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Fruits and veggies offer teens fuel for the fire

Fruits and veggies offer teens fuel for the fire
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The two most important nutrients

Your role as a parent

Recipe: Roasted chickpeas

BY JESSICA PENNER
Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, September / October 2012

The findings hardly come as a surprise.

According to the Canadian Community Health Survey, more than half of all teenagers eat less than five servings of fruit and vegetables a day. That's well under the seven or eight servings a day recommended by Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide.

What might be surprising is that the lack of fruit and vegetable consumption does not appear to be a result of poor nutritional education. Nutrition quizzes show that teens know exactly what healthy eating should look like.

Why then are teens not eating as they know they should be?

A study conducted in Minnesota by Mary Story and Michael Resnick explored the issues preventing kids from making nutritious choices. The three main reasons identified by teens themselves were: busyness, laziness, and the view that healthy eating is something they'll only need to worry about later in life.

Teens tend to feel invincible, and thinking about long-term health benefits is for people who are not invincible. Teens generally require clear, short-term benefits in order to motivate them to work proper nutrition into their schedules. In other words, they need to be shown how healthy eating can help them live their life the way they want today.

What some teenagers fail to realize is that eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can make a difference to their lives right now. This is because fruits and vegetables:

  • Provide energy. Fruits and vegetables contain many B vitamins, which are needed as co-enzymes in many energyproducing pathways. As long as the body has enough, it'll produce all the energy it needs. Adding extra won't perk teens up, but they will notice a lack of energy if they are deficient.
  • Are great sources of fibre, which can help reduce hunger pangs. This prevents overeating, which prevents obesity. An apple a day will provide five grams of fibre. The goal for fibre is 26 grams for teen females and 30 to 38 grams for teen males.
  • Are often high in Vitamin C, which can help reduce the duration of a cold. Vitamin C is abundant in citrus fruits, mangoes, red peppers, and strawberries.
  • Contain other nutrients needed for healthy hair. Beta-carotene, a precursor for Vitamin A found in bright orange fruits and vegetables, is needed to produce sebum, nature's hair conditioner.
  • Can promote radiant skin. A recent study, conducted by lead researcher Ross Whitehead at the University of St. Andrew's and involving college kids, found that increasing fruit and vegetable intake by one serving a day resulted in healthier looking skin after only six weeks. The carotenoids in brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, such as watermelon and spinach, are thought to be responsible for this outcome.

Clearly, there are important benefits to eating a healthy diet. So, if you are a teenager looking to enhance your overall health and well-being, why not try to boost your intake of fruits and vegetables? You may be surprised by the results.

Jessica Penner is a registered dietitian with the Winnipeg Health Region.

Wave: September / October 2012

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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