Finding a teen who has a normal level of iron may be a challenge. The list of adolescents at risk for iron deficiency includes those who are athletes, vegetarians, overweight, or obese. Teenage girls with heavy menstrual flow are also at risk, with the National Institute of Nutrition reporting that up to 39 percent of teenage girls may not get enough iron.
During the teen years, dietary iron needs increase markedly, and a deficiency can result in slumping energy levels as well as learning and memory impairment. One study found that teens with normal iron levels performed better in learning and memory tests than their iron-deficient counterparts. Another study found that once teens received adequate dietary iron, their mood and ability to concentrate improved.
Iron supplements can have side-effects such as constipation and stomach upset, and should only be taken when advised by a health professional. A safer way to boost iron levels is through diet. Red meat, poultry, and fish contain easily absorbed heme iron. Vegetarians can get non-heme iron by eating grains, dried beans, nuts, fruits, and vegetables. Adding foods rich in vitamin C will aid iron absorption.
It is ironic that teens with such huge appetites can be low in such an important nutrient.
Live Leaner, Live Longer?
Nutritionists are debating if a starvation diet, which can be as low as 40 percent below recommended calories, can contribute to longer life. Studies have shown that lifespan actually doubles in lab animals that have been fed a severely restricted calorie diet.
Researchers found that people who follow calorie-restricted diets had hearts in similar condition to those 15 years younger. Some scientists suggest that calorie-restricted diets may help fight off diseases associated with aging such as atherosclerosis and diabetes. Others believe that cell damage that occurs as a result of the aging process is reduced. The drawbacks of such a diet include irritability, susceptibility to infection, low libido, menstrual irregularities, and a lowered metabolic rate.
Yet others believe that severe caloric restrictions may not have significant payoff. John Phelan, UCLA evolutionary biologist, calculates a lifelong starvation diet would extend life by four to five years. He believes the hardship of such a diet is not worth the minimal gain in lifespan.
People starving for a longer life will have to decide if the long-term reduction in calories really makes them feel better.