The supplement aisle can be a remarkable, yet overwhelming place. So many products claim to do incredible things for your health, it can be extremely tempting. With so many options available, how do you know which supplement to choose? Should a 15-year old even be taking a supplement?
A 15-year old can take supplements when recommended by a healthcare provider. Look for high quality supplements that have been third-party tested for safety and efficacy. However, taking supplements is usually not necessary for health if you are eating a balanced diet. Food should always be the main way of consuming nutrients, especially in teenagers.
Read on for more information on who might benefit from a supplement, how to choose a supplement that is safe and useful, and what to include in your diet to decrease your reliance on supplements.
What are Supplements?
When you think of supplements, you might just think of a multivitamin. While multivitamins are one of the most widely consumed supplements, remember that things like protein powder, creatine, BCAAs, apple cider vinegar, “fat busters,” etc. are also considered supplements.
If you wander the supplement aisle at the grocery store, you will probably see any supplement you can possibly think of. Most supplements are high, concentrated doses of a substance meant for ingestion. It is important to be informed and understand what you are putting into your body, especially in regard to supplements.
While some supplements may be safe and helpful in some situations, others are ineffective and even harmful.
Just like it sounds, supplements are meant to “supplement” a healthy diet and never to be the sole source of nutrition. Even when supplements are appropriate, more does not equal better.
- Should Teenagers Take a Multivitamin Supplement?
- Best Supplements for Teenage Athletes
- Is Whey Protein Safe for Teenage Athletes? Here’s What Dietitians Recommend
Is it Safe for a 15-Year Old to Take Supplements?
The supplement industry as a whole is not regulated. Any supplement can be put out on the market and does not have to undergo mandatory testing beforehand.
This means that just because a supplement claims to have certain health benefits, doesn’t mean it actually does. Only choose supplements that have undergone intensive testing by a third party to determine their safety and efficacy. Supplements have been found to be contaminated with things like pesticides, heavy metals, and even steroids.
Additionally, even high quality supplements can be harmful to your body when taken improperly, specifically, the fat-soluble vitamins. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are stored in the body and can build up to unsafe levels if supplementation is done too frequently or at too high of a dose.
Talk to your doctor to see if taking a supplement would be necessary for your situation. They can make recommendations for high quality supplements that will be safe and effective. They will also be able to monitor how long you might need supplementation.
Would Teenagers Benefit from Supplements?
Supplements should not be the quick and easy fix to a poor diet. However, there are certain times that supplementation might be beneficial to overall health. Below are a few examples of teens that might benefit from supplements.
- A teenage athlete that has high protein needs may benefit from a protein supplement in addition to the protein he or she gets from food.
- After surgery or serious injury, extra nutrients may be required through supplementation to help with the healing process.
- Digestive issues like Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis may result in decreased absorption of vitamins and minerals from food and supplementation may be required.
- Teens that are unable to get outside often, or that live in areas that don’t get as much sun may benefit from a Vitamin D supplement.
- Teenage girls with heavy menstrual cycles may have difficulty getting enough iron from food sources and could benefit from iron supplementation.
- Vegetarians and vegans often benefit from a B12 supplement since this vitamin is primarily found in animal products.
- Teens with allergies or intolerances could be missing out on key nutrients from foods that their body does not react well to. For example, those with lactose intolerance may need calcium supplementation since dairy is a major source of calcium.
Most Popular Supplements for Teenagers
The most common sports supplements taken by teenagers include protein powders, creatine, caffeine, and BCAAs, however, many teenagers do not fully understand the health risks of taking supplements.
Most supplements are not recommended for use in teenagers because they are still growing and developing. Many supplements have been shown to contain harmful contaminants and other unsafe ingredients for teenagers.
What is the #1 Multivitamin for Teens?
It might sound too easy, but the best multivitamin that teenagers can take in is a well-balanced diet. Turn to food first before supplements. It’s best to get nutrients from whole food sources, instead of supplements. Myplate.gov gives a lot more resources and information regarding what a balanced diet might look like for you.
Include foods from all of the food groups in your daily eating patterns. Listed below are recommended servings per day and some examples of foods that fall into each of these categories:
- Grains: 6-10 ounce-equivalents per day (bread, pasta, rice, pretzels, crackers, tortillas, cereal, oatmeal, etc.)
- Fruits: 1 ½ – 2 ½ cups per day (Pineapple, bananas, papaya, mangos, berries, peaches, pears, apples, etc.)
- Vegetables: 2 ½ – 4 cups per day (Green beans, asparagus, broccoli, carrots, cucumber, peppers, etc.)
- Starchy Vegetables: These can be considered more like a grain than a vegetable (Peas, potatoes, corn)
- Dairy: 3 cups per day (Low-fat milk and yogurt, soy milk, shredded cheese, cottage cheese, hard cheese)
- Protein: 5-7 ounce-equivalents per day (Meat, fish, poultry, nuts, nut butter, eggs, milk, greek yogurt, protein powders and drinks)
- Oils/fats: 20-35% of your total calories should be coming from fats, preferably unsaturated fats (Olive oil, avocado, nuts, nut butters)
Tips for a Healthy Diet, No Supplements Required
Below are some general tips for healthy eating and lifestyle habits. If you follow these well, you likely won’t even need a supplement!
- Aim for variety in each of the food groups. Each food has a unique nutrient profile that can offer something different to the body. Choose different colors, shapes, and types of foods and cooking methods.
- Get a balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fat every time you eat. This will help your body have energy and find the right balance of nutrients to support your needs.
- Eat at least every 4-6 hours to make sure you are eating frequently enough to get in all of the nutrients you need during the day!
- Aim to make half of your grains whole grains for added nutrients and fiber.
- Get outside in the sunlight for a little bit every day. The sun is our main source of Vitamin D, as it is not widely found in food.
- Find fun ways to be active. This will help to strengthen your muscles, heart, and bones. It can also strengthen your immune system.
- Listen to what your body is telling you. Honor your hunger and fullness cues and eat foods that make you feel good and energized.
Supplement Recommendations for Teens
The best recommendation for teenagers is to get their required nutrients from a well-balanced diet. Always check with your doctor before starting a supplement to make sure it is safe and necessary.
Before starting supplements, it is often helpful to have clinical lab work done to check nutrient levels in the body. This will help determine if supplementation is actually needed. For example, vegan teens should check iron and other nutrient levels yearly.
Below are four third-party testing companies that evaluate and certify supplements to ensure their safety. Symbols for these companies can be found on products they have approved. They often will also list their approved supplements on their respective websites. Never purchase a supplement that has not been tested by one of these companies.
- U.S. Pharmacopia (USP)
- NSF international (NSF)
- Underwriter Laboratories (UL)
When choosing a supplement it can also be helpful to look at the nutrition facts label to know how much of certain nutrients you are actually consuming. The average healthy teenager eating a well-balanced diet likely does not need extremely high doses of any individual vitamin or mineral.
The percent daily value, on the right-hand side of the nutrition facts label, is a good tool to use in evaluating supplements. This shows how much of the daily need for a certain nutrient is met through that supplement. Look for supplements where the individual nutrient amounts are at or below 100%. The percent daily value is based on nutrient needs for a 2,000 calorie diet.
Remember that more is not always better, and can actually be harmful! If you are consistently consuming 200% of the recommendation for vitamins and minerals, you are likely consuming twice as much as you need. Some supplements might even have a percent daily value of 1000% or more! Steer clear of those unless directed by a doctor.
Side Effects of Supplements for Teens
If a teenager is taking a supplement that contains unsafe ingredients, unsafe doses, or unnecessary nutrients there can be some serious and uncomfortable side effects and consequences. Including:
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
- Headache and dizziness
- Light-headedness and nausea
- Upset stomach and digestional distress
- Increase risk of injury
- Weight changes
- Nutrient imbalance
The Bottom Line
Remember to focus on the food first! A well-balanced diet is the best way of getting your body all of the nutrients that it needs. Look at what you are eating on a daily basis. Are you getting enough fruits and vegetables? What about dairy products or whole grains? Focus on making small improvements to your food intake before turning to a supplement.
If you do think you need a supplement, talk to your doctor first! It is always a good idea to have a doctor monitor supplement intake. A registered dietitian nutritionist can also help determine if a supplement is needed and can help you find one that is safe for your growing body.
What Vitamins Can a 15 Year Old Take? Most 15 year olds do not need any vitamins or supplements as long as they are healthy and eating a balanced diet. Some 15-year olds may benefit from vitamin D, iron, or calcium supplements. Many supplements can be harmful for 15-year olds. Always check with a healthcare professional before starting any supplements.
Is it Safe for a 15 Year Old to Take Pre-Workout? No, it is not safe for a 15-year old to Take Pre-Workout. A teenager will benefit more from regular exercise and training than from taking Pre-Workout supplements. Pre-Workout supplements often contain unsafe doses of ingredients and contaminants that can harm teenagers. The risks do not outweigh the possible benefits of taking pre-workout supplements. Only consider a workout supplement if you eat a healthy diet, get enough sleep, train regularly, and contain to feel at a plateau in your training.
Are Vitamins Safe for Teens? Most teenagers do not need vitamins and many vitamin supplements are not safe for adolescents. Since the supplement industry isn’t very well regulated, it can be difficult to know exactly what you are consuming. If a healthcare professional recommends a supplement, only choose supplements that are third-party tested from a reputable company for safety.
Can my Teenager Take B12? A teenager should not take B12 unless recommended by a doctor or dietitian due to the possibility of adverse side effects and health concerns.
- Is Creatine Safe for High School Athletes? Ask a Dietitian!
- Is It Okay for a Teenager to Drink Protein Shakes
- Dietitian Recommended Protein and Energy Bars for Teens
Ellis E. Does My Child Need a Supplement? Eatright.org. Published August 10, 2019.
Loria K. How to Choose Supplements Wisely. Consumerreports.org. Published October 30, 2019.
US Department of Agriculture. Myplate.gov.
Fueling Teens is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. We also participate in other affiliate programs which compensate us for referring traffic.