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Your teenage years are an important time for growth and development. A healthy, varied diet is essential to ensure that you receive all the energy and nutrients you need to feel good, stay healthy, concentrate at school, and take part in physical activities.


Whether you’re looking for reliable information to support your own diet or searching for science-based, nutritional insights - you're in the right place. 

Healthy eating tips for teenagers

Don't skip breakfast

By the time you get up in the morning, it has been a long time since you last ate, so a good breakfast will boost your energy levels.


Here are some quick breakfast ideas:

  • Wholegrain toast with low-fat spread, a glass of orange juice and a low-fat yogurt.
  • A bowl of cereal (low in fat, salt and sugars) with low-fat milk (including ‘green’ semi-skimmed milk, ‘orange’ 1% milk or ‘red’ skimmed milk), and an apple or banana
  • Porridge with chopped banana and a handful of blueberries or dried fruit
  • A boiled egg, wholegrain toast and a fruit smoothie.

Eat three meals a day

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Make sure each meal includes at least one portion of fruit or vegetables (they contain lots of vitamins and minerals) and plenty of starchy foods such as wholewheat pasta, wholemeal bread, or potatoes with their skins.


Make sure that you eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day (fresh, frozen, canned and dried all count). 

Boost your iron intake

It’s important to eat plenty of foods containing iron, especially for girls who lose iron when they have their period. Iron is important for making red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body.


Almost 50% of teenage girls do not get enough iron in their diet. 


Sources of iron include: red meat and liver; wholegrains (such as wholemeal bread); iron-fortified breakfast cereals; dark green vegetables (such as kale, watercress); beans (such as red kidney beans, chickpeas); dried fruits (such as figs, raisins) and seeds (such as sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds)

Build up your bones

As teenagers, you need high amounts of calcium because your bones are growing. At least 90% of peak bone mass is acquired by the time you reach the end of your teenage years, which makes youth the best time to 'invest' in your bone health. 


The best sources of calcium include: dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese – try to choose low-fat versions if possible; white and brown bread (as in the UK, calcium is added to flour by law); calcium-fortified dairy alternatives, such as those made from soya (particularly important if you are vegan or do not eat dairy products); calcium-fortified breakfast cereals; dark green vegetables (such as kale, rocket, and watercress); and fish that is eaten with the bones (such as whitebait, canned sardines, or canned salmon)

Drink plenty of fluids

Especially when taking part in exercise and physical activity, as the body loses water as sweat. Aim for about 6 to 8 glasses each day. The best sources of fluid include water and low-fat milk.


Unsweetened fruit juice should be limited to a small 150ml glass a day. Try to avoid too many sugars-containing drinks and energy drinks, especially between meals as they could harm your teeth.

Avoid drinking alcohol

It is illegal to buy alcohol if you are under 18 years. 


Alcohol can also have serious effects on your long-term health, including liver problems, reduced fertility, high blood pressure, increased risk of various cancers and heart attack.

As alcohol contains calories, it can cause you to put on weight, and can leave your skin looking pale, grey, and dehydrated.

Eat limited fast food

Limit how much fast food you eat.


These foods can be high in saturated fat, salt and/or sugars, which can be bad for our health when eaten in large amounts.

Make healthier snack choices

If you are hungry between meals, go for healthier snack choices such as fruit, a small handful of unsalted mixed nuts and/or seeds, low-fat yogurts, and wholemeal pitta bread with lower-fat dips.


You can find more healthy snack ideas on our page on healthier snacking.


People come in all different shapes and sizes. The media may portray one body type as ‘ideal’ depending on the latest trend. So, understanding what a ‘healthy’ weight is for you, can be confusing. 


Sarah Coe, Nutrition Scientist, British Nutrition Foundation

Being a healthy weight

You can see if you are a healthy weight by using a body mass index (BMI) calculator. This measure uses metrics such as your height, weight and gender to work out if your current weight is ‘underweight’, ‘healthy/normal’, ‘overweight’ or ‘obese’. 


Eating a healthy, varied diet and keeping active will help you maintain a healthy weight and a healthy attitude towards food!

Overweight and obesity

Being overweight or obese can affect your self-esteem and increase the risk of several health conditions including type 2 diabetes and heart disease.


If you are overweight, eating a healthy, varied diet and maintaining an active lifestyle can help you to lose weight. This will also help you feel better too as you are giving your body all the nutrients, vitamins and minerals it needs.


Although there are lots of weight-loss pills, drinks and supplements you can buy without a prescription that promise quick weight loss, most of these lack scientific evidence that they offer any benefit and some may be dangerous.


Sarah Coe, Nutrition Scientist, British Nutrition Foundation

Fad diets

If you are worried about your weight, don’t be tempted to follow one of the popular ‘fad’ or ‘crash’ diets (diets that seriously limit the amount of food you can eat or ban food groups from the diet completely). These might lead to weight loss in the short term, but these types of diets are often difficult to stick to and as soon as you start eating normally again, you are likely to put some, if not all, the weight back on. 


Some people think they can lose weight by making themselves vomit or taking laxatives. These are dangerous steps and can be signs of eating disorders. Do seek help if you think you may have an eating disorder. Speak to your GP or find out more about getting help from the UK’s eating disorder charity Beat.

Frequently asked questions

Many nutrients can affect the condition of our skin, nails and hair. But we can get all of these from a healthy, balanced diet. This will include plenty of fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, some good quality sources of protein like pulses, and fish, eggs and lean meat (if you're not vegan), some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks) and some healthy fats (these can include nuts and seeds, oily fish, unsaturated oils like olive/rapeseed oil and avocados). 


It is also good to drink plenty of fluids to help keep skin hydrated (at least 6 to 8 glasses a day) – water is an excellent choice. You may see many nutrition supplements that claim to make your hair shinier or skin glow, but we do not have enough evidence to support their benefits, particularly if you are eating a healthy diet. If you are concerned about a skin condition or hair loss, then it’s best to get this checked out by your GP.

Acne is a skin condition that is particularly common during teenage years but can continue into adulthood. Scientists disagree about the exact relationship between diet and acne. Diet is often reported in popular media as a cause of acne – with chocolate and fatty foods often mentioned. More recently some limited research suggests dairy foods and high glycaemic index foods (such as sugary foods and drinks) increase the risk of acne. For more information on high glycaemic index foods read our page on starchy foods.


At the moment, there isn’t enough evidence to say whether specific foods or diets make acne worse, but your health overall will benefit from following a healthy diet.


If you are concerned about your acne, then go to your GP or pharmacist for advice. If your acne is making you feel depressed, there is support available. Find more information on the Skin Support website.

Your teenage years are a busy time for your growing body but also often a time of poor sleep and stress. Being dehydrated can cause tiredness and a lack of concentration. In addition, many adolescent girls have low intake of iron increasing the risk of anaemia, which can leave you feeling tired.


You may look to energy drinks for an energy boost, but these are not recommended.


This is because energy drinks typically contain high levels of caffeine and free sugars (although some sugar-free varieties are now available). Daily use of energy drinks has been linked to headaches, sleeping problems, irritation and tiredness.


Extremely high consumption of caffeine has also been associated with heart complications and can have a harmful effect on the nervous system. The American Academy of Paediatrics recommends that energy drinks are not appropriate for teenagers.


Some key tips for energy:

  • Hydrate: Water is a great choice – keep a refillable bottle with you. 
  • Eat iron-rich foods: Dark green leafy vegetables and pulses, like peas, beans and lentils, nuts and seeds, fish, eggs and dried fruit, and small amounts of lean red meat.
  • Healthy breakfast: Why not try wholegrains? Quick and easy breakfasts include wholewheat toast with peanut butter or chopped banana, or porridge topped with fresh or dried fruit. Have a glass or milk or a reduced fat yogurt on the side (or a fortified dairy alternative).
  • Sleep: Teenagers need a minimum of 8 hours sleep a night. Tips for better sleep include screen-free bedrooms, screen-free time before going to sleep and finding a relaxing routine before bed that works for you.

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Please note that advice provided on our website about nutrition and health is general in nature. We do not provide any individualised advice on prevention, treatment and management for patients or their family members.