Vitamin and multivitamin supplements are a common way of supplementing one’s diet and ensuring proper nutrient intake. But should developing teens take supplements? If so, which ones? And can they harm them in any way?
Join us as we explore the most beneficial vitamins for teenagers and find out!
Teenagers’ Nutritional Needs
The teenage years are a time when your boys and girls rapidly develop and change. Therefore, their diet should be nutrient-rich enough to support these processes.
Proper nutrition for teenagers includes:
- Enough calories to fuel teenagers’ developing bodies and support their growth (about 2,200 kcal/day for girls and 2,800 kcal/day for boys).
- Enough carbs to provide them with enough energy (225–325 g/day for girls and 293–423 g/day for boys).
- Enough protein that supports proper muscle growth (about 46 g/day for girls and 52 g/day for boys)
- Enough healthy fats (e.g., avocado, olives, nuts, etc.) that can promote growth and keep skin healthy (fat should comprise 25–35% of their daily calorie intake).
- Enough vitamins and minerals that enable proper development and strengthen the immune system.
However, many teens don’t eat healthy nowadays. A recent study showed that calorie intake from ultra-processed foods among children and teenagers increased from 61% to 67% between 1999 and 2018.
Calorie intake from frozen pizzas, burgers, and ready-to-eat/ready-to-heat meals increased from 2.2% in 1999 to a whopping 11.2% in 2018. Additionally, the percentage of calories from healthier foods decreased from 28.8% to 23.5%.
This is a valid reason for concern since processed foods aren’t the best source of nutrition for teenagers.
Though they tend to contain some vitamins and minerals, they don’t contribute much to a healthy, balanced diet, as they also contain.
Diets high in sodium, salt, and sugar can easily lead to obesity and a range of health issues in adulthood (e.g., high blood pressure, increased risk of heart disease, etc.).
Additionally, only 7.1% of adolescents meet fruit intake recommendations, and 2.1% meet vegetable intake recommendations. Therefore, it’s often necessary to supplement adolescents’ diets with adequate supplements for teenagers.
Teen Vitamins — Which Vitamins and Minerals Do Teens Need?
Teenagers require an array of various vitamins and minerals to ensure proper growth and development:
- Essential vitamins (vitamins A, C, D, E, K and B-complex vitamins)
- Omega-3 fatty acids
They can get them through proper, balanced nutrition or (multi)vitamin supplements.
Now, let’s examine some of the key nutrients in more detail.
Vitamin A is one of the major components of multivitamin supplements for teens. This isn’t surprising as vitamin A is critical for proper growth and development, normal vision, gene expression, immune system function, and reproduction.
Since even a marginal deficiency of vitamin A may negatively impact bone development and sexual maturation in teenagers (as well as increase the risk for various infectious diseases), it’s essential to maintain the optimal intake of it.
Luckily, this nutrient is widely available in food. Good food sources of vitamin A include:
- Liver and liver products (especially beef liver)
- Baked sweet potatoes (in the skin)
- Boiled spinach
- Oily fish (e.g., pickled herring, salmon, etc.)
- Dairy products (cheese, milk, yogurt), etc.
Girls 14–18 years old require 700 mcg (2,333 IU) of vitamin A per day, while boys’ requirements for this vitamin are slightly higher — 900 mcg (3,000 IU) per day.
Young teens aged 12–14 (both male and female) need 600 mcg of vitamin A per day.
Many vitamins for teen boys and girls contain a healthy amount of B-complex vitamins. There’s a very sound reason for this — all eight B vitamins are required for teenagers’ optimal growth and overall health.
They perform a wide range of functions in the body — they support the immune system, promote healthy appetite, maintain skin health, enable the body to use energy from food, etc.
For example, vitamin B6 is important for amino acid metabolism and synthesis, vitamin B12 is necessary for lipid and protein metabolism and many methylation reactions, while folate can even help improve adolescents’ academic performance.
That’s why it’s important to maintain a regular intake of these vitamins.
They can be found in a variety of food sources. For example, beef liver and boiled spinach are some of the best dietary sources of folate; chickpeas and tuna are abundant in vitamin B6; clams, bluefin tuna, and nutritional yeast are excellent sources of vitamin B12, etc.
Vitamin and multivitamin supplements are also great sources of B-complex vitamins. However, synthetic B vitamins may be more challenging for the liver to metabolize than natural vitamins, so beware of that.
The following table highlights vitamin B nutrition requirements for teenagers aged 14–18:
|Vitamin||RDA — Male Teens||RDA — Female Teens|
|B1 (thiamine)||1.2 mg||1 mg|
|B2 (riboflavin)||1.3 mg||1 mg|
|B3 (niacin)||16 mcg||14 mcg|
|B5 (pantothenic acid)||5 mg||5 mg|
|B6 (pyridoxine)||1.3 mg||1.2 mg|
|B7 (biotin)||25 mcg||25 mcg|
|B9 (folate)||400 mcg||400 mcg|
|B12 (cobalamin)||2.4 mcg||2.4 mcg|
Adequate amounts of vitamin D are essential for muscle growth and development and the proper functioning of the immune system. This is why this nutrient is a common ingredient of many multivitamins and vitamins for teen girls and boys.
Vitamin D is also important for proper bone formation. Though rickets caused by vitamin D deficiency is more common in prepubescent children, scientific data shows that this condition can also appear in teenagers.
Additionally, vitamin D is also critical for calcium absorption. Without this vitamin, your body wouldn’t be able to use much of the calcium you consume.
Teens require 400 IU of vitamin D per day unless otherwise prescribed by a doctor.
You can get vitamin D from various food sources, such as trout, cod liver oil, salmon, etc. But if vitamin-D-rich foods are unavailable to your teen, they can get this vitamin through quality vitamin D supplements.
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties, so it’s believed it can help with acne, which is a common problem in the teenage years.
It also helps prevent cataracts, promotes reproductive health, and has an array of other benefits, which is why it’s a common ingredient of teenage vitamins.
Vitamin E is widely available in food, so deficiencies in this vitamin are pretty rare (they mainly occur in cases of severe malnutrition and certain genetic defects (e.g., fat malabsorption syndrome, abetalipoproteinemia, etc.).
The daily recommended dose of vitamin E for teens is 15 mg for adolescents 14–18 years old.
Taking enough calcium is essential for proper bone mineralization, growth, and bone mass formation. It’s also an excellent way to reduce the risk of fractures and osteoporosis later in life.
Calcium nutrition needs for teenagers are as follows — 1,300 mg of calcium a day (this amount covers the daily needs of 97.5% of teenagers).
The best way to get calcium is through food, particularly through dairy products like milk, yogurt, or cheese.
In case of lactose intolerance and the impossibility of getting calcium from dairy products, you can resort to plant-based sources (though they aren’t as bioavailable as dairy).
Plant-based sources of calcium include seeds (e.g., chia, sesame, poppy, celery, etc.), beans, lentils, leafy greens, almonds, edamame, etc.). Canned salmon and sardines are also calcium food sources worth considering. And so are fortified foods and beverages.
Alternatively, you could use supplements.
Tip — Make sure not to go overboard with salt in your food, as excessive intake of sodium from salt can promote calcium loss through urine.
Iron is vital for the physical growth of teenagers, strong immune system, oxygen storage and transport, and other important functions. Iron deficiency is the most common type of deficiency in the world, so it’s essential to maintain an adequate intake of this mineral.
Since girls are particularly prone to anemia due to iron loss through menstruation, they’re likely to greatly benefit from vitamins for a teenage girl with iron.
Recommended daily iron intake amounts to 11 mg for teenage boys and 15 mg for teenage girls.
Magnesium is responsible for developing strong bones, maintaining immune system function, and many other processes related to proper development.
Magnesium, which can be taken through food or magnesium supplements, can also regulate mood, reduce anxiety, and even reduce PMS symptoms.
Teenage vitamins for him should contain 410 mg of magnesium per serving, while teenage vitamins tailored for her should provide 360 mg.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 acids, the most important nutrient in fish oil, have demonstrated three interesting benefits in teens — improved sleep quality, proper brain development, and combating asthma.
Male teens (14–18) require 1.6 g of omega-3 acids per day, while females need slightly less — 1.1 g per day.
Oily fish and seafood are the main sources of omega-3 fatty acids, but they can also be obtained from certain plant-based sources like chia seeds, flax seeds, walnuts, etc.
Teen Vitamins and Skin Care
It’s no secret that teenagers are prone to acne. Adolescence is the time of great changes when it’s not unusual for hormones (sex hormones, cortisol, and thyroid hormones) to go wild and out of balance, which almost immediately shows on the skin.
In other words, teens often experience hormone surges that may promote sebum production and, consequently, cause breakouts.
Luckily, according to research, some vitamins and minerals can help with that:
- Vitamin A — This potent antioxidant may decrease inflammation, promote the growth of new skin cells, and help fight environmental factors that damage the skin. It’s typically used topically.
- Vitamin D — This vitamin prevents bacterial infection.
- Vitamin E — This powerful antioxidant enables quick absorption of products into the skin, thereby speeding up acne healing.
- Zinc — It reduces oil production and prevents bacterial infections and inflammation. It can be used as an oral supplement or as a topical acne treatment for teenage skin.
Teenagers need an array of nutrients due to the growth spurt they experience in this stage of development. Providing them with a healthy diet is the best way to introduce all the necessary vitamins and minerals a developing teen might need.
But getting supplements, particularly multivitamins, is also an easy and cost-effective way to ensure the presence of all essential nutrients too. Just don’t forget to consult your teen’s doctor first to avoid potential complications (e.g., administering inadequate doses, etc.).
Which vitamins are best for teenagers?
Teenagers require a plethora of vitamins and minerals for optimal growth and development, and they’re often prone to eating ultra-processed foods that often don’t contain enough necessary beneficial nutrients.
Therefore, they should use high-quality multivitamin supplements that contain all the nutrients their developing bodies may need.
What vitamins should a teenage girl use?
Teenage girls can benefit from:
- Vitamins A, D, E, C
- B-vitamin complex
- Omega-3 fatty acids
All these nutrients promote proper growth and development. Calcium supports healthy bone formation, vitamin D promotes calcium absorption and helps strengthen the developing girls’ immune system, omega-3 fatty acids may help with academic performance, etc.
Since adolescence is the time when girls typically start their period, iron becomes particularly important for them too.
What vitamins should a teenage boy use?
Just like teenage girls, teenage boys can benefit from taking:
- Vitamins A, D, E, C
- B vitamin complex
- Omega-3 fatty acids
The only difference between vitamins tailored specifically for teenage boys and girls is typically the dosage of specific nutrients in them.
Males and females generally have different nutritional needs.
Therefore, teenage boys (14–18) may require more vitamin A (900 mcg vs. 700 mcg), vitamin B1 (1.2 mg vs 1.1 mg), vitamin B2 (1.3 mg vs. 1.1 mg), vitamin B3 (16 mcg vs. 14 mcg), vitamin B6 (1.3 mg vs. 1.2 mg), omega-3 fatty acids (1.6 g vs. 1.1 g), etc., than girls.
So, this is something to bear in mind when choosing vitamins for teenagers.