Foods And Herbs For Puberty
When a girl begins her journey through puberty she experiences many changes, both physically and mentally. Going through this phase brings on an increased need for nutrients, and as such, this is often a time where girls are at an increased risk for nutrient deficiencies. Specific foods and herbs can ease the transition and help balance hormone levels, support the menstrual cycle, stabilize emotions, and support other changes associated with puberty.
Energy - food intake, essentially - is used for growth and immune system development. Carbohydrates consumed are used up quickly for these tasks, so it’s important to ensure that meals have adequate amounts of protein and healthy fats to sustain the body once it has burned through the carbohydrates. Fats and protein will also help keep blood sugar levels regulated, which contributes to improved mood and concentration.
During puberty, it is best to eliminate or reduce the consumption of processed foods (white sugar, refined grains, packaged foods, etc.), salty snacks, soda/soft drinks, fried foods, and caffeine. Dairy (if not well-tolerated) should be removed as well. These can cause a greater increase in hormonal imbalances and mood swings.
The best foods to support a girl going through puberty are fresh fruits and vegetables, high-quality proteins, healthy fats, and whole grains. During this time of growth, these foods will help to nourish the body.
Below are four nutrients that are especially important to focus on when it comes to a girl’s diet
Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs)
EFAs, and in particular EPA and DHA omega-3s, are a great source of healthy fats, which help to ensure adequate energy and proper brain health. Efficient intake of EFAs can also support a healthy mood.
Foods to focus on: a serving of mackerel, salmon, sardines, or herring 2-3 times/week. Good vegetarian sources of omega-3s include walnuts and chia seeds.
These foods populate the digestive tract with healthy bacteria, which has many benefits for girls. Probiotic-containing foods improve the functioning of the entire digestive tract, enhance immunity, and contribute to hormonal balance.
Foods to focus on: sauerkraut (raw - it should be in the refrigerated section at the grocery store), kefir (if dairy is well-tolerated), tempeh, miso, kimchi, kombucha, apple cider vinegar
Calcium supports growing bone structure. Building healthy bones during puberty is essential for bone health later on in life, specifically in helping to prevent osteoporosis.
Foods to focus on: almonds, sesame seeds, bok choy, broccoli, organic unsweetened yogurt (f dairy is well-tolerated), and salmon.
Iron is essential in building lean body mass and preventing deficiencies associated with menstruation. It is needed to make red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body. Menstruation causes a monthly loss of iron and not replacing this lost iron can cause anemia, which would make a girl tired, light-headed, and short of breath.
Foods to focus on: a variety of animal and/or plant-based products. Animal products: all meats but particularly liver and grass-fed red meat, as they contain the highest amount of iron. Plant-based: legumes, dark leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, nettle leaf tea, and molasses. When eating a plant-based source, combine it with vitamin C (500 mg) for more potent bioavailability. Cooking with a cast iron pan is also another great trick to increase those iron levels, as iron leaches into the food during cooking.
Healthy Snack Ideas
Almond butter and apples make a great after-school snack, full of fiber and healthy fats. It can be fun to make “apple nachos” or “apple sandwiches” and add different healthy toppings. Granola (try making your own or opt for a kind that’s not full of added sugars - there are lots of healthier options) and yogurt also provide whole grains and protein for energy. Pre-cut fresh fruit or veggies and hummus, black bean dip, or guacamole are other simple go-tos for snacks.
Stick with natural sweetener alternatives such as honey, maple syrup, and stevia, as highly-processed sugars can affect a young girl’s mood and energy levels dramatically. A handy tip for baking is to replace 1 cup of sugar with ½ cup maple syrup. There is no need to modify the dry/wet ingredient ratio.
Fresh-squeezed juices should be consumed over store-bought juices, to ensure a high level of nutrients and a lack of unnecessary additives and sugar.
Water is required by every cell in the body and especially during puberty, as the body is creating new cells to support the changes it is going through. Hydration levels affect countless processes in the body, and the importance of drinking enough water cannot be overstated. Aim to consume at least 8 cups (8 ounces each) of filtered or spring water every day. Drinks such as sparkling water and herbal teas also count!
During puberty, supporting the liver and endocrine glands is especially important. The liver works to process hormones in the body and provide a vehicle for the elimination of excess hormones, while the endocrine glands are hard at work releasing the sex hormones associated with puberty into the bloodstream. Below are particular herbs that help with these processes:
Helpful for calming nerves & supporting sleep.
Dosage: try taking it as a tea.
Helpful for calming nerves & supporting sleep.
Dosage: try taking it as a tea or infusion.
Works to support liver detoxification and proper kidney health.
Dosage: best used as a tea (*be careful to consume the recommended amount, as it can have diuretic effects if too much is consumed).
High in iron and aids in support of the menstrual cycle. Can be taken internally or topically.
Dosage: try taking it as a tea or in a tincture.
Consult with a holistic practitioner prior to taking or combining herbs & supplements
Supplements are typically a good idea for a girl to take at this stage in her life, as her body’s demand for nutrients will be much greater. It also helps to round off the diet and to provide a base of nutrients for the body to absorb daily. Some specific nutrients to look out for in a multivitamin are below
Vitamin D3 is necessary for calcium absorption to support growing bone structure and also for the prevention of serious illnesses such as osteoporosis, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.
Dosage: young women should take 1,000 IU daily in the winter months. *It’s important to have levels tested and only take in the case of deficiency.
All of the B vitamins support the changes that a girl’s body goes through during puberty. One of the critical B vitamins for puberty is B12, as it supports cognitive function and energy production.
Dosage: since all of the B vitamins are important, taking a B complex supplement is recommended. Be sure to get one with B12 in the form of methylcobalamin as it is better absorbed.
Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs)
A deficiency of EFAs in the body has been linked to depression. Supplementing daily with omega-3 EFAs in the form of fish oil (krill oil has the highest absorbability) is recommended.
Dosage: take 1,000 mg/day of fish oil. If plant-based, it’s possible to get omega-3s from sources such as flaxseed, however, fish oil provides a higher value of omega-3 EFAs.
This important mineral helps the body to produce the hormones needed to support the menstrual cycle and a healthy metabolism.
Dosage: 15-30 mg is recommended per day.
Iron is lost during menstruation and therefore it’s easy for young women to develop an iron deficiency. One of the first signs of iron deficiency is a feeling of physical weakness and being very tired during menstruation. In addition to supporting energy production, iron also supports development and growth, healthy immune function, cognitive function, and emotional well-being. *test levels prior to supplementing with iron or an iron-based multi.
Dosage: the recommended dosage for young women at the age of puberty is 8 mg/day. Make sure to consult a holistic practitioner before supplementing iron, as it’s typically only recommended if blood tests show it’s low.
As mentioned earlier, probiotics populate the digestive tract with healthy bacteria. In addition to supporting healthy immune function and hormonal balance, probiotics also support general physical and emotional well-being.
Dosage: 10 billion CFU per day.
This is often a major concern for those going through puberty. Often, changes in diet (as above) and proper hydration alone can make a big difference when it comes to acne and skin inflammation. Using witch hazel as a toner can help to support a healthy pH level for the skin. Below is a great face mask recipe that can help reduce acne.
Face mask for acne
½ cup cooked oats (cold)
¼ tsp calendula, ground (can be found at health food stores in the dried herb section used for teas)
1 tsp jojoba oil
Mix together, and add as much water as necessary to to create a paste
Apply to skin for 5-7 minutes
Rinse off with lukewarm water
After rinsing, use a toner to balance skin pH (witch hazel, or mix 1 part raw apple cider vinegar with 4 parts water) followed by a moisturizer
If starting to use skincare products (such as a moisturizer) or makeup products, it’s also a great time to consult the EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database to ensure that all products are natural and safe for the skin, and free of harmful chemical additives.
Getting regular exercise is essential for supporting the changes the body goes through during puberty. Exercise helps to balance hormones, fight inflammation, and can help to prevent weight gain. It’s important to do both cardio and strength training exercises, and this can be done by participating in sports that are enjoyable.
Stress relief is important to ease emotional ups and downs and prevent hormonal imbalances.
Taking a yoga class or going for a walk outside with friends can provide relief from the day-to-day stress often felt. Writing in a journal can also provide support for those who may be shy to talk about what they are feeling.
As puberty brings upon a whole host of new changes, it is important to remember that nobody is alone. Every young girl goes through this stage of life, and incorporating the right foods, supplements, and herbs can help ease the transition.