Our guide to vitamin supplements for teenagers
During your teenage years, it’s vital that your growing and changing body has all the nutrients it needs. Not getting enough nutrients through your diet may get in the way of normal, healthy development.
If you’re not sure how to get enough vitamins, or know a teenager that could do with some help, a good place to start is with the NHS Eatwell Guide. This sets out all the essentials for a healthy, varied, and balanced diet. Basic rules include:
- Getting your five-a-day i.e. eating plenty of different fruits and vegetables
- Eating wholegrain, high-fibre, starchy carbohydrates
- Opting for healthy protein sources like pulses, eggs, fish, and lean meat
- Having a bit of low-fat dairy
- Drinking plenty of water
- Cutting back on saturated fat, salt, and sugar
Following these kinds of rules should mean that you get all the nutrients you need. You can also help all the family get what they need from the foods they eat. Why not use the rules above to create family meal plans or health lunches to take to college, work or nursery.
Which vitamins are most important for teenagers?
Teenagers need all the same vitamins and minerals as everybody else. There are a few particularly important ones to have while you’re growing and going through puberty, including iron, calcium, and vitamin D.
One of the most important minerals for teenage girls is iron, especially if you have your period. Having your period means you bleed regularly, so lose iron. For most young women this will be monthly, unless you’re taking contraceptives that change your periods.
Not getting enough iron in your diet and/or having very heavy periods can lead to iron deficiency anaemia, which can cause tiredness, lack of energy, and shortness of breath. Find out what else can cause an iron deficiency here.
Iron is found in lots of foods, including red meat, beans, nuts, and dried fruit.
Calcium is vital for the healthy development of bones and teeth. During your teenage years you’ll need to make sure you’re getting enough calcium to continue growing and developing as normal. Not getting enough calcium as a child can cause rickets, so it’s an important vitamin to have in your diet.
Calcium is found in milk, cheese, and other dairy products, as well as leafy green vegetables and fish eaten whole (e.g. sardines). If you’re following a vegan diet you may want to think about how you can up your calcium intake or taking calcium supplements.
Vitamin D is pretty unique as it’s an essential nutrient our bodies can create through exposure to UV light (i.e. sunlight). It’s also found in certain foods, including oily fish.
We need vitamin D because it helps regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in our bodies – these are vital for the health of the bones, teeth, muscles, and connective tissue. For teens, not getting enough vitamin D may hamper normal development.
In the summer you should be able to get all the vitamin D you need by spending time outside in the sun. In the autumn and winter you should consider eating more vitamin D-rich foods and take vitamin D supplements containing 10 mcg of vitamin D each day.
How much Vitamin D does a teenager need?
The NHS recommends that all children and adults over the age of four take 10 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin D each day during the autumn and winter. You might need to take vitamin D year-round if you spend most of your time indoors, or if you cover up your skin when you’re out of the house.
Should teenagers take supplements?
Anyone who struggles to eat a healthy, varied, and balanced diet may benefit from taking supplements. For teenagers, it may be helpful to take iron, calcium, and vitamin D if you feel you are lacking these essential vitamins and minerals. Before you or your teenager start taking any new supplements it’s a good idea to check with your GP or a pharmacist.
What should I do if I think I have a vitamin deficiency?
If you think you have a vitamin deficiency, it’s a good idea to speak to your GP. While you wait to see a healthcare professional you can also read our blog to find out more about the symptoms.
In the case of an iron deficiency, your GP may want to prescribe special iron tablets – these contain a much higher content of iron than supplements you’d find in a pharmacy or health food shop.
In general, it’s a good idea to speak to your GP if you’re thinking about taking supplements. They’ll be able to tell you how much is safe for you to take. They may also be able to give some useful guidance about your diet, and – if necessary – refer you to a registered dietician.
Other health tips for teenagers
In addition to eating a healthy diet and taking essential supplements, it’s important for teenagers to do regular exercise. You can help teenagers find activities they enjoy by looking at local groups or school clubs. It’s a great way to boost your general health and wellbeing and meet new friends.
Activity like running, playing team sports, swimming, and dancing can also help you stay at a healthy weight. You can find more information on the Health for Teens website.