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Is poor diet behind the teenage mental health crisis?

Young people are eating more saturated fats or trying more fad diets
The extremes are driving physical and mental health issues globally
Leading nutritionist Fiona Hunter breaks down the deficiencies and explains how young people can fight depression or anxiety with diet
By Fiona Hunter For


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Fiona Hunter, one of the UK’s leading nutritionists, takes a look at the possible correlation between the emerging mental health crisis in teenagers and how this could be linked to the lack of vital vitamins and minerals in teenagers.

This week, the research found that young people aged 16 to 25 are the unhappiest generation in a decade, with one in four feeling ‘hopeless’ on a regular basis, and nearly half have experienced a mental health problem.

Eating a healthy balanced diet is not usually high up on the ‘to-do’ list for most teenagers and young adults – one reason is that they feel invincible, things like heart disease and cancer are problems that ‘old’ people need to worry about.

They feel fit and healthy and have plenty of energy so why do they worry about what they eat?


What they don’t know is that the seeds of many of the diseases that people suffer from later in life are sown early in life.

It’s not common for teens to prioritize vitamins and minerals – but a nutritionist warns it could be crucial for their mental health +1
It’s not common for teens to prioritize vitamins and minerals – but a nutritionist warns it could be crucial for their mental health

Indeed, autopsies carried out on soldiers, fit young men, who died in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, found that one in 12 showed early signs of heart disease.

Even young wellness warriors aren’t guaranteed to get all the nutrients they need from their diet – in fact many experts warn that they may have an even greater risk of deficiency because of their restrictive diets.

But do they realize what it’s doing to their mental health?

Recently published findings from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) revealed that many teenagers have shockingly low levels of several key vitamins and minerals, which say, experts, may be linked with the rise in mental health problems but it also means they are storing up all sorts of health problems for later in life.

‘As the Princes Trust report highlights, emotional wellbeing is made up of a number of different factors,’ Dr Jen Nash, a clinical psychologist who specializes in food behaviour and founder of Eating Blueprint, says.

‘The decrease in balanced nutrition shown on the NDNS report can only serve to influence the rise in emotional instability, given that the brain, moods and cognition are influenced by dietary factors.

‘Nutritional intake is a factor that parents have little control of outside the home, so if we can do our best to ensure our teenagers are achieving a wide range of vitamins and minerals when they are at home, all the better.

‘Schools and colleges also have an important role to play to ensure choices available are led by nutritional needs of growing bodies and minds.’

Here, I explain the issues driving poor diet and mental health, and how to get around it.


Sugary cocktails are a GOOD idea… but only at the start of…

You DON¿T have to drink 8 glasses of water a day! 5…
Teenagers simply not getting enough of what they need

One of the most shocking findings from the NDNS was the fact that only eight percent of young people aged between 11-18 ate the recommended five or more portions of fruit and or veg – with the average intake being a meagre 2.8 portions a day.

Given the lack of fruit and veg that young people are eating it’s no surprise that NDNS also found that key nutrients found in fruit and vegs like the B vitamin folate and the minerals magnesium and potassium were also low. Almost in one in three girls (28 percent) aged between 11-18 had levels of folate in their red blood cells which is indicative of a long-term deficiency of folate.

Low levels of folate and omega-3 fats, also known to be lacking in teenagers diet have also been liked with depression and other mental health problems.

Another real cause for concern is the number of young people who fail to get enough calcium in their diet.

Calcium is particularly important for children, teenagers and young adults because their bones are still growing and this is when calcium is laid down in the bones – the more calcium that is deposited in the bones while they are growing the lower the risk of osteoporosis later in life.

Osteoporosis affects one in two women and one in five men over the age of 50 in the UK but the window of opportunity of reducing the risk later in life is while the bones are still growing.

We can’t just blame sugar and obesity

The results of the NDNS make scary reading because it suggests that teenagers represent a ticking time bomb for health problems.

The scary thing is that its not simply one or two vitamins that they are missing out on it’s a whole host and this nutrient gap has been largely ignored as we focus on things like sugar, and obesity, which of course are important but we need to remember that they are only part of the picture.

In the 11-18 age group intakes of several vitamins and minerals were shockingly low, the NDNS revealed.

Almost one in three (28 percent) of girls and 15 percent of boys had low levels of folate
16 percent of children had low levels of Vitamin A
One in four girls had low levels of riboflavin (vitamin B2)
Nearly one in two girls (48 percent) of girls had low levels of iron
19 percent of girls and 12 percent of boys had low intake of calcium
48 percent of girls and 27 percent of boys had a low intake of magnesium
44 percent of girls and 23 percent of boys had a low intake of selenium
22 percent of girls and 17 percent of boys had a low intake of zinc
33 percent of girls and 15 percent of boys had a low intake of potassium
10 percent of girls and 15 percent of boys had a low intake of iodine
Folate – good sources include broccoli, spinach, asparagus, chicken peas, peas, fortified breakfast cereals

Vitamin B2 – good sources include milk, dairy, eggs, fortified breakfast cereals

Iron – good sources include red meat, beans and pulses, dried fruit fortified, breakfast cereals

Calcium – good sources include milk and dairy products, almonds, broccoli

Magnesium – good sources include green leafy vegetables, nuts, wholemeal bread, brown rice

Selenium – good sources include brazil nuts, fish, meat and eggs

Zinc – good sources include meat, shellfish, cheese, wheat germ

Potassium – good sources include fruit and vegetables, pulses, nuts and seeds

Iodine – good sources include sea fish and shellfish

How can young people eat better?

1. Don’t use snacks as substitutes for proper meals

Teenagers and young adults are a generation of grazers but it can be hard to get all the nutrients you need if you’re only eating snacks. Many snacks are high in fat, sugar and salt and short on vitamins, minerals and fibre so if you are going to snack then be snack smart – choose snacks that are fortified with and make a positive contribution to your diet.

2. Plan ahead

Teenagers tend not to be good at thinking ahead and in terms of food this means that they often end up eating on the hoof, grabbing whatever available at the time – this can be expensive and not very healthy, so plan ahead and pack a healthy snack before you leave the house

3. Don’t eat alone

If you have teenagers it important to try and set them down and eat together as a family at least a couple of times a week. Family meal provides an opportunity to talk and studies show that children who regularly eat with their families are more likely to have a healthier diet and have a higher intake of key vitamins and minerals.

4. Don’t eat the same foods every day

Variety may be the spice of life but it’s also the key to a healthy diet but its many young people get stuck a food rut eating the same few foods in a loop.

5. Don’t believe everything you read online

The internet can be a good source for learning about diet and nutrition but there’s also rubbish on line – often written by a well-meaning individual but people don’t have the appropriate qualifications or experience to give advice on nutrition

6. Don’t follow to fads

It’s easy to be lured into the latest diet fad – claims made by the disciples of fads like clean eating, alkaline diets, Paleo diets all sound appealing but there’s no science to support the promised they make and they can increase the risk of deficiencies

7. Do some research

It’s OK to be vegan or vegetarian, in fact, plant-based diets offer a number of health benefits, but you have to make sure you replace the nutrients you would be getting from foods like dairy and meat with other foods rich in these nutrients. Both the Vegetarian Society and the Vegan Society have very good websites which will help you make sure your diet contains everything it should

8. Take a multivitamin and mineral

Think of it as an insurance policy – of course its better to get vitamins and minerals from your food but in certain situations and at certain times of your life it’s not always possible and as we understand more about diet and the nutritional gaps manufacturers have developed a range of products that will support teenagers from vitamins sprays, e.g. Healthspan Vitamin D3/B12 range of sprays to Gummy Multivitamins and fortified foods.

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Thinking about the positive outcomes of weight loss helps


To lose weight, one needs to change things, there is a cost to everything, as the saying goes” there is no such thing as free lunch. We need to think about the benefits arising out of weight loss.

Some of which could be the following:

a) A drop in dress size,

b) The looking-younger effect

c) and most of all the health benefits.

The advantages certainly outweigh the disadvantages.

To begin with, it would be beneficial to keep a food diary. This would help you to make a healthier selection of food and snacks.Your best bet would be to compile a list of food and drinks you have throughout the day.

Some tips to help you.

You need to take in less energy and burn more energy. There is the need to keep a balance.

If you eat more than you burn, then the excess would certainly be stored in the form of fat.

So, 1. getting a healthy balance is crucial

2.Cutting down on portion sizes

3. Keeping a regular eating pattern ( three regular meals a day)

Remember that diets that promise a quick fix are not sustainable, resulting in a return to the old you.

Fab diets could be identified when they promise  for example ;

1.A quick solution

2.When they suggest that certain food ” burn fat faster”

3.When they promote the eating of just one or two foods only.

4. When they have rules about how to eat, such as certain times a day.

5. When  they sound too good to be true



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Watch how much you are drinking

1 Try having alcohol free days weekly, at least two days when you don’t touch alcohol. Avoid binge drinking, as large amounts of alcohol in one go, can damage your body.

Drinking more than the recommended limits can have a harmful effect on your heart.

  1. It can cause abnormal heart rhythms
  2. Cause high blood pressure
  3. Damage your heart muscles

Alcohol is packed with high energy (calorie) content so it is important to consider your intake if you are on a weight loss programme.


  1. One single pub measure of spirit
  2. 1/2 a pint of lager, cider, or beer (3.5% ABV)
  3. 1 small glass of wine 10% ABV
  4. 1 small glass of liqueur, sherry, or fortified wine.

MEN  should not regularly drink more than 3 -4 units of alcohol in a day

   WOMEN   should not regularly drink more than 2-3 units of alcohol in a day


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6 ways to avoid snacking too much.

  1. Get yourself a portion of  snack food and put the rest away
  2. If you feel hungry have a glass of water, the water will fill you up before you snack
  3. Don’t watch tv whilst you are eating, you might well be eating too much.
  4. Have regular meals;-Breakfast, lunch, dinner
  5. Have a fruit in your bag and have it if you feel like a snack
  6. Shop after you have had something to eat, so you don’t feel for food.
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Tips to reduce your portion sizes

  1. Try putting snacks away where you wouldn’t see them
  2.  Eat from a smaller plate
  3. Check if you need to share  some, look for the number of servings
  4. You don’t have to finish everything off on your plate. Leftovers could be put away in the fridge
  5. Eat slowly, do not rush
  6. Think about how much you have had in the day. If you have had a big lunch, balance things up by having a smaller dinner.
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Cutting down on your salt intake

Eating too much salt can increase your risk of high blood pressure which ultimately increases your chances of coronary heart diseases. The recommended amount of salt for adults is 6g. a day-equivalent to a teaspoon full.

Remember that all types of salt count including sea salt, flakes, crystals and garlic salt.Most of the salt we eat in ‘hidden’ in foods. Foods high in salt include soups, sauces, cheese, savoury snacks, biscuits, pizza, ready-made meals and fast foods. There can also be salt in everyday foods like bread and breakfast cereals. It is important to check food labels to see how much salt there is in the food before buying.

It is the sodium in salt that contributes to high blood pressure. To convert sodium into salt you need to multiply the number by 2.5. SALT= (sodium) x 2.5

The notion that food without salt has no flavour is mistaken. Adding fresh herbs will give colour and flavour, So also does dried herbs and spices. You could use other flavourings too, like lemon, garlic, ginger, chilli, or ground black pepper. Try and avoid mixed seasonings as many include a lot of salt.

A few tips to help you;

1.Reduce your salt intake gradually, so you are less likely to notice the difference

2.Try alternative salts

3. Don’t add salt to food already cooked

4. Choose foods labelled ”no added salt”

5 Swap saltier foods, like bacon, cheese, take away ready meals

6.Experiment with herbs and spices

7. Add less salt when cooking

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Why 1/3 of the food you eat should be fruit and vegetables

Research has shown that those who eat more than five portions of fruit and vegetables a day have a lower risk of developing heart diseases.

Fruit and veg contain a variety of vitamins and minerals which is required by the body to keep healthy.
Choose a variety of fruit and veg, because each one of them has their exclusive nutrients.

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Nine important tips on cutting down the amount of fat we eat.

We are all aware that too much fat, especially saturated fat is not good for us, yet many of us unknowingly eat fat ‘indirectly’. The kind of food we eat has a significant bearing on what goes into our bodies.
So, the thing is what are we eating that would constitute taking unwanted fat into our bodies. The following might help us on the choices we make. Moderation is the watchword in almost everything.

1. Eating less of the following helps

2. Choose semi-skimmed or skimmed milk

3. Choose low fat (Greek) Yoghourt and cheese

4. Choose lean meat, could be more expensive, yet a lot healthy (penny wise ….)

5.Remove skin or cut off the fat from chicken or meat

6.Bake, boil, steam, poach or microwave- avoid frying

7. Measure your oil with a spoon, don’t just pour it out

8.Use non-stick pans, and roasting trays

9. Spoon off fats and oils from casaroles and curries.

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What you need to know about a healthy breakfast

Breakfast is by far the most important meal of the day. Whatever you do don’t skip breakfast.
Here are some pointers;
1. If you are not used to breakfast, try a pot of low-fat yoghurt(Greek type) with a glass of pure fruit juice or a fruit. Perhaps a slice of toast with peanut butter is good.

2. If you fancy a fry-up, try grilling your bacon and sausages, with poached eggs instead of frying. You might want to add mushrooms. If you are having baked beans, opt for the low sugar reduced salt.
Just remember bacon is high in saturated fat and salt.Saturated fat might raise your cholesterol levels

3.If you feel you have no time for breakfast or if you feel its too early, take a bowl and a box of wholegrain cereal into work.
Finally, keep a fruit that can fit into your bag, so if you feel like snacking, have the fruit instead.


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Did you know that weight loss could result in a simple lifestyle change

Many of us would love to be a stone or two lighter for various reasons. Could be so they could fit into a smaller size dress or could also be for health reasons. A simple lifestyle change could do the trick.
The fact of the matter is, if we carry too much weight, it is not good for the heart.
We can liken it to a vehicle carrying too much load. Obviously, it will tell on the structure sooner or later.

I am going to introduce five (5) simple steps which when taken could result in ‘natural’ effortless and stress- free weight loss.
Firstly: there is the need to keep fit, this is essential for any weight loss programme. And I would like to add that any weight loss regimen which has not factored into an activity programme is bound to fail. If it works at all, it will not be sustainable and would result in people having ‘yoyo’ weight loss. Losing it very quickly, but only to put it all back on again.

My advice would be to sign up to a gym, that way you have company, you get to meet others with the same aim as you. Seeing others do it compels you to go on as well. I find that sometime when I have someone next to me working on a machine; it urges me to continue rather than giving up. It actually is a motivating factor. You have company, and irrespective of your age, you are bound to find other your age group.

Second:, watch what you eat, be aware of the calories you consume. Opt for lighter alternatives to the same food. Don’t forget to check food labels, mind you some supposing lighter foods might have far too much salt or too much sugar in them.
Step three; find out what best works for you or what suits you better. If you are not comfortable with it, chances are it would never work. Choose an arrangement that is sustainable, even it takes a much longer time to achieve your goals. It should fit into your day to day life. Some people prefer to count calories, whilst others will lower their calorie intake certain days in the week. This obviously means making lifestyle changes. Someone I know only had a beer on weekends, totally dry weekdays, as well as reducing the quantity he drinks. Others have ‘no carbs after 5 pm’ policy which works for them.
Step four; set targets and take things a step at a time, don’t rush but be persistent. It took a friend of mine a year to lose one stone, but you know what, that stone is gone forever because he has changed his lifestyle.
Knowing your BMI ( Body Mass Index) which is a measurement of your weight in relation to your height. Our website www.youhave has a calculator for BMI. Knowing your BMI would allow setting targets. Breaking them down into smaller goals is most effective. It might take longer, but it certainly took a long time to gain the weight in any case.
Finally, step five; finding out how you got yourself into carrying too much weight is important. You must have been doing some things wrong. Do you have a craving, could be anything from chocolate, to biscuits or alcohol? The thing is complete denial would not work. Moderation is the watchword; healthy choices are not the easiest thing to do. Eating out usually means larger portions, if you tend to eat out a lot, then that needs to be reduced. Let’s face it, when we eat out, we also tend to have a couple of glasses of wine or beer. Then comes desserts, with their humongous calories. There is nothing like home cooking, and cooking from scratch. Then one would ask, what is life then if you cannot enjoy the few good things in it. Absolutely, but what we are saying is, enjoy it, but be wise about it. Don’t go mad else you will pay for it. Everything comes with a price tag. ‘There is nothing like free lunch’ as the saying goes.

In conclusion would I would advice is to stay active, even in your home. A bit of gardening here and there all helps. Eat a balanced diet in smaller portions and involve your spouse or your partner. They would be your support when temptations rear their ugly head.

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Cleansing diets, make this a ‘A New You’

Cleansing Diets, which others call detoxing aims to remove excess tissue acidity, which could be the result of consuming too much protein. The build-up of such acidity can cause damage to tissue and joints.

Cleansing, therefore, aims to correct this situation by introducing cell respiration and oxygenation. This also results in decongesting the liver and discharge toxic waste.

So what constitutes cleansing diets. A diet mainly of fruit and vegetables allowing its alkaline effect to neutralise the excess acidity produced by too much protein foods. Protein foods are mostly meat, fish, and other high-level vegetables.