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Healthy eating basics for girls

Photo of a father and daughter making sushi.

With all the ads, fads, and news stories, it can be hard to know what foods girls should eat. Below, we have broken down some important nutrition information into pieces that are easier to digest. Learn more about:

Foods and drinks to increase arrow top

Encourage girls to eat:

  • Whole grains. At least half of a person's grains should be whole grains. These include whole wheat bread, brown rice, and oatmeal. Whole grains are great because they have some nutrients that are not in refined grains.
  • Fruits and vegetables. Try to fill half your plate with fruits and veggies. And aim for variety. Try dark-green, red, and orange veggies as well as beans and peas, starchy ones like corn, and some others, like onions. Fruits might be bananas, grapes, berries or raisins, and can be fresh, frozen, dried, or canned.
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy. Replace whole-fat milk products with fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products like yogurt, cheese, or calcium-fortified soy drinks.
  • Healthy sources of protein. Options include seafood, lean meat and poultry (like 90% lean ground beef or skinless chicken breasts), eggs, beans and peas, soy products, and unsalted nuts. And remember to cook protein in healthy ways like trimming fat from meat and baking chicken instead of frying it.

A great plate
Want a simple way to see what's best to eat? The government created MyPlate to show the five food groups and to help Americans make better food choices. ChooseMyPlate.gov offers lots of useful info, including the recommended amount of foods based on a person's age, activity level, and other factors. 

Remember nutrients that are important for teenage girls:

  • Calcium and vitamin D. Girls need 1,300 milligrams (mg) of calcium and 600 International Units (IU) of vitamin D every day to build strong bones. Learn more about girls and bone health and ways to make sure they get the nutrients they need.
  • Iron. Girls may not get the iron they need to keep their blood healthy. Girls ages 9 to 13 need 8 mg each day, and girls 14 to 18 need 15 mg per day. Find foods with iron.
  • Folic acid. Anyone who can get pregnant needs 400 to 800 micrograms of folic acid every day to prevent birth defects. Folic acid can be found in fortified foods like breakfast cereal and in supplement pills. It's a good idea to eat a varied diet with foods that have folic acid in them too. (Don't think your daughter could get pregnant? It still makes sense to focus on folic acid so she gets aware of it.)
  • Potassium.  Potassium may help protect bones and lower high blood pressure. Suggest that girls choose foods or drinks with potassium, such as nonfat milk, bananas, baked potatoes, and 100% orange juice.

Food items to limit arrow top

Encourage girls to limit the following items. The Nutrition Facts label on food packages tells you how much of each is in one serving.

  • Solid fats/saturated fats and trans fats. Saturated fats and trans fats are solid at room temperature (like butter) and are less healthy than other types of fat (like vegetable oil). Saturated fats should make up less than 10% of a girl's calories. Look for unsaturated fats like polyunsaturated (say: pol-ee-uhn-SACH-uh-ray-tid) fats instead of saturated fats. Trans fats should be kept as low as possible. Foods that often have a lot of saturated fats and trans fats include packaged cakes and cookies.
  • Sodium. Most girls should eat less than 2,300 mg of sodium each day. All African-Americans and anyone who has high blood pressure, diabetes, or kidney disease should eat 1,500 mg of sodium.
  • Cholesterol. Experts recommend eating less than 300 mg per day of cholesterol.
  • Added sugars. Ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, white sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, and maple syrup can pack on pounds without providing helpful nutrients. Sweetened drinks like soda, fruit drinks, and sports drinks often have a lot of sugar, so try replacing them with water.

You can read more nutrition recommendations in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. You and your girl can also find more helpful information in the Nutrition section of girlshealth.gov. It covers topics such as the MyPlate healthy-eating image, organic foods, and eating healthy with food allergies. It also explains the importance of eating to maintain a healthy weight and to prevent obesity.

 

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Content last reviewed November 05, 2013
Page last updated February 18, 2014

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