Protein needs no introduction. Most individuals already know it as a nutrient that is found in certain food sources. But what many people do not know – including teens, is the tremendous benefits proteins offer to the human body.
Proteins promote proper growth and development in children and teenagers. They are responsible for transporting ions throughout the body, they repair and replace worn out cells and protect the body from invading viruses and bacteria.
Proteins are biomolecules that are found in every cell of the body. Proteins are made up of amino acids that are connected to one another in long chains. There are twenty-two different kinds of amino acids, nine of which are essential, and thirteen of which are non-essential.
Non-essential amino acids are amino acids that our bodies can produce, while essential amino acids are molecules that cannot be made by the body. As a result, they must come from our diet.
Ensuring that children eat a protein rich diet is an important part of their growth and development. For teenagers, it is crucial that they get the right nutrition as their bodies undergo changes from adolescence to adulthood.
Adolescence is the second-fastest growth stage in life after infancy. The adolescent’s growth spurt during this period creates an increased need for many nutrients. A surge in appetite around the age of ten in girls and twelve in boys foreshadows the growth spurt of puberty. This appetite increases as they hit thirteen, to nineteen years.
Teens want to eat what they like, due to their increasing appetites. The generation Z, which encompasses all teenagers and some young adults, may want to snack all the time and eat fast foods all day. The fact that fast food is convenient, readily available, quickly served and could be taken on the go makes it the choice for a lot of teenagers.
Fast foods tend to be high in calories, fat, salt and sugar – which when consumed in excess, can be associated with obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and protein deficiency, among other health risks.
Parents and guardians need to set a good example in food and beverage choices, by guiding teens on what to eat. The obvious first step is to make healthy foods, snacks and drinks available for teens: fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, proteins, water and sugar-free drinks.
Secondly, parents can ensure that every meal has a portion of protein added to the main course. Protein is an essential part of the diet due to its critical growth functions in the body, and since teens need to grow healthy and strong, a protein rich diet is the way to go.
Soybeans, soy milk, groundnuts, cashew nuts, beans, eggs, fish, are great sources of protein, and since protein is digested more slowly than carbohydrate, it keeps teens feeling fuller for longer, providing them with a lasting energy source.
Fruits, nuts, and even African cuisines (like egusi, vegetable soups) are highly nutritious and possess great health benefits. All these are natural foods that will help teens grow optimally and boost their overall health.
Reginald Onabu, Researcher and Public Relations Officer, Writes from Lagos.