Food for Thought: Why Teens Are What They Eat

Last Updated: February 2021

We’ve all heard the adage “you are what you eat,” but what you may not know is that a growing body of research suggests the saying is credible. Nutrition plays an influential role in both mental and physical health – especially as adolescents and young adults are developing and growing.

Learn more about how good nutrition can improve mental health, and why teenagers are what they eat.

How Teens Can Improve Their Mental and Physical Health With Good Nutrition

There are several ways to help your child eat well and get all the nutrients they need for both their mental and physical health:

Mental Health

Although many of us consider the impact that foods and diets have on the body, we don’t often think about how it affects the mind.

According to a National Institutes of Health (NIH) study, nutrition is very important to behavior, mood, and the overall makeup of mental health and illness.

While mental health treatment is still needed for teens struggling with anxiety, depression or substance use, good nutrition can positively impact their mental health.

Additional research recommended the Mediterranean diet, with plenty of legumes, seafood and whole grains, to achieve optimal mental health.

Physical Health

The current nutrition guide published by the USDA, MyPlate features the most up-to-date recommendations for a healthy diet for teenagers today.

By following the suggested proportions of dairy, fruits, grains, proteins and vegetables each day, your teen will be giving their body the basics of what it needs to be physically healthy.

MyPlate’s recommendations also allow for dietary choices such as vegan or vegetarian, as well as the flexibility to manage any food intolerances.

Remember that even food that is deemed healthy for most may not be beneficial for your teen if they have allergies or dietary restrictions.

The 80/20 Rule for Good Nutrition

As with all things in life, there are times to be hypervigilant and there are times to be realistic.

The “80/20 Rule” for good nutrition is based on balanced eating: where your child consumes nutritious food 80% of the time and indulges in treats the other 20% of the time.

It’s important for your teenager to indulge in something every once in a while, rather than be too strict – being too inflexible could lead to an eating disorder or mental anguish. Your teen will need to find the right balance for him or herself.

Having good discipline yet being realistic about his or her choices can set a standard for the rest of your teen’s life. Teaching your daughter or son how to care for their mental and physical health now will benefit them well into adulthood.

Learn more about how to help improve your teen’s mental and physical health by contacting Embark Behavioral Health today.

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Embark Behavioral Health

Embark Behavioral Health is a leading network of outpatient centers and residential programs offering premier mental health treatment for preteens, teens, and young adults. Dedicated to its big mission of reversing the trends of teen and young adult anxiety, depression, and suicide by 2028, Embark offers a robust continuum of care with different levels of service and programming; has a deep legacy of over 25 years serving youths; works with families to adjust treatment in real time to improve results; treats the entire family using an evidence-supported approach; and offers the highest levels of quality care and safety standards. For more information about Embark or its treatment programs, including virtual services, intensive outpatient programs (IOPs), therapeutic day treatment programs, also known as partial hospitalization programs (PHPs), residential treatment, and outdoor therapy, visit