Adolescence is a rapid phase of growth and development. Nutrition is crucial for healthy physical development of the teenagers so that they can achieve the full potential in life. In addition to supporting physical growth, good food also lays a crucial role in mental wellbeing. Adolescence is unique, a formative period where the child is stepping into adulthood. In this period, they start to take their own decisions and also learn various social and emotional habits. This is also the time when they need close guidance on how to cope in life, learn problem-solving, and interpersonal skills; and learn to manage emotions. All of this can be pretty overwhelming. There is a growing body of evidence that mental health and good nutrition are closely interlinked. Food has a direct link with being happy and mentally strong.
One thing that is very clear is that highly processed food, refined sugary food, basically food that is deficient in nutrients has a detrimental effect on our health. With teenagers, unhealthy eating from early life can lead to deficiencies that are associated with mental health. These deficiencies may be the cause, or a teenager going through mental trauma may resort to poor food choices.
(Also Read: How Food Therapy May Help Promote Mental Health)
Here's how simple diet steps can support your adolescent's mental wellbeing:
1. CUT THE CRAP: High salt, high sugar foods are detrimental for health - this is an established fact. It is true as such dietary choices have an adverse effect on proteins essential for brain development- signalling molecule brain-derived neurotrophic factor. These proteins are found to be low in depressed patients. With teenagers it becomes important to make them aware about good food because they start making food choices at this age. TV, commercials, peer pressure, body image can all make young adults choose unhealthy eating habits. As a parent, you need to support this learning by making sure that healthy whole fresh food is available.
2. GUT FEEL: There is strong correlation between our gut microbiota- microorganisms residing in our gut, and brain. This is often referred to as the gut brain axis. It is well established that this axis plays a role in neurological diseases. Bottom line, keep the gut healthy, Feed the microorganisms fibre, probiotic foods like yogurt, idly, fermented dhokla and again cut out the refined, processed, packaged foods low in nutrients. Meal timings play a crucial role in a healthy digestion. For this you need to enforce and follow the same yourselves as parents. Eating at the dining table, no TV, phone, eating in a relaxed atmosphere, chewing well is an important part of healthy eating. This also ensures better digestion and absorption of nutrients.
3. FATS FOR HAPPINESS: Omega-3 is amazing for brain health. It is known to enhance brain chemistry, lower inflammation and thereby keeping the mood upbeat and also preventing depression. Teenagers normally get very body conscious and in their attempt to lose weight, may not eat fats. All fats are essential for the body, the quantity and quality determines their health promoting ability. Omega-3 is one of the healthiest fatty acid and found in Salmon, Mackarel, chia seeds, flax seeds, and walnuts.
(Also Read: 7 Omega-3 Rich Foods To Add To Your Daily Diet)
4. SUNSHINE VITAMIN: Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to anxiety, depression, and mood swings. With studies, tuitions, social media addiction, teens are spending time indoors. Again as parents, you need to ensure that they spend time outdoors, preferably exercising. Sitting in the sun, walking in the garden with friends and generally being outdoors will help.
5. PUMP UP THE IRON: Anaemia is a reality in adolescent girls because of onset of menarche as well as a conscious effort to maintain their weight. Today we also get to see boys being anaemic. Most of these are nutritional anaemia. Anaemia does not only have repercussions on physical health but also on mental health. Low iron levels have been linked to anxiety and depression. Meat, fish, chicken, green leafy vegetables, dried apricots, guavas are all iron rich foods. When consumed with a vitamin C-rich food like lemon, the absorption increases.
6. LIFESTYLE MATTERS: Exercise is important for overall health and is a great mood modifier. Exercising release the happy chemicals like endorphins that enhance the sense of wellbeing. In addition, teens who are conscious about their looks are happy with atoned physique. It is important for the growth and development of a healthy body and learning this habit early in life keeps the youngster away from diseases. SLEEP is also crucial for a healthy mind. Being a period of rapid growth, the need for R&R is also crucial. Ensure and encourage a good night's sleep. Follow the rule of - 'early to bed and early to rise'. Keep the late night socialising to the minimum and for the weekends only.
A healthy mind in a healthy body is the definition of good health. Teenage is a very delicate and important stage of life. Teaching, supporting, communicating and listening are the tools for preparing the almost adults for a happy and mentally well-adjusted life ahead.
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About Rupali DattaRupali Datta is a Clinical Nutritionist and has worked in leading corporate hospitals. She has created and lead teams of professionals to deliver clinical solutions for patients across all medical specialties including critical care. She is a member of the Indian Dietetic Association and Indian Association of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition.