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Healthy food choices for adolescents

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Kenya has made a significant stride as it officially introduced its 1st Kenya Adolescent Health Survey and Community Handbook last Friday.

Adolescents aged between 10-19 from 44 counties were surveyed in the research conducted by the Ministry of Health’s Division of Adolescents and School Health (DASH), emphasizing the importance of prioritizing their well-being.

Adolescents need proper diet to support their physical and mental development as well as overall health.

To encourage a healthier future, it is essential to emphasize the need for appropriate nutrition in Kenya, where teenagers make up a sizeable section of the population.

In this article, we are going to explore the importance of teenage nutrition and discuss important dietary choices for Kenyan youth to have the best possible health.

The Unique Nutritional Needs of Adolescents- Physically and intellectually, adolescence is a time of fast growth and development. During this crucial time, a person’s diet is extremely important in maintaining their health in the following ways:

1. Physical Growth: To support the adolescent growth spurt, an adequate diet of macronutrients such as proteins, carbs, and healthy fats is required. These nutrients serve as the building blocks for growing organs, muscles, and bones.

2. Micronutrient Requirements: To support their developing bodies, adolescents’ nutritional needs for vitamins and minerals are higher. Iron, calcium, zinc, vitamin D, and vitamin B12 are important micronutrients to pay attention to. These vitamin deficiencies can cause problems like anemia, reduced bone health, a weaker immune system, and delayed cognitive development.

3. Cognitive Function: Academic performance and cognitive function are intimately related to proper diet. Omega-3 fatty acids, iron, and B vitamins are among the nutrients that are especially crucial for boosting memory, focus, and general cognitive capacities.

4. Hormonal Balance: Adolescent hormonal changes can affect body composition, energy expenditure, and appetite. A balanced diet supports healthy weight management and keeps hormones in check.

Dietary Considerations for Optimal Adolescent Nutrition in Kenya:

The following dietary considerations are essential for adolescents in Kenya to follow to ensure they receive adequate nutrition for the best health:

1. Balanced Meals: Encourage adolescents to consume a well-balanced diet consisting of whole grains, lean proteins (such as beans, poultry, and fish), fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. This guarantees they receive a range of important nutrients required for growth and development.

2. Iron-Rich Foods: During adolescence, iron-deficiency anemia is a frequent cause for concern. To support healthy red blood cell production, encourage the consumption of iron-rich foods like lean meats, legumes, green leafy vegetables, and fortified cereals.

3. Calcium for Strong Bones: For the best bone health, it’s important to consume enough calcium. To get calcium and support strong bones, consume dairy products, fortified plant-based milk substitutes, leafy greens, and small fish with edible bones (like sardines).

4. Vitamin D Sources: The abundance of sunshine provides an opportunity for natural vitamin D synthesis. Encourage outdoor activities to promote exposure to sunlight, which helps the body produce vitamin D. Additionally, include dietary sources like fatty fish, egg yolks, and fortified foods.

5. Hydration: Proper hydration is often overlooked but is crucial for overall health. Encourage adolescents to drink sufficient water throughout the day and limit the intake of sugary beverages.

6. Healthy Snacking: Promote nutritious snacking options like fresh fruits, nuts, seeds, yogurt, and homemade snacks to replace unhealthy processed snacks. This will help provide essential nutrients while reducing excessive intake of salt, sugar, and unhealthy fats.

7. Education and Awareness: Emphasize the importance of nutrition education for both adolescents and their parents. Schools, healthcare providers, and community organizations can play an important role in providing nutrition education, promoting healthy eating habits, and dispelling myths surrounding adolescent nutrition.

Investing in adolescent nutrition in Kenya is a pathway to nurturing a healthier and brighter future for the nation.

By addressing the unique nutritional needs of adolescents and promoting healthy eating habits, we can support physical growth, cognitive development, and overall well-being.

Through collaborative efforts between families, schools, healthcare providers, and policymakers, we can empower Kenyan youth to make informed dietary choices and lay a foundation for a healthier and prosperous tomorrow.

Lucy Chege is a registered and licensed nutritionist based in Kenya, proficient in medical nutrition therapy.

Twitter: @LucyChegeM

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