Pre-pubertal and pubertal nutrition is essential in a woman’s life to the extent that its effects are felt even later in life when the girl is in her old age. To prevent the negative effects that are associated with inadequate nutrition during pubescence, it’s advisable that the adolescent girl meets her nutritional needs. There are four important nutrients that that the adolescent girl needs to meet their recommended levels in order to prevent their deficiency effects which are both immediate and long term.
Puberty is a period during which the adolescent girl develops secondary sexual characteristics. Onset of hormonal secretions results in the development of breasts and widening hips. All these require proteins to form the respective tissues. Bone formation and muscle growth also take place during this time and proteins are essential in the process.
During puberty, adolescents gain about 20% of their adult height and 50% of their adult weight, according to Helpguide.org. Proteins are very instrumental in this. Proteins should provide 10 – 15% of the total kilocalories in an adolescent’s diet. Lean meat, skinless chicken meat, eggs, pea nut butter and beans are good sources of proteins.
Calcium is a micro-nutrient whose deficiency effects are long-lasting and manifest mostly in post-menopausal women. Osteoporosis and oesteomalacia are some of the effects of calcium deficiency that usually manifest later in life. To prevent such conditions in old age, the adolescent girl needs to eat calcium-rich foods to ensure maximum deposition of calcium in the bones.
The calcium needs increase during puberty due to the increased skeletal growth. A 5% increase in adolescent bone mass translates to 40% decrease in the risk of bone fractures later in life. Therefore, the recommended dietary allowance of calcium is 700mg per day.
Muscle growth and bone formation therefore, requires both calcium and proteins. A recommended 600 international Units (IU) of vitamin D is also instrumental in bone formation. Consumption of a variety of calcium-rich foods and 15 – 30 minutes’ exposure to sunlight is essential. Low fat milk and yoghurt are some of the rich sources of calcium.
During puberty, the adolescent girl experiences menarche. The appearance of menarche signals the onset of iron losses through menses. Iron is a major constituent of hemoglobin thus carries oxygen to the muscles. It also helps in brain functions and immune response to diseases.
This therefore increases iron needs of the pubescence girl. The Recommended Dietary Allowance of Iron during puberty is 15mg per day for girls. Red meat, spinach, chicken, beans and nuts are some of the rich sources of Iron. Iron deficiency may delay the onset of menarche, and impair brain functions.
This is another micro-nutrient that is very essential to the adolescent girl. It acts as a coenzyme donating or accepting carbon atoms during the endogenous synthesis and metabolism of DNA, RNA and amino acids. High adolescent intakes of folate have been linked to better academic performance.
The recommended Dietary Intake of folate for adolescents is 400 mg per day. Dietary intake of folate has however been inadequate. This necessitated fortification of enriched grain products. Today, over 50 countries globally have made it mandatory for food manufacturers to fortify wheat flour with folic acid.
Folate-rich foods include dark green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, avocado, beans, peas and lentils.
- Early puberty: why are kids growing up faster? (guardian.co.uk)
- The Benefits Of Boosting Dietary Calcium Intake (medicalnewstoday.com)
- Young teens turning to protein powders, steroids to bulk up: Survey (cbsnews.com)