Grumpy teens need good food
Leading nutritionist Jane Clarke explains why a sound diet is good for teenagers' minds as well as their bodies...
Life is meaningless, according to many of the teenagers who took part in a poll for the Prince's Trust. Apparently, more than a quarter of 16 to 25-year-olds feel depressed some, or all, of the time.
This prompted much hand-wringing by social commentators and educationalists alike, but the findings didn't surprise me at all, not when you consider that young people's diets today are the worst they've ever been, in my opinion. No wonder their bodies are struggling with the demands of life.
You need only sit on a bus or tube during rush hour or hang around a school or college gateway to see the amount of junk food they consume - crisps, burgers, chocolate bars, and canned drinks, many containing hefty sugar and/or caffeine hits. All these foods are devoid of anything nourishing - and are hardly the best way to sustain a growing body, especially one going through such critical development stages as adolescence.
Some parents think they've done their bit by insisting their children eat their veg when they're young, but I'm afraid that's not enough. You're doing your offspring no good whatsoever by letting them think that what they put inside their body bears no relation to how they're feeling - because what they eat influences their moods just as much as their energy levels and weight.
The teenage years, when bodies undergo so many changes and a growth spurt, require a constant supply of nutrients - from calcium-rich foods such as yoghurt, milk, cheese (or soya) for bones, to good carbs such as wholegrain cereals, porridge, bread, pasta - not deep-fried chips.
Then there are the lean proteins such as chicken and fish, needed for a strong immune system, energy and a good mood. Iron is also vital for energy - lean red meat are a good source; a body lacking in iron is an unhappy, exhausted one. Moderate amounts of red meat play a positive and important part in a balanced diet. And I know everyone harps on about the importance of eating fruit and veg but it really is for a good reason - their benefits are second to none when the body is growing; they provide fibre and essential antioxidants such as vitamin C.
So often, a lack of confidence in how to cook simple evening meals leads to teenagers sitting in front of the TV with nothing more nourishing than a microwave meal or a bag of chips. It's frustrating because pasta with a ready-made sauce takes minutes to achieve, and is so easy. We need to make sure our teenagers understand how crucial it is for them to try to eat something healthy in the morning, how the simplest thing - having wholegrain cereal such as Weetabix, porridge or wholegrain toast - is going to do far more for their mood than a can of fizzy drink and crisps.
We must wise up to the fact that we, as parents, need to take responsibility for our teenagers' eating habits - not to do so is simply neglectful.