The life of a teenager can be tough. It has been especially tough this last year with the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. How tough are these teen years? Well, nearly one in three of all adolescents between the ages of 13 to 18 will experience an anxiety disorder according to the National Institutes of Health. Unfortunately, the rate is only increasing. As a parent, what can you do to help reduce stress and prevent an anxiety disorder?
Nutrition plays a critical role in the ability of teens to function well. In fact, teens who eat a low-quality diet have an 80% higher chance of developing depression. A high carb processed food diet has been shown to contribute to anxiety and depression. Common foods that fall into that category include things like mac and cheese, pizza, bagels, cereals, chips, pancakes, and peanut butter & jelly sandwiches. There is a strong correlation between our gut health and our brain health. In other words, there is a direct connection between what we eat and how we feel. Foods like gluten (wheat), dairy, and sugar commonly cause your gut to become inflamed and in turn, can impact how you feel – both physically and mentally.
Weight gain can be a concern of teenagers and can contribute to anxiety and depression disorders. Weight gain is primarily caused by carbs, especially processed carbs. Believe it or not, fat-free foods are a big culprit that can really put on the pounds. Soda is a big contributor to weight gain as well. Dietary good fats like avocado, butter, and olive oil do not contribute to weight gain, contrary to what we may have grown up believing.
Teens need about 10 hours of sleep each night. Sleep helps to detox the brain. Often, teens simply need more sleep to have less anxiety and depression. It is important to build good sleep habits and get adequate sleep consistently. If you are lacking sleep consistently, you can’t really make it up by sleeping more. Once you have sacrificed that sleep, it is pretty much gone.
Here are some tips to help your teen stay healthy, both physically and mentally.
Avoid high sugar, processed foods. The brain needs the right foods, not sugar and chemicals. It needs nutrient dense foods containing vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Sugar does not fuel the body and help it grow correctly. Sugar does not help to build muscle. To build muscle you need to eat protein, vegetables, and healthy fats.
For athletes, include healthy fats in your pre-game meals. For example, add butter to your vegetables. This can help with endurance and give your muscles energy to use for a longer period of time.
To start the day off right, for breakfast try real food like scrambled eggs with sautéed spinach and a side of strawberries or a protein smoothie made with coconut milk.
Try eating 4-5 smaller meals throughout the day and don’t skip meals.
Think of your body as a sports car. With the proper fuel, it will run much better.
Make sure you’re getting enough vitamin D. Consider a supplement, especially in the winter months when you’re not getting as much vitamin D naturally from being outside in the sunshine. Many people are vitamin D deficient and don’t even know it.
For more information about the gut/brain connection, check out the book Brain Maker by Dr. David Perlmutter.