Being 13-years old, you normally wouldn’t think of putting “fat” and “healthy in the same sentence. Healthy fats are actually essential to help the body grow, while unhealthy fats can increase risk for disease. So, how many grams of fat does a 13-year old need?
Most 13-year olds need about 55-85 grams of fat for 2,000 to 2,200 calories per day. Active 13-year olds may need even more fat. A nutritious eating plan for a 13-year-old includes various sources of healthy fats, such as fatty fish, nuts, seeds, avocados, plant oils, and more. 25-35% of total calories for teens should come from fat. Not all fats are created equal, and this article can help you to differentiate between the sources that put a teen at risk and nutrient-rich sources of fat that can prime your teen for a healthier future.
Here’s where you can get all your fatty-questions answered from a registered dietitian nutritionist. Read on to discover exactly how much fat a 13-year-old should eat each day and which fats are the healthy ones.
How Much Fat Does a 13-Year-Old Need?
The general goal recommended by the Academy of Dietetics and Nutrition and Institutes of Medicine (IOM) is that 25-35% of total calories a day come from healthy fats for teenagers 13-18 years old. Most 13-year olds need about 2,000 to 2,200 calories a day, which is about 55-85 grams of fat.
Since each gram of dietary fat delivers nine calories, compared to the four each of carbohydrates and protein, dietary intake and activity levels determine the appropriate amount of fat needed. This makes sense because fat gives more calories to the body while exercise burns calories.
More active 13-year olds may need closer to 2,400 or 2,600 calories. This means that active 13-year olds should be consuming around 65-100 g of healthy fats.
Calculate How Much Fat a 13-Year Old Needs
- Calculate calorie needs, based on age (13 years) and activity levels (see descriptions below). The following table can help you to figure out how many calories your teen needs based on these factors.
Table based on this detailed list of calorie needs from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
- Not Active – Minimum activity, just daily movements (walking around, stairs, chores, etc.).
- Moderately Active – Standard daily activities plus 30-40 minutes of physical activity.
- Active – Standard daily activities plus 40+ minutes of physical activity
- Based on total calories, find the percentage of fat your teen needs. Teens 13 years of age should consume 25-35% of calories as fat. You can calculate this by multiplying 0.25-0.35 by the number of calories your 13-year old needs. (Example, if your teen needs 2,000 calories per day that would equal 500-700 calories from fat each day).
- Convert calories to grams. Each gram of fat provides 9 calories. To figure out the number of grams your teen should be consuming in healthy fat each day, you simply take the number of calories (the number from #2) and divide it by 9. (Example, 500-700 calories of fat is equal to 55-78 grams of fat).
You can also estimate fat recommendations based on this table after getting calorie needs (table above):
|Calorie Level||Recommended Fat Amount Per Day|
|1,600||44-62 grams of fat|
The Benefits of Eating Healthy Fats
The benefits of eating healthy fats are plenty, but the primary points include:
- Promotion of normal brain and nervous system function
- Support of heart health
- Lower “bad” cholesterol & triglyceride levels
- Protection against eye disease
- Reduction of body inflammation
- Lower rates of heart disease risk and all-cause mortality
- Provides essential fats your body needs and can’t produce on its own
- Many important body functions
Fat provides energy, promotes healthy brain and nerve development, helps with absorption of certain vitamins, and helps with many other body processes such as creating hormones, storing energy, providing insulation, and more.
Consuming fat from healthy sources can have a protective effect on a 13-year old’s life.
Fats and Teenage Weight Gain
If you are trying to gain weight, you’ll need to increase the amount of fats you eat, especially healthy fats. If you are trying to lose weight, you’ll need to decrease the amount of unhealthy fats you eat.
What Types of Fat Should 13-year Olds Be Eating?
Fat is found in butter, lard, margarine, oils, seeds, nuts, avocados, fish, meat, dairy products, processed foods, etc.
Here are some common examples of amounts of fat (the good and bad):
- 1 Tablespoon butter= 12 grams fat
- 1 Tablespoon margarine= 11 grams fat
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil= 14 grams fat
- ¼ cup of nuts= about 18 grams (depending on the type)
- ¼ cup of sunflower seeds= 18 grams
- ½ medium avocado= 15 grams
- 3 oz salmon= 11 grams
- 1 oz (18 chips) potato chips= 10 grams
- 1 cup lowfat milk= 2 grams
- 1 slice pepperoni pizza= about 10 grams
- 1 glazed doughnut= 11 grams
- 1 medium fast food french fries= 17 grams
- 1 chocolate chip cookie= about 5 grams
It is crucial to long-term health that teens understand how to choose nutrient-dense dietary fats as their fat sources for the day. There are unhealthy fats and healthy fats. The key is to pick fat types for your teen that are higher in unsaturated sources and lower in saturated and trans fats.
Most foods contain a mix of fat types. It is key that teens learn to choose fats that are nutrient-rich. In other words, nutrient-rich fat sources make sure that teens are getting nourished along with a healthy amount of calories. Eating foods with fat is an important part of a healthy diet.
Choosing Healthy Fats for 13-Year Olds (and All Teens)
To understand how to pick healthy fat foods, it’s a good idea to first be on the lookout for common unhealthy high fat foods for 13-year olds to knkow which foods to decrease.
Popular Unhealthy, High-fat Foods to Limit:
- Meat products (i.e. sausages, processed meats)
- Cheese (i.e. hard cheeses like cheddar)
- Pizza, doughnuts, fried foods
- Creams (i.e. sour cream, ice cream)
- Savory snacks (i.e. some crackers and popcorn)
- Chocolate treats
- Baked goods (i.e. biscuits, cakes, pastries)
- Coconut oil and coconut cream
(these foods contain unhealthy fats- saturated and trans fats)
Replace saturated fat sources with unsaturated (“healthy”) dietary fat sources. Unsaturated “healthy” fats are generally nutrient-rich and provide the proper amount of calories combined with vitamins and minerals.
A great way to do this is to replace higher-fat ingredients with healthy fat ingredients. For example, avocados can make almost any dish, including smoothies, creamier. However, the “healthy” fats in avocados are monounsaturated so they are associated with many health benefits and are good for your teen.
Here are the fats to increase in a teen’s diet:
Foods High in Monounsaturated Fats
- Nuts (hazelnuts, almonds, pecans)
- Plant oils (peanut, olive, and canola)
- Peanut butter (natural versions, check label)
- Seeds (pumpkin, sesame)
Foods High in Polyunsaturated Fats
- Oils (sunflower, corn, soybean, flaxseed, canola)
- Fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, halibut)
Healthier Cooking Oils
One helpful tip is learning how to read food labels to learn which foods contain healthy fats and which foods contain less helpful fats.
Helping 13-Year Olds to Understand Food Labels
An easy way to help 13-year olds incorporate healthy fats into a balanced diet is to follow this simple, general guide to choosing fats:
From: processed foods, animal fats, butter, cream, fatty meat, coconut oil, palm oil
-Polyunsaturated fats and Omega 3s
From: fatty fish, oils, nuts, seeds, avocados
*Polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as omega-3-fats, are often referred to by their three-letter acronyms- ALA DHA, or EPA.
The Bad Fats on Food Labels
When it comes to fats, it is important to understand the difference between the different kinds of fats. Just like sugar, companies can sneak fat into labels using terms like “hydrogenated oil” or “vegetable shortening”.
- Very bad- Avoid trans fats in foods as much as possible.
- Bad- Limit saturated fats in food.
- Good- Eat more food with unsaturated fats like omega 3 fatty acids.
Trans fats can increase disease risk, even when consumed in small quantities. Saturated fats are often found in highly processed foods and animal products, such as the following:
- Red meat
- Ice cream
- Baked Goods
Like trans fats, saturated fats can contribute to an increase in disease risk.
The following infographic from the American Heart Association can also help you to navigate healthy fat sources.
What About “Fat-Free”, “Low-Fat”, and “Lite” Labels on Foods?
Fats can be tricky — foods that are trans- or saturated-fat-free can still be full of sugar and other additives to make up for the taste with less fat.
Fat-free foods aren’t always the healthier choice. They can often be packed with processed ingredients and are higher in salt, sugar, or starch than the full-fat versions sometimes. For this reason, the fat-containing version may actually be healthier. How can you tell which one is the best choice for your teen? You guessed it– learn how to read the label (or find an expert like a dietitian for help).
Read the whole label to be sure that the food you are evaluating is made from nutritious ingredients combined with healthy fats. You don’t always need to buy low-fat products, just make an informed choice when analyzing the entire food and portion size.
Focus on Healthy Fat Habits
It’s important to invest in and model healthy habits for 13-year olds. At this impressionable stage, key dietary habits include getting the proper nourishment and choosing healthy fats to support maturing bodies.
Instead of being overwhelmed, try choosing more foods labeled “Monounsaturated” and “Polyunsaturated”. These foods have unsaturated dietary fats that typically come in nutrient-rich sources. Limit foods with higher levels of “Saturated” and “Trans” fats.
It can be confusing since fats and oils contain a mix of saturated, unsaturated, and sometimes trans fats. Choose fats and oils that have more unsaturated than saturated fats, such as more olive oil and less coconut oil and margarine.
The following table from the Harvard School of Public Health is a great tool for figuring out which types of fat 13-year olds can choose to add more of or limit in their diet. Types of fat/oil is listed on the left and percentage of saturated/unsaturated/trans fatty acids is listed in the columns to the right.
Is Butter or Margarine Healthier for Teenagers?
You have to take into account the whole picture when comparing butter and margarine. Butter is made of 60% saturated fat (the not so good fats), 31% unsaturated fat (good fats), and 5% trans fat (bad fats). Stick margarine is made with only 18% saturated fat (not so good fats), 31% unsaturated fat (good fats), but 23% trans fat (bad fats).
The amount of good fat is the same is butter and margarine, but trans fat is typically worse than saturated fat and margarine has a lot more trans fat than butter. I choose butter in my baking because I like it better for taste and function, but I try to use it sparingly. I use olive oil or canola oil for cooking.
Try some healthy swaps from the table above to decrease foods like butter, margarine, shortening in your cooking and instead use olive oil or other plant oils.
Should Teenagers Eat Coconut Oil?
It is important that 13-year olds know that just because a food is labeled “healthy” by popular media and advertising doesn’t mean it is healthy. I know– it can be confusing!
Over the past few years, tropical oils like palm and coconut oil have become trendy in plant-based products. Coconut oil might be healthier than alternative sources of fats, but that doesn’t mean it is the most nutritious choice. Coconut oil is an interesting plant oil because it is a lot higher in saturated fat than other plant oils and should be limited.
After a lot of controversial discussions and debates, the research agrees that coconut oil isn’t the healthiest choice. If you like coconut oil in cooking, use it sparingly.
Opt instead for plant oils rich in unsaturated fats, such as the following:
- Olive oil
- Canola oil
- Sunflower oil
- Safflower oil
These oils are also rich sources of vitamin E and can help keep the body healthy. Vitamin E is used by the body to protect everything from red blood cells to body tissues, to skin and scalp health.
Be aware that any source of trans fat should be avoided, and sources of saturated fat should be limited. Coconut oil and other palm or tropical oils can be high in saturated fats when compared to other plant oils.
Should Teenagers Eat “Plant-Based” or “Natural” Buttery Spreads?
Plant-based buttery spreads can also be a sneaky source of saturated and trans fats. It’s important to note that labels can sometimes use the term “natural” or “plant-based” to draw attention away from these fat sources and make you think of something as a “health” food. Learning how to read labels is important to know what companies are sneaking into your food.
Be sure to read a product label, and look for unsaturated sources of fats and omega-3s instead of saturated and trans fats.
Are Fried Foods Okay for 13-Year Olds to Eat?
Fried foods are a common source of fat in the teen years. Fried foods contain saturated and trans fats, the less healthy fats and should be limited. Most 13-year olds enjoy favorite fried and fatty foods such as french fries, doughnuts, fried chicken, and more.
Adolescents don’t have to cut these out altogether, however it would be wise to have teens learn how to choose smaller portions. These foods are often high in calories and can cause unhealthy weight gain.
Tips for Healthy Fat Swaps for Teens
- Trade high-fat dairy products (whole or 2%) for low-fat or fat-free cheese or yogurt
- Swap milk chocolate for dark chocolate (70% or above is best!) whenever you can
- Eat the whole egg (it’s nutrient dense)
- Try fatty fish instead of fatty cuts of meat
- Make your own trail mix instead of buying it at the store
- Experiment with chia, flax, or hemp seeds in oatmeal, baked goods, protein energy balls, and smoothies
For internet-savvy teens, the ChooseMyPlate page on eating healthy oils can also be an excellent resource for finding out how much dietary fat oils and other foods contain.
What are Omega-3s?
Omega-3 fats are an important kind of polyunsaturated fat. The body can’t make omega-3s on its own, so teens must consume foods that contain them in order to get the appropriate amount.
Omega-3s keep the brain healthy are are important for growing teens for eye function, cardiovascular health, nutrient absorption, and more. Omega 3s are also used in treating depression/anxiety, ashthma, obesity, respiratory infections, and inflammation. Teens need 1.1 (females) to 1.6 (males) grams per day of omega 3s, which is equal to about 2-3 ounces of salmon or a half ounce of chia seeds or walnuts.
Foods High in Omega-3s Include:
- Fatty fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel, tuna, trout, herring, oysters, shrimp)
- Chia seeds
- Hemp seeds
- Oils (canola, soybean)
The Bottom Line on Fat for 13-Year Olds
To continue growing and developing, 13-year olds should learn how to read nutrition labels and choose healthy fats. Trans and saturated fats can cause increase in disease, while unsaturated fats can keep the body thriving through the teen years. Teens who are 13-years old are encouraged to get 25-35% of their total calories each day from healthy, nutrient-rich fat sources.
What is Overweight for a 13-Year Old? 13-year olds are classified as ‘overweight’ when they are at or above the 85th percentile for BMI-for age growth charts. You can also use the BMI Calculator for a better estimation, but be sure to check with a doctor or dietitian for more specific questions or worries about your child’s weight, especially before you bring it up to your teen.
Is It OK for a 13-Year Old to Lose Weight? It can be appropriate for some 13-year olds to lose weight as long as it is medically necessary and with guidance from a healthcare team (doctors and dietitians). Teens need to make sure they are losing weight the healthy way in order to continue to nourish their growing and developing bodies. It’s more important to focus on building healthy habits than to focus on restricting calories at this age.
How Tall Should You Be at 13 Year Old? If your teen is average, both boys and girls should be around 61.5 inches tall at 13 years old (at the 50th percentile). All teens grow at their own rate and many 13-year olds will be shorter or taller at this time with still years to gain height and grow taller.
How Many Calories Should a 13 Year Old Eat? Moderately active 13-year old girls need about 2,000 calories per day and moderately active 13-year old boys need about 2,200 calories per day. Teenagers who are more active or more sedentary should adjust calorie needs based on activity level.
How Many Grams of Fat Should a Teenager Eat Per Day? A teenage female needs about 56 to 78 grams of fat per day. A teenage male needs about 78 to 109 grams of fat per day. Teenagers need 25-35% of total calories coming from fat. Choose healthy fats such as plant oils, fatty fish, nuts, seeds, and avocados.
- How Much Fat Does a Teen Need Per Day? Ask a Dietitian!
- How Much Fat Does a 14-Year Old Need Per Day?
- Is it Easy to Lose Weight as a Teenager?
- Should I Tell My Teen They Need to Lose Weight? Tips from a Dietitian
- How Can I Tell if my Teen is Overweight? Advice from a Dietitian
- What is the Best Diet Plan for a 15 Year-Old? Tips from a Dietitian
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