To Eat or Not To Eat: How Nutrition Affects Adolescent Development

By Faith Inello, Staff Writer. Image from Cryomed Boston’s Site.

With the holidays coming up, it’s easy to fall into a habit of eating lots of holiday treats or skipping meals to get all of your work done. As teenagers, we are not always conscious of our eating habits, and sometimes we don’t pay attention to how what we eat makes us feel. For many of us, we may not even know what is healthy for our specific bodies!

Last month, I interviewed Daniela Winston, CEO of Cryomed Boston, to learn about the ways in which nutrition affects our brains and bodies. Read below to find the answers to some important questions I had about food and healthy eating habits!

How does technology affect the physical eating process?

Winston: I see a lot of people, teens, and adults, that look at their screens while they eat; this is very bad from a medical standpoint.

In the process of digestion, digestion starts in our mouth. And if you don’t pay attention to what you eat, if you don’t pay attention to the colors of the food, and you don’t enjoy the food because your mind is on the screen and that’s what you’re concentrating on, you are already affecting the process of digestion, before the food even enters the gastrointestinal track.

How does social media affect teenage eating habits?

Winston: Teens today think that there has to be a certain diet that needs to be followed. With social media and with so much interaction amongst people that post different things on social media, people get very confused as to what’s good and what’s not.

Some of the people posting these things obviously have no qualifications for giving you advice on how and what you should be eating. Overall, we’re just following too many trends as a whole, as a society. We’re trying too many things that seem right, but we are just not eating as healthy and nutritious as we need to do.

How do we address this generation of teens who are growing up with too much/the wrong information when it comes to their diets?

Winston: I would introduce some sort of biology and nutrition class for people to understand why is this important. People don’t understand how important nutrients and vitamins are for your body. There’s a misconception that vitamins are something that you don’t feel and don’t necessarily taste, and that they’re not important in one’s overall life. The truth is that every single cell in our body is actually living off the nutrients that are coming in. Vitamins are probably one of the most important things that you could bring into your body, ones from eating organic, whole foods. It would be nice for teens to learn about the why they should be eating healthier. Number two, I think people should learn how to eat healthier, and this is by cooking their meals. It’s very, very easy to cook if you know what is healthy, and what would you need to eat in order for you to nourish your body.

I hear this a lot. I hear that it’s very, very difficult to be healthy. And that’s not true. People don’t know how to be healthy, they don’t know what’s important for the body, and that’s why it’s confusing. I would say school systems should adjust and maybe do a better job of giving you guys some sort of education on nutrition.

What qualifies a seemingly healthy meal as an unhealthy one?

Winston: I ask people, “what do you eat?” They say, “Oh, I eat very healthy.”

And their diet consists of something that in their mind is healthy, but it truly isn’t so. If you tell me, “Oh, I eat chips and guacamole.” Yes, guacamole is healthy, but the chips are still processed food, and the guacamole is also probably processed. So we have that misnomer and misconception that when you have one healthy thing on your plate, the whole meal is healthy.

How much and how often should teens be eating a day?

Winston: It’s technically not necessarily unhealthy for adults to skip meals during the day, but, I would certainly not recommend doing that to a teenage body, because that body is utilizing much more nutrients because because the body is developing and growing in adolescence; it absolutely needs to be nourished accordingly for that pace. Intermittent fasting can have very beneficial results, but I would not recommend this sort of approach to teenagers. The body is developing and growing in adolescence; it absolutely needs to be nourished accordingly for that pace. Teens should be eating three meals a day at regular hours, morning, noon, and early evening. I personally don’t think that anyone should have anything to eat after what, say, eight o’clock at night, even as a teenager. You know the body needs a few hours before it goes to bed to unwind and then do what it’s supposed to do at night, which is rejuvenate. Late night snacking can actually be detrimental to the body’s function.

During the night, a lot of the growth hormone is released. That’s when the cells that were affected by exercise, pollution, radiation, during the day, the body trying to repair it. Because the growth hormone is released, and if you present the body with a lot of glucose, at that time, there can be a lot of this storage of this unused energy in the adipose tissue as fat, so it is not healthy to eat that late at night.

How does sugar affect adolescent health and nutrition?

Winston: The amount of sugar that you teens eat is outrageous! Glucose very quickly satisfies your hunger for a short period of time. And then when you’ve burnt the glucose, and your body’s hungry again, and then you reach for something else that’s unhealthy. It’s a vicious cycle, like a snowball effect, where you eat a little bit of sugar that stimulates a lot of hormones in your body, and it derails. It creates insulin spikes, and then you’re craving even more and more of these bad foods. It’s a quick fix, with long term consequences. Teens should realize that in order for you not to get hungry as fast during the day, you should eat a very balanced amount of proteins, carbohydrates, fat, and natural sugars. And to achieve that you need to have a lot of vegetables on your plate, in addition to grains, proteins, and healthy fats. On the other hand, consuming natural sugars in moderation is perfectly okay. The body can process a natural, freshly squeezed orange juice because that’s a different sugar molecule that comes into your body, and your body’s supposed to be able to handle it without creating significant insulin spikes.

What foods increase focus?

Winston: There are no particular groups that increase focus, but certain foods contain vitamins that could have a biochemical impact when eating healthy regularly. Any leafy greens contain a lot of vitamin B, like organic lettuces, broccoli, cauliflower, kale; all these increase focus because it contains so many nutrients. Our brains also love to utilize good fats. Eating something healthy with an avocado, coconut oil, or coconut butter could be very beneficial for focus.

What foods are good to eat before a sports game?

Winston: I don’t advise to eat right before the game again, because then digestion has no time to occur, but eating at least two to three hours prior to participating in physical activities is perfectly fine. I am a big proponent of balanced nutrition; one can eat everything in moderation! A balanced meal is one with vegetables and fruits on your plate, some sort of animal or plant-based protein, and some carbs and fats.

I am actually completely against Gatorade and all these protein bars that are sold today. Many people are drawn to the amount of protein in these snacks and bars, but our intestine is not equipped to process 27 grams of protein at once! Our bodies cannot even process that much protein! The protein comes right through you, and you’re left dealing with the sugars that come along with all that protein, because those bars contain ridiculous amounts of sugar as well.

How does food affect the immune system?

Winston: Of course. Fruits and vegetables are very important for the immune system because that’s how we absorb our nutrients to support the immune system. Things like fatty fish, nuts, tofu, and eggs are also good for the immune system because it is very important to absorb omega threes and omega sixes into our bodies. This promotes brain development and overall health!”

What are the cultural implications of eating habits?

Winston: In different countries it’s a little bit different. In America, for some reason there are two types of foods. There’s adult food and there’s children’s food. I was born and raised in Russia, and we never had that. There was no differentiation between what you ate based on your age. In Europe, everybody eats the same, but in America, we give children choices since they’re very little of eating alternatives to ‘adult food’ that are very unhealthy. Adults have a tremendous impact on children in regard to nutrition in this way. School cafeterias are left dealing with the conseQuestionuences of that, and they can’t radically change the system because kids would not eat anything. Healthy eating should take place inside and outside of the home. It should start in school cafeteria, which is why it is so great that your school offers salad and fruit options daily!

Working daily to better our eating habits and put the right nutrients into our body will cause our health to increase exponentially! Eating right is vital for a wide range of functions in your body, and it may not actually be as hard or time consuming to eat healthy as it may seem.

As we go into this holiday season, we should also reflect on the fact that we live in a developed nation where we have an overabundance of food, and relatively easy access to it. We are so lucky to go to a school everyday where we know that we will be able to have a nutritious lunch; not every teen can say the same!

Start small, start now; eating healthy is the next step towards success in both health and life!

Many thanks to Dr. Daniela Winston for educating me on this! All of the information in this article came from my interview with her and the CRYOMED Boston Website. If you are interested in learning more about her work, check out her bio by clicking here.