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The Importance of Nutrition in Teens

Between band practice, weekend sleepovers and cramming for midterms, today's busy teens don't always have time for balanced meals. Skipping meals and filling up on junk food is way of life for many teens, but it's not in their best interest. Rapidly developing teen bodies need good nutrition now more than ever.

Bone Building 101

"Inadequate nutrition and insufficient exercise undermines bone growth, which means that our kids are jeopardizing their health and their futures," says Rebekah Rotstein, author of Pilates for Buff Bones and partner of the U.S. Department of Health and Office on Women's Health.

Rotstein tells parents that as much as "90 percent of a person's bone density is built up by the end of the teen years – and that has to last the person for the rest of their lives." Among the most important nutrients for strong bones, says Rotstein, are calcium, magnesium and vitamins D and K. Teens can get bone-building calcium from low-fat dairy products, salmon, tuna, fortified cereals, leafy greens, soybeans and almonds are a few of the nutritious foods that help teens build strong bones.

Your Sweet Teen

"Sugar and spice and everything nice, that's what girls are made of," the child's nursery rhyme tells us. A diet high in sugar, however, is not a teen's, best friend. Processed sugar, found in candy, cookies and pastries, offers no nutritional value and can increase tooth decay. Eating sweets can also lead to weight gain, which puts teens at an increased risk of developing diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

Satisfy a teenage sweet tooth by stocking up on fresh fruits that contain vitamins and fiber and save that candy bar for a special, and rare, treat.

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Feeding the Teenage Brain

To help teens concentrate on schoolwork and focus on their daily tasks, Dr. Mary Ann Block, founder of The Block Center, an international health and nutrition clinic suggests eliminating junk foods and adding a daily multivitamin-and-mineral supplement to the diet. Dr. Block feels that nutritional deficiencies could be responsible for increased anxiety and depression in some teens, and she stresses the importance of nutrition for boosting concentration. "Pizza, French fries and candy deplete the body of nutrition, and sodas actually pull minerals such as calcium, zinc and magnesium out of the body," says Dr. Block.

Sports Nutrition

Athletic teens need lean protein and complex carbohydrates to keep their muscles strong, and to provide extra energy for their sports endeavors. Starchy carbohydrates, found in pasta, enriched cereals and whole grain breads give athletic teens a high-octane boost to help carry them through marathon tennis matches and overtime football games.

Building and maintaining strong muscles gives athletic teens a winning edge. Lean sources of protein, such as chicken breast, fish, egg whites and legumes help keep teen muscles going strong.

Building Healthy Eating Habits

Enjoying a double-hamburger, fries and a shake once in a great while probably won't hurt as long as your teen eats plenty of nutritious foods every day. Teaching her to read food labels and helping her make nutritious choices will help her maintain a healthy weight and will give her the energy she needs to tackle all the activities and commitments of the teen years.

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