Healthy eating for teens
As a teenager, your body is going through many physical changes – changes that need to be supported by a healthy, balanced diet.
By eating a varied and balanced diet as shown in the Eatwell Guide, you should be able to get all the energy and nutrients you need from the food and drink you consume, allowing your body to grow and develop properly. Some important nutrients to be aware of are:
Eating healthily doesn’t have to mean giving up your favourite foods. It simply means eating a variety of foods and cutting down on food and drinks high in fat and sugar, such as sugary fizzy drinks, crisps, cakes and chocolate. These foods should be eaten less often and in smaller amounts.
If you’re watching your weight, a healthy, balanced diet is the way to go. Dieting, skipping breakfast or starving yourself don’t work.
Get your 5 A Day
Fruit and vegetables are good sources of many of the vitamins and minerals your body needs during your teenage years. Aim to eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and veg a day. Find out what counts as 5 A DAY.
Healthier snack ideas
Cut down on food and drinks high in fat, sugar and salt, such as sweets, chocolate bars, cakes, biscuits, sugary fizzy drinks and crisps, which are high in calories (energy). Consuming too many calories can lead to weight gain and becoming overweight. Get tips on eating less sugar, fat and salt.
Aim to drink six to eight glasses of fluids a day – water and lower-fat milk are all healthy choices.
Even unsweetened fruit juice is sugary. Your combined total of drinks from fruit juice, vegetable juice and smoothies should not be more than 150ml a day – which is a small glass.
For example, if you have 150ml of orange juice and 150ml smoothie in one day, you’ll have exceeded the recommendation by 150ml.
If you often feel run down, you may be low on iron. Teenage girls are especially at risk because they lose iron during their period. Try to get your iron from a variety of foods. Some good sources are red meat, breakfast cereals fortified with iron, and bread. Find out more in iron deficiency.
Diets that promise quick weight loss are often not nutritionally balanced, meaning you could miss out on important vitamins and minerals. They also tend to focus on short-term results, so you end up putting the weight back on. Get tips on losing weight the healthy way.
Does eating make you feel anxious, guilty or upset? An eating disorder is serious and is not something you should deal with on your own. Talk about it with someone you trust. Learn more in eating disorders explained.
Acne most commonly develops on the:
- face – this affects almost everyone with acne
- back – this affects more than half of people with acne
- chest – this affects about 15% of people with acne
Types of spots
There are six main types of spot caused by acne:
- blackheads – small black or yellowish bumps that develop on the skin; they’re not filled with dirt, but are black because the inner lining of the hair follicle produces pigmentation (colouring)
- whiteheads – have a similar appearance to blackheads, but may be firmer and won’t empty when squeezed
- papules – small red bumps that may feel tender or sore
- pustules – similar to papules, but have a white tip in the centre, caused by a build-up of pus
- nodules – large hard lumps that build up beneath the surface of the skin and can be painful
- cysts – the most severe type of spot caused by acne; they’re large pus-filled lumps that look similar to boils and carry the greatest risk of causing permanent scarring
What can I do if I have acne?
The self-help techniques below may be useful:
- Don’t wash affected areas of skin more than twice a day. Frequent washing can irritate the skin and make symptoms worse
- Wash the affected area with a mild soap or cleanser and lukewarm water. Very hot or cold water can make acne worse
- Don’t try to “clean out” blackheads or squeeze spots. This can make them worse and cause permanent scarring
- Avoid using too much make-up and cosmetics. Use water-based products that are described as non-comedogenic (this means the product is less likely to block the pores in your skin)
- Completely remove make-up before going to bed
- If dry skin is a problem, use a fragrance-free, water-based emollient
- Regular exercise can’t improve your acne, but it can boost your mood and improve your self-esteem. Shower as soon as possible once you finish exercising, as sweat can irritate your acne
- Wash your hair regularly and try to avoid letting your hair fall across your face.
Although acne can’t be cured, it can be controlled with treatment. Several creams, lotions and gels for treating spots are available at pharmacies.
If you develop acne it’s a good idea to speak to your pharmacist for advice. Products containing a low concentration of benzoyl peroxide may be recommended – but be careful, as this can bleach clothing.
If your acne is severe or appears on your chest and back, it may need to be treated with antibiotics or stronger creams that are only available on prescription.
When to seek medical advice
Even mild cases of acne can cause distress. If your acne is making you feel very unhappy or you can’t control your spots with over-the-counter medication, see your GP.
Also see your GP if you develop nodules or cysts, as they need to be treated properly to avoid scarring. Try to resist the temptation to pick or squeeze the spots as this can lead to permanent scarring.
Treatments can take up to three months to work, so don’t expect results overnight. Once they do start to work, the results are usually good.
What happens to young smokers?
Effects of smoking at age 20
Nobody smokes their first fag thinking they’ll be a smoker, but if you’re experimenting it’s easy to become hooked. Most adult smokers start in their teens and half of them will be killed by their habit (on average, they’ll pay nearly £2,000 a year for the privilege).
Right now, smoking means that you’re becoming unfit, you’re getting tiny wrinkles all round your mouth and you’re losing lots of cash. If your boyfriend smokes too, sex probably doesn’t feel as good as it could: cigarettes affect his erections and your sensitivity.
Smoking and your looks at 30
Still puffing? Shame. As a smoker you’re now looking older than your years. Your skin, which has been starved of oxygen, is grey and lined. Your teeth are stained and your hair is dull and smelly. If that’s not enough, all the smoke toxins in your body have given you cellulite.
When you want to have kids, things will be trickier for you than for non-smokers: female smokers reduce their fertility and increase their chances of miscarriage, cervical cancer and complications during pregnancy and delivery. Smokers’ babies are also more at risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Higher risk of lung cancer at 40-plus
The length of time that you’ve smoked is important. If you’ve smoked 20 a day for 40 years, your risk of lung cancer is about eight times more than if you’ve smoked 40 a day for 20 years.
Are you ready for sex?
There are no rules about how long you have to be going out with someone before you have sex. Being ready happens at different times for everyone – don’t decide to have sex just because your friends or partner are pressuring you.
Please click on the links below which take you to the NHS Choices website to find out more:
- Sex and the law
- It’s your decision
- How to talk about sex
- The questions to ask yourself about sex
- How do I bring up the subject of safer sex?
- Lesbian, gay or bisexual sex
- Reading the signs they want sex
- Alcohol won’t help
Girls’ bodies Q&A
- At what age do you go through puberty?
- Is discharge from the vagina normal?
- My discharge smells. Is that normal?
- When should you start your periods?
- What should you use when your period starts?
- Is my period normal?
- What if my period is late?
- Are my breasts too small?
- How do I know if I have breast cancer?
- When do I have to have a cervical screening test?
- What is the hymen?
- Do you put on weight when you’re on the Pill?
- Can you get pregnant if you have sex during your period?
- What is the clitoris?
Boys’ bodies Q&A
- What age do you go through puberty?
- What’s the average penis size?
- What is circumcision?
- I have spots on my penis and it itches. Is this normal?
- Is it normal for my penis to smell fishy and have white bits behind the tip?
- What is sperm?
- Is it normal to get an erection when you wake up in the morning?
- Is it normal for one testicle to hang lower than the other?
- How do I know if I have testicular cancer?
- What is premature ejaculation?
- Can you pee while having sex?
- Why is it harder to ejaculate when you have sex a second time soon after the first?
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
The information below provides an overview of the different STIs and links to the NHS Choices website pages for more information about these conditions.
Chlamydia is the most common STI in the UK and is easily passed on during sex. Most people don’t experience any symptoms, so they are unaware they’re infected.
In women, chlamydia can cause pain or a burning sensation when urinating, a vaginal discharge, pain in the lower abdomen during or after sex, and bleeding during or after sex or between periods. It can also cause heavy periods.
In men, chlamydia can cause pain or a burning sensation when urinating, a white, cloudy or watery discharge from the tip of the penis, and pain or tenderness in the testicles.
It’s also possible to have a chlamydia infection in your rectum (bottom), throat or eyes.
Diagnosing chlamydia is done with a urine test or by taking a swab of the affected area. The infection is easily treated with antibiotics, but can lead to serious long-term health problems if left untreated, including infertility.
Read more about chlamydia.
Genital warts are small fleshy growths, bumps or skin changes that appear on or around your genital or anal area. They’re caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV) and are the second most common STI in England after chlamydia.
The warts are usually painless, but you may notice some itching or redness. Occasionally, they can cause bleeding.
You don’t need to have penetrative sex to pass the infection on because HPV is spread by skin-to-skin contact.
Several treatments are available for genital warts, including creams and freezing the warts (cryotherapy).
Read more about genital warts.
Genital herpes is a common infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV), which is the same virus that causes cold sores.
Some people develop symptoms of HSV a few days after coming into contact with the virus. Small, painful blisters or sores usually develop, which may cause itching or tingling, or make it painful to urinate.
After you’ve been infected, the virus remains dormant (inactive) most of the time. However, certain triggers can reactivate the virus, causing the blisters to develop again, although they’re usually smaller and less painful.
It’s easier to test for HSV if you have symptoms. Although there’s no cure for genital herpes, the symptoms can usually be controlled using antiviral medicines.
Read more about genital herpes.
Gonorrhoea is a bacterial STI easily passed on during sex. About 50% of women and 10% of men don’t experience any symptoms and are unaware they’re infected.
In women, gonorrhoea can cause pain or a burning sensation when urinating, a vaginal discharge (often watery, yellow or green), pain in the lower abdomen during or after sex, and bleeding during or after sex or between periods, sometimes causing heavy periods.
In men, gonorrhoea can cause pain or a burning sensation when urinating, a white, yellow or green discharge from the tip of the penis, and pain or tenderness in the testicles.
It’s also possible to have a gonorrhoea infection in your rectum, throat or eyes.
Gonorrhoea is diagnosed using a urine test or by taking a swab of the affected area. The infection is easily treated with antibiotics, but can lead to serious long-term health problems if left untreated, including infertility.
Read more about gonorrhoea.
Syphilis is a bacterial infection that in the early stages causes a painless, but highly infectious, sore on your genitals or around the mouth. The sore can last up to six weeks before disappearing.
Secondary symptoms such as a rash, flu-like illness or patchy hair loss may then develop. These may disappear within a few weeks, after which you’ll have a symptom-free phase.
The symptoms of syphilis can be difficult to recognise. A simple blood test can usually be used to diagnose syphilis at any stage. The condition can be treated with antibiotics, usually penicillin injections. When syphilis is treated properly, the later stages can be prevented.
Read more about syphilis.
HIV is most commonly passed on through unprotected sex. It can also be transmitted by coming into contact with infected blood – for example, sharing needles to inject steroids or drugs.
The HIV virus attacks and weakens the immune system, making it less able to fight infections and disease. There’s no cure for HIV, but there are treatments that allow most people to live a long and otherwise healthy life.
AIDS is the final stage of an HIV infection, when your body can no longer fight life-threatening infections.
Most people with HIV look and feel healthy and have no symptoms. When you first develop HIV, you may experience a flu-like illness with a fever, sore throat or rash. This is called a seroconversion illness.
A simple blood test is usually used to test for an HIV infection. Some clinics may also offer a rapid test using a finger-prick blood test or saliva sample.
Trichomoniasis is an STI caused by a tiny parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis (TV). It can be easily passed on through sex and most people don’t know they’re infected.
In women, trichomoniasis can cause a frothy yellow or watery vaginal discharge that has an unpleasant smell, soreness or itching around the vagina, and pain when passing urine.
In men, trichomoniasis rarely causes symptoms. You may experience pain or burning after passing urine, a whitish discharge, or an inflamed foreskin.
Trichomoniasis can sometimes be difficult to diagnose and your GP may suggest you go to a specialist clinic for a urine or swab test. Once diagnosed, it can usually be treated with antibiotics.
Read more about trichomoniasis.
Pubic lice (“crabs”) are easily passed to others through close genital contact. They’re usually found in pubic hair, but can live in underarm hair, body hair, beards and occasionally eyebrows or eyelashes.
The lice crawl from hair to hair but don’t jump or fly from person to person. It may take several weeks for you to notice any symptoms. Most people experience itching, and you may notice the lice or eggs on the hairs.
Pubic lice can usually be successfully treated with special creams or shampoos available over the counter in most pharmacies or from a GP or GUM clinic. You don’t need to shave off your pubic hair or body hair.
Read more about pubic lice.
Scabies is caused by tiny mites that burrow into the skin. It can be passed on through close body or sexual contact, or from infected clothing, bedding or towels.
If you develop scabies, you may have intense itching that’s worse at night. The itching can be in your genital area, but it also often occurs between your fingers, on wrists and ankles, under your arms, or on your body and breasts.
You may have a rash or tiny spots. In some people, scabies can be confused with eczema. It’s usually very difficult to see the mites.
Scabies can usually be successfully treated using special creams or shampoos available over the counter in most pharmacies, or from a GP or GUM clinic. The itching can sometimes continue for a short period, even after effective treatment.
Read more about scabies.