For the media

Common myths about teen nutrition

By The Health News Team | November 4, 2022
Young people eating pizza

Teens are often bombarded with confusing messages about nutrition. As they get older and gain more independence, it’s important to provide them with knowledge to make healthy food choices.

“A teen’s nutrition habits are not only affecting their day-to-day lives in the present moment,” says Holly Moyer, a Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group registered dietitian nutritionist. “They are setting the foundation for how they will look, how they will feel, and furthermore establishing their freedom from chronic disease in their adult lives."

Here, Moyer debunks five common myths about teens and nutrition:

Myth #1: Carbohydrates cause weight gain.

Carbohydrates are essential for energy production in the body. Carbohydrates are the body's preferred source of fuel and should compose 45% to 65% of our daily caloric intake.

Eating too many calories — especially in the form of processed foods high in sugar and fat — combined with a sedentary lifestyle are the main contributors to weight gain — not eating carbohydrates.

Myth #2: Eating a low-fat diet is healthy for weight management.

Everyone — especially teens — needs a certain amount of fat per day to create hormones, allow the body to absorb vital nutrients, keep the body warm and insulated, provide energy and protect internal organs.

Fat consumption should comprise about 30% to 35% of total daily calories, with saturated fat making up less than 10% of total caloric intake. For optimal health, teens should focus on increasing their intake of omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in salmon, sardines, avocados and nuts.

Myth #3: All supplements are safe.

Supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so any company can market supplements for the sole purpose of making a profit. Pay close attention to the ingredient list when purchasing supplements for your teen and do your own research about the risks versus the benefit of taking them.

It's important to check with a dietitian if you are unsure about certain ingredients in a supplement to ensure its safety and efficacy.

Myth #4: All protein powders are created equally.

There are many protein powders on the market, which can be useful for a teen, especially a teen athlete. Adding protein powder to your teen’s diet is a way to ensure that they’re consuming enough protein for their sport. However, protein powders are also not regulated by the FDA, so it's important to be mindful of the ingredients.

Look for the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) Certified for Sport label on the package to ensure the product has undergone third-party testing for quality and purity. Many protein powders contain heavy metals and sometimes have steroids in them, which can be harmful to a teen’s health. As always, check with a dietitian if you are unsure about purchasing a protein powder for your teen athlete.

Myth #5: You must work out every day and eat “clean” to be healthy.

Over-exercising and eating less calories than needed to provide energy for a teen’s daily activities, including sports, will cause more harm than good. This can lead to eating disorders, poor body image, chronic stress and being underweight.

In the long term, it is important to find balance in life. Learning a new hobby, spending more time outside, laughing with friends and practicing mindfulness all increase our quality of life. These can also help:

  • Lower blood pressure

  • Improve stress resilience

  • Improve blood-sugar regulation

  • Improve digestion

  • Improve mood

  • Reduce anxiety

  • Reduce risk of stroke and heart disease

Parents should watch for red flags surrounding teen eating habits, Moyer says. Avoiding social gatherings due to eating habits and restricting calories, binge eating or having obsessive thoughts of food are all signs you may want to reach out to a health professional for guidance. Talk with your child’s pediatrician about any concerns and together, you can get your teen the help they need.

Learn more about nutrition; get the latest health and wellness news, trends and patient stories from Sharp Health News.

You might also like:

Get the best of Sharp Health News in your inbox

Our weekly email brings you the latest health tips, recipes and stories.