By Tomi Akanbi, MS, RD
March is National Nutrition Month. As a nutritionist at Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center, I work with teens and young adults so they can become the healthiest version of themselves. This can be hard for young people, who are bombarded with mixed messages about their health, from juice cleanses to no-carb diets to high-intensity 5-minute workouts. All that information can be overwhelming, and ultimately paralyzing. This National Nutrition Month, I want to go back to some health basics. Here are 10 healthy living tips for young people.
1. Daily Breakfast
Eating a healthy breakfast every day will give you more energy, help manage your weight, and improve your concentration. Plan out what you’ll eat the night before and get to bed early. Create a meal using carbs, lean protein, low-fat dairy, and fruits or vegetables. Grab fruit with oatmeal, whole grain cereal, or an egg omelet loaded with vegetables. In a rush? Throw a granola bar in your bag with fruit.
2. Eat Lunch
Skipping lunch can cause you to overeat at your next meal. Aim to eat a balanced lunch. Make half of your meal vegetables—French fries don’t count!—then add lean protein, and whole grains. Try a whole wheat wrap with chicken, spinach, tomato, cucumbers, and mustard, plus fruit and low-fat milk or water. Avoid packaged snacks and sugary drinks. If you want some more healthy lunch ideas, or to learn more about what skipping lunch does to your body, check out this article.
3. Healthy Snacking
Eating a small snack between meals will help maintain your energy. Try berries with yogurt, string cheese, popcorn, baby carrots, a small handful of nuts, or unsalted pretzels.
4. Sugar Free Drinks
Beverages like sweetened iced tea, non-diet soda, fruit juice, and sports drinks all contain calories without any beneficial nutrients. Stick to water, low-fat milk, unsweetened tea, flavored seltzer water, and sugar free coffee drinks to satisfy your thirst without the extra sugar or weight gain.
5. Forget Fad Diets
If a diet or supplement sounds too good to be true, it probably is. There are no products or foods that will magically burn fat. Aim to eat a healthy, balanced diet and exercise for about an hour a day. Slow weight loss of 1 to 2 pounds a week is best and will help prevent you from regaining weight later.
6. Reduce Artificial Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners like Splenda, Sweet’ N Low, Equal, and those found in diet sodas and diet juices are calorie free. However, they’ve been found to make us crave sugary foods and drinks. It is also unclear whether these sweeteners are good for you in the long term. Use small amounts of sweetener or stick to drinks without artificial sweeteners or sugar, like water.
7. Be Active for 60 Minutes a Day
Physical activity is essential for healthy living and helps build muscle, manage weight, and prevent disease. Get active by participating in gym at school, dancing, joining a sports team, going for a walk, playing basketball with friends, or joining Teen Fit here at the Center.
8. Get More Sleep
Sleep helps boost your mood, keeps you focused and alert, and supports healthy growth and development. Aim to get 8 to 10 hours of sleep a night. If you have trouble falling asleep at night, try turning off your phone and computer an hour before bed. Develop a relaxing bedtime ritual, like reading a book while sipping (caffeine-free, unsweetened) tea, or doing some stretching exercises. Exercising earlier in the day will also help you fall asleep at night.
9. Cut Back on Drinking and Smoking
The first step is making a commitment to change. If you’re concerned about how much you smoke, drink, or use drugs, work with your healthcare provider to make a plan to reduce your substance use safely and effectively. Giving up (or just reducing) substance use is challenging. Think about what will be particularly hard for you, and ask for support from friends, family, and your healthcare team to get through it. If you stumble, forgive yourself—letting go of shame will make getting back on track much less difficult!
10. Practice Mindfulness
Mindful eating means being aware of both the physical and emotional feelings connected to eating. This includes noticing when your body signals that it’s hungry, or that it’s full. It also means eating more slowly so that you can truly enjoy food. This makes it less likely that you’ll overeat, and can make you feel more satisfied from your meal. This week, try asking yourself, “Am I really hungry?” before reaching for food. If not, ask yourself why you want to eat. Is something stressing you out? Are you bored? Do you feel out of control? Take steps to deal with the emotion, such as journaling or listening to some calming music, and then see if you still want to eat.
If you want more personalized health advice and are 10-22 years old and live near NYC, come by Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center. We provide free, comprehensive, confidential health care, including personalized nutrition and fitness advice. We also provide free mental health care, because emotional health is a really important part of overall health.
Tomi Akanbi, MS, RD is the Clinical Nutrition Coordinator at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center. She holds a Master’s degree in Nutrition and Public Health from Columbia University, as well as a BA in Comparative Human Development from the University of Chicago. Tomi is passionate about improving our relationship with food and breaking down the barriers that prevent all New Yorkers from having access to affordable, nutritious food. She understands the challenges of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, but believes that balanced eating, exercise, and overall wellness can be enjoyable and attainable for all.
The Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center is located in New York City. It provides comprehensive, confidential, judgment free health care at no charge to over 10,000 young people every year. This column is not intended to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or to any other individual, only general information for education purposes only.