Nutrition in Adolescence
Good nutrition is a key part of adolescents’ health. “MyPlate,” from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA),1 recommends adolescents eat the following, every day*:
- Vegetables: 2 ½ cups per day (e.g., 1 cup of baby carrots, 1 small pepper, and 1 large baked sweet potato).
- Fruits: 2 cups per day (e.g., 1 cup of applesauce and 1 banana).
- Grains: 6 ounces, half of which are whole grains (e.g., 2 slices of whole wheat bread, 5 whole wheat crackers, and 3 pancakes).
- Dairy: 3 cup-equivalents** per day (e.g., 1 cup of milk, 1 cup of yogurt, and 2 cups of cottage cheese).
- Protein: 5 ½ ounces per day (e.g., 2 eggs, 1 small half chicken breast, and 12 almonds).
*Based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet. Varies based on age, sex, and level of physical activity.
**Some foods are more concentrated, contain more water, or are lighter. Cup-equivalent indicate the amount of foods in a food group that are similar in nutritional content.
USDA’s MyPlate displays how the servings of each type of food compare in Figure 1. Adolescents should consume 1,400 to 3,200 calories per day depending on age, sex, height, and level of physical activity.2
Figure 1: USDA MyPlate
The amount and type of liquid adolescents drink is another key part of good nutrition. The amount of liquids adolescents consume per day should be driven mostly by thirst,3 and depends on sex, age, temperature outside, and physical activity level.4 In general, girls should aim to drink at least 70 ounces of water per day (or about 9 glasses of water) and boys should aim to drink at least 100 ounces of water per day (or about 13 glasses of water).3 In 2005-2010, youth drank on average only 15 ounces of water per day and black and Mexican-American youth drank lower amounts of water on average.5
Water is recommended over sugar-sweetened beverages (e.g., soda, energy drinks) as sweetened beverages have calories from added sugars and do not have any good nutrients.2,6 Drinking sugar-sweetened beverages often is associated with obesity, cavities, and other poor health outcomes.7 In 2011-2014, 63 percent of adolescents said they drink a sugar-sweetened beverage on any given day.8 Drinking sugar-sweetened beverages is more common among adolescent boys, black adolescents, and those living in low-income families.8,9
Content last reviewed on August 14, 2019