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The best nutrition habits for young people

What you put in (your mouth) is what you get out

Nutrition is like a relationship. It’s all about give and take. If you put the right fuel into your body, the result will be optimum levels of mental and physical endurance, perseverance and focus – which is everything you need to give your studies your best shot. But you need to put the right fuel in regularly and consistently. In fact, so regularly that it becomes a habit. That’s when you will get the best results.

Here are seven habits that you should be including in your day-to-day menu to encourage a positive and balanced relationship with food. Just remember that these amounts are just a guideline – each person will have unique requirements for their height, weight and body mass:

  • Habit 1: Drink eight glasses of water a day.
  • Habit 2: Eat two cups of fruit and two and a half cups of veggies a day. If you are a vegetarian or prefer a plant-based diet, you need to eat more fruit and veg – especially those that are rich in iron.
  • Habit 3: Eat (or drink) one cup of calcium a day, such as low-fat yogurt, cheese or milk.
  • Habit 4: Eat protein every day, this doesn’t have to be meat, it can be legumes (such as lentils, chickpeas or beans), egg, peanut butter, and a small handful of nuts or seeds.
  • Habit 5: Eat whole grains to keep your energy levels up. As a teen, you need approximately six slices of whole grain bread, half a cup of whole grain pasta or a cup of whole grain cereal.
  • Habit 6: Make sure you have iron in your diet. It supports growth when it comes to boys, it helps girls when they are menstruating, and it is extremely important if you follow a plant-based or vegetarian diet.
  • Habit 7: Limit your fat intake. If you do include fat in your diet, aim for unsaturated fats like canola, sunflower and soybean oils.

Now that you have a good idea of what you need to include in your diet to stay healthy, here are some common myths debunked so that you can score an A on your efforts in building good nutrition habits:

Myth: If you are overweight in your teen years, you will definitely be overweight as an adult.

Fact: This is simply not true unless you overeat in general. Teens and young adults need to take in more nutrients and calories because they are growing. It is, however, very important to eat healthy food during your growing phase so that your body gets the nutrients it needs.

Myth: Fruit juices are healthy for you.

Fact: It’s true, fruits are healthy for you, but most ready-made fruit juices are packed with sugar. If you really like fruit juice, try diluting it with water. Your juice will also last longer this way. You should rather focus on drinking plain old water because it has a lot more benefits and zero sugar.

Myth: Eating nuts and seeds will make you fat.

Fact: Nuts and seeds are rich in protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals. They do include fat, but the nutritional value is far greater. Always go for the unsalted, raw nuts as a first choice.

Myth: Coffee is bad for you.

Fact: Nope! But the sugar or flavoured syrups added to the coffee are bad for you. Even though there is a lot of noise about coffee, it has many health benefits. It is rich in antioxidants. Just don’t overdo it. Aim for not more than three to four cups of coffee a day to ensure you stay within the healthy consumption of coffee.

One last tip – ‘cheats’ are essential. There is no point in depriving yourself of all treats, moderation is the name of game when it comes to those!

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