA Omega-3.
- Flavonoids: The natural pigments in plants, fruits, and vegetables that give them their color can also protect brain health. They help improve memory, decrease neuro-inflammation, and improve blood flow to the brain. You can find flavonoids in all berries, like strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries.
Incorporate more of the foods above to keep your teen’s brain functioning well long-term.
Improve mental health
Unfortunately, mental health is a serious epidemic among teens. Data from the World Health Organization (WHO) indicates that as of 2021, 14% of 10–19-year-olds experience mental health conditions. Unfortunately, despite this rise in reporting, many of these cases aren’t addressed — whether it be through treatment or even acknowledgment. This can mainly be attributed to parents’ assumptions that their teen is simply “broody” as the stereotype often suggests.
However, mental health symptoms are often subtle, and can feed into this stereotype. Common mental health red flags may manifest differently from person to person, but often look like:
- An increased or lack of appetite;
- Being extremely tired and unable to sleep;
- Engaging in destructive behaviors like smoking and drinking;
- Distancing themself from family, friends, and activities they once loved;
- Not doing routine personal hygiene tasks such as showering and brushing their teeth.
Addressing your teen’s mental health is crucial if you see these signs. You can start with adjustments to their diet. These foods are linked to improved mental health:
- Chicken has the amino acid tryptophan which helps produce serotonin to assist in mood regulation.
- Tomatoes contain folic acid and folate which prevent homocysteine from building up and blocking neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.
- Yogurt is a great source of probiotics. Probiotics help keep your gut healthy, and there’s a significant connection between gut health and mental health. In addition, the Vitamin D in yogurt can help support your teen’s mood.
- Leafy greens like arugula and spinach are rich in folates that help the brain fight off depression, dementia, and insomnia. Folates also help you produce happy hormones like dopamine that enhance mood.
- Salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids which aid emotional regulation and the reduction of depression and symptoms of other mental health conditions.
It’s amazing what a nutritious diet can do for your teen’s mental health.
Maintain physical wellness
One of the obvious benefits of a proper diet is physical wellness. Good nutrition influences how your teen’s organ function, how their bones grow, their ability to build muscle, how healthy their joints are, and their physical fitness.
In addition, what your teen eats impacts their energy levels. For example, fried and fast foods are high in fat and low in fiber, slowing your ability to break down food and turn it into energy.
On the other hand, fruits are one of the best foods to eat for energy because they’re high in fiber and Vitamin C. Other foods that promote energy are:
- Sweet potatoes;
- Nuts and seeds;
- Seasonal fruits and vegetables.
Finally, if your teen doesn’t drink as much water as they should, they can rehydrate with certain foods. Green leafy vegetables, root vegetables, plain yogurt, and white meat chicken with the skin are some foods with high water content.
Ultimately, your teen can remain physically fit and get the energy and hydration they need through food to engage in an active life.
Help Your Teen Adopt a Healthier Diet
Sticking to a nutritious diet can boost your teen’s cognitive function, mental health, and physical wellness.
It won’t be easy to get your teen to adopt healthier eating habits if they’re already accustomed to eating what they want when they want. But with a bit of patience and planning, you can slowly introduce them to healthier food choices and educate your teen on the influence food has on their mental and physical well-being.
Katie Brenneman is a passionate writer specializing in lifestyle, mental health, and fitness-related content. When she isn’t writing, you can find her with her nose buried in a book or hiking with her dog, Charlie. To connect with Katie, you can follow her on Twitter.
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