We are entering into exam season and you might have a stressed-out teenager on your hands. As I'm sure you remember from toddler days, what they eat can have a big impact on their mood. Here’s my tips for the foods to include in your teenager’s diet:
High quality carbs
Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of fuel, so make sure you choose good quality carbs that give you slow release energy rather than white, processed carbs that will give you an insulin spike, followed by a crash in energy. Good choices are dark grainy bread, brown rice, quinoa, oats and starchy veggies like corn, potatoes and sweet potatoes.
Protein provides the amino acids that make up the brain’s neurotransmitters. Protein can’t be stored by the body so you need to provide small amounts throughout the day (rather than one big protein based meal in the evening). Protein will help your hungry teen stay full for longer too. Protein doesn't have to mean a big slab of meat - eggs, milk and legumes all provide quality protein. You can read more about meeting your protein needs here.
Long chain fats are found in concentrated amounts in the brain and are important for optimal brain function. These fats are known as essential fatty acids as they must be provided by the diet and can’t be produced by the body. Omega 3 fatty acids are found in oily fish like salmon and sardines. They can also be found in chia seeds, linseeds and walnuts.
Dehydration shrinks the part of the brain involved in planning and problem solving. You can check that you are drinking enough water by making sure you pee is straw coloured. Any darker than that means that you are dehydrated. The best drinks for teens are water and milk. My kids like iced herbal teas too.
Fruit and veggies
Fruit and veggies are full of phytochemicals as well as vitamins and minerals. These will help with immunity, they are anti-inflammatory and protect against cell damage in the brain. Providing watery fruits and veggies (eg watermelon, cucumber, celery) can also help hydrate your teenager if they don’t drink enough water.
Fresh air and sleep
Two other health pillars, besides food, are making sure you are getting plenty of sleep and some outside exercise. A walk in the sun, a handful of nuts and some fresh fruit, and a drink of water makes a perfect study break.
Good luck to all the teenagers taking exams and to their parents caring for them!
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