My teenage sons have always had hearty appetites. Even as babies, the boys nursed enthusiastically. Later, they developed a genuinely omnivorous appreciation for the seasonally varied, nutrient-dense diet that I put in place after discovering Weston Price’s teachings. Lacking the pickiness and skepticism that seem to characterize so many of their peers, their “Oh yum!” in response to dishes like tongue tacos has always been more than gratifying.
Lately, however, the challenge of satisfying my sons’ voracious appetites seems to have magnified at least tenfold. Although I was forewarned by experienced parents that this would happen, I still find myself scrambling to help the boys feel both content (in the sense of “I enjoy eating this”) and satiated (in the sense of “I am replete and won’t look for something else to eat for at least a couple of hours”). Some mothers of boys find humor in the situation, fantasizing about a “magic porridge pot” and other tricks to prevent boys from “crashing like malfunctioning computers, unfit for homework or civilized conversation.”1 In my case, I am interested in understanding just what is going on in those rapidly changing bodies and brains that can possibly require so much nutritional support.
As it happens, both young men and women experience a growth spurt in adolescence that is second only to the rapid growth that occurs in the first year of life.2 With the onset of puberty come increases in height, weight and bone mass; cognitive changes; and reproductive maturation.3 Adolescent boys gain more in bone size and mass than adolescent girls.3 To support this intensive and multifaceted period of growth, the total nutrient needs of adolescents are higher than at any other life stage. However, the phrase “total nutrient needs” may not adequately communicate the vital (as in “vitality”) importance of providing teens with a high-quality diet containing the array of nutrients needed to fully serve their physical, cognitive and emotional development and undergird what Dr. William Sears calls the “three As”—athletics, academics and attitude.4
QUALITY AS IMPORTANT AS QUANTITY
A 2016 article in U.S. News and World Report tells adolescents, “Teens, your brain needs real food.”5 This headline seems quite promising, but a closer look at the article reveals preachy warnings to stay away from “harmful” saturated fats (sorry, kids, no zinc-rich red meat or full-fat dairy products) and bland advice telling vegetarian teens to forestall nutritional deficiencies by eating more soy foods.5 The popular press is rife with such articles, most of which star endlessly hungry teenage boys with nicknames like “The Gaping Maw.”6 These commentaries encourage careful parents to feed their boys liberal quantities of “heart-healthy plant-based oils” (GMO canola, anyone?), abundant fruits and vegetables (six or more cups per day, and why not, because vegetables without butter are “low-calorie”), and ten or more daily servings of refined and whole grains.6
Is this kind of eat-carrot-sticks-and-peanutbutter advice helping the ravenous boys in question? Apparently not, if obesity statistics are any indication. Obesity in our overfed but undernourished adolescents has quadrupled over the past thirty years.7 A shocking one-fifth (20 percent) of teenage boys aged twelve to nineteen are obese, with adolescent girls trailing closely behind (18.9 percent).8 On the other end of the spectrum, eating disorders also are on the rise among teenage boys, with one nineteen-year-old frankly stating that “Men are pressured to have as little fat as possible—but you’ve got to pretend like you don’t watch what you eat.”9
Betsy Hicks, parent and author of a delightful and down-to-earth volume on picky eating,10 points out that a nutrient-dense diet that prominently features saturated fats and mineral-rich foods is actually essential for adolescent development. Teenage (and adult) brains require saturated fats to function properly and stave off all-too-common teenage problems such as acne, fatigue and inability to concentrate —and Hicks astutely comments that “today’s teenage sensory-soaked brains need all the help they can get!”10 In this, Hicks and others draw on the wisdom of Dr. Price’s research with isolated and modernized societies around the world, summarized over seventy-five years ago in Nutrition and Physical Degeneration.11 In his comprehensive treatise, Price drew particular attention to the “sensitiveness of the body during the period of adolescence” (which not coincidentally is also the period of greatest susceptibility to dental caries). In addition, Price took note of disturbing increases in crime and delinquency in young people ages twelve to twenty, and linked the increase to the physical and mental degeneration engendered by modern diets.11
“From the chemical standpoint,” the critical difference between “efficient” native diets and diets characterized by the “displacing foods of modern commerce,” according to Dr. Price, was that “all the efficient dietaries were found to contain two to six times as high a factor of safety in the matter of bodybuilding material, as the displacing foods” (emphasis added).11 The foods that served a “bodybuilding” purpose varied substantially according to the group and location studied, but in all instances, traditional societies emphasized the most nutrient-dense land and sea animal and plant foods that could be obtained in their context, ranging from the exceptionally high-vitamin dairy products, whole rye sourdough bread and occasional meat of the isolated Swiss to the fish, cereals and sweet potatoes of Kenya’s Maragoli tribe. In contrast, the displacing foods of modern commerce were rather uniform across cultures and generally were dominated by highly refined sugars and flours, canned goods, condensed milk and vegetable oils. Price’s photos of boys with rampant dental caries and facial deformities, which vividly illustrate the weakening effect of newfangled foods on adolescent development, could easily be replicated by snapshots of some of today’s junk food-reliant young men.
THE LURE OF POLITICALLY CORRECT DIETS
For some high-minded teenagers, anti-saturated fat dogma may dovetail rather conveniently with pro-vegetarian arguments,12particularly because the search for “meaningful moral standards, values and belief systems” is a critical developmental task during adolescence.13 (It should be noted that moralistic claims in favor of vegetarianism often prevent earnest vegetarian teens from coming face to face with underlying farming realities—including the fact that sustainable farming requires enriching soil with animal products such as bone meal and manure.12) Recognizing the fact that adolescent boys also can be preoccupied with physical concerns about weight or athletic prowess, it is perhaps not terribly surprising that a sizeable proportion of teenage boys appear to be persuaded by advice that vegetarianism is a “healthy” lifestyle. A 2010 national poll by the Vegetarian Resource Group found that males aged ten to twelve were the largest subgroup of youth reporting never eating meat (12 percent), versus 7 percent of all youth aged eight to eighteen.14Unfortunately, it is quite easy for today’s Internet-savvy young men to find websites reassuring them that they can get adequate nutrients from non-animal sources15 or asserting that “growing children can do without” the saturated fat and cholesterol that animal foods provide. These teenage boys are far less likely to come across accounts such as Chris Masterjohn’s, whose health dramatically fell apart in the two years following his teenage decision to become a vegan.16 Masterjohn now describes the “essentiality” of animal foods in the diet throughout childhood development, noting the particular importance of animal foods rich in key vitamins (A, D, K2, B6, B12) and minerals such as zinc: liver, shellfish, egg yolks, bone broth and high-quality dairy products.16
Of course, the majority of teenage boys do not have a problem eating meat—au contraire! For this group, the paleo movement has come along to extoll the virtues of eating large amounts of lean meat and vegetables, and to demonize non-vegetable carbohydrates such as grains and legumes. An individual posting to an online low-carb message board stated, “If I were a teenage boy, I think I’d totally get into Paleo because (a) teenage boys like meat, (b) it’s not about calorie counting, [and] (c) the inherent coolness aspect of the whole Paleo concept of being like cavemen.”17 A suggested menu on a leading paleo website proposes eggs scrambled in olive oil for breakfast, fruit or lean beef for snacks, chicken salad with olive oil for lunch, and grilled skinless turkey breast with steamed vegetables for dinner.18 This might sound like a virtuous and even colorful assembly of unprocessed foods, but it is hard to fathom how these recommendations could meaningfully sustain the development of teenage boys over time. Another paleo website recognizes the fact that adolescent development imposes high energy demands that require plentiful carbs and encourages teens not to stint on sweet and white potatoes, plantains and bananas.19 Of course, paleo adherents are correct in asserting that modern breads, cereals and pastas are not enhancing adolescent health—and consumption of whole grains does require careful preparation to neutralize physiologically stressful antinutrients. With proper preparation, however, teenage boys surely should be allowed to derive nourishment (and enjoyment) from sourdough breads, soaked porridges, and appropriately prepared lentil soups served with ample animal fats like butter and cream.
Adolescents have the reputation, whether well-deserved or not, of being more focused on the present than the future. Since many of today’s teenage boys—who are tomorrow’s fathers—are more likely to be eating doughnuts than liver on a regular basis, what are the longer-term implications of this nutritional insouciance?
One of the most crucial and sobering observations made by Dr. Price had to do with the unexpectedly rapid influence of a nutrient-poor diet: “Whereas it has been assumed that gross changes in physical form could only result from influences operative through a vast number of generations, …gross changes can occur in a single new generation (emphasis added).”.11 Price urged modernized societies to remember that “the preparation for the next generation should begin early in the life of the preceding generation.” Moreover, Price could not have dreamed of some of the modern-day laboratory concoctions that now pass as “food.” A recent blog post about soy, for example, warns young men that soy protein powders can “strip their masculinity,” describing a study of twelve men who experienced a 19 percent drop in serum testosterone over a twenty-eight-day period of ingesting soy protein powder supplements.20
Teenage boys cannot hope to build an appropriate scaffolding for robust health and reproduction during adulthood if they are subsisting on chips and soda. Of course, as one maternal blogger observes, “long-term consequences are nowhere near the radar” during adolescence, and lectures by parents are unlikely to soften teens’ sense of invincibility.21 On the other hand, teenage boys are certainly mature enough to begin to understand “what is good and what isn’t,” even if they won’t admit it.21 Fortunately, parental willingness to cook regularly with ingredients like butter and bone broth greatly facilitates the task of preparing appetizing meals that teenage boys will not only accept but gobble up.
MEAL AND SNACK IDEAS FOR TEENAGE BOYS
• Focus on old-fashioned stick-to-your-ribs breakfasts like bacon, eggs and sourdough toast—or soaked porridges with plenty of butter or cream. Sourdough pancakes with sausage make a nice treat on the weekends.
• Whenever possible, cook enough food to provide leftovers. For example, leftover meats or beans can provide the basis for any number of creative burritos or wraps.
• Use leftover sautéed greens or other vegetables in baked eggs. (Put vegetables on bottom layer of greased muffin tins, top with grated cheese, crack open a pastured egg on top of each muffin, and bake at 350° for about 20 minutes.) Baked eggs can be cooked ahead.
• Always cook brown rice (after soaking for about 8 hours) in butter and/or coconut oil and broth. For two cups of brown rice, for example, use two cups broth, one cup water, and one cup coconut milk. The result is creamy, filling and delicious.
• Cream soups can be sent in a thermos to school for lunch with some homemade sourdough croutons.
• For dinner main courses, you can’t go amiss with stews, roast chicken with cream sauce, or meatloaf (which not only allows for endless ingredient variations but also can easily accommodate some hidden liver or heart). For taco, tostada or burrito meals, there are several brands of sprouted tortillas available to ensure that the grains in the tortillas are digestible.
• Don’t shy away from white and sweet potatoes. Stuffed potatoes and potato skins with cheese are easy to make and sure to please. Sweet potatoes also are extremely versatile, for example, as “chips”—slice thinly with a mandoline slicer, brush with coconut oil, sprinkle with sea salt and broil for ten minutes.
• Always have good snacks on hand: raw milk cheeses, salami, homemade jerky, crispy nuts, nut cookies, kefir or yogurt smoothies, and even homemade ice cream. A glass of raw milk makes a great snack at any time of day.
DELI STYLE AT HOME
In my household, sliced sandwich meats are a hot commodity for lunches and snacks. Although we are lucky enough to have access to an old-fashioned butcher who provides a range of delicious options with clean ingredients, none of them come cheaply. Sandwich meats purchased at the grocery store—even those billed as “natural and organic”—are not necessarily any less expensive and often feature obnoxious stabilizers like carrageenan, an additive with no nutritional value that has raised a red flag for its gastrointestinal inflammatory effects since the 1960s.
What’s the solution for hungry boys and stretched pocketbooks? Invest in a meat slicer! Although a decent meat slicer may require an up-front investment ranging from $100 to $300,22 it makes it possible to cook a whole ham, turkey breast or roast and slice the meat thinly on demand. Over time, this can save a lot of money, while providing hungry boys with meat that is tasty and always fresh.
1. Williams, Polly. My two boys are hungry ALL the time! The Guardian, September 21, 2013.http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/sep/21/two-hungry-boys-polly-williams.
2. Berdanier, Carolyn D., Johanna T. Dwyer, and David Heber (Eds.). Handbook of Nutrition and Food, Third Edition. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2013.
3. Drake, Victoria J. Micronutrient requirements of adolescents ages 14 to 18 years. Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University, 2012. http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/life-stages/adolescents.
4. Sears, William. Why teens need better nutrition. Ask Dr. Sears. http://www.askdrsears.com/topics/feedingeating/
5. Costa, Samantha. Teens, your brain needs real food. U.S. News and World Report, January 5, 2016. http://health.usnews.com/health-news/health-wellness/articles/2016-01-05/teens-your-brain-needs-real-food.
6. Huget, Jennifer. How to feed a teen boy, nutritiously and inexpensively. The Washington Post, July 12, 2011.https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/wellness/how-to-feed-a-teen-boy-nutritiously-and-inexpensively/2011/07/06/gIQAdS4RAI_story.html.
7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Childhood obesity facts. Last updated August 27, 2015.https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/obesity/facts.htm.
8. National Center for Health Statistics. Health, United States, 2014: With special feature on adults aged 55-64. Hyattsville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2015.
9. Alpert, Emily. Eating disorders plague teenage boys, too. Los Angeles Times, June 13, 2013.
10. Hicks, Betsy. Picky Eating Solutions: Bringing the Joy of Real Food Back to the Table. Elementals Living, LLC, 2010.
11. Price, Weston A. Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, 6th Edition. La Mesa, CA: Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation, 2004, page 474-476.
12. Kieth, Lierre. The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability. Crescent City, CA: Flashpoint Press, 2009.
13. MIT Work-Life Center. Raising teens: Ten tasks of adolescent development. 2010. http://hrweb.mit.edu/worklife/raising-teens/ten-tasks.html.
14. Stahler, Charles. How many youth are vegetarian? The Vegetarian Resource Group, February 24, 2010.http://www.vrg.org/press/youth_poll_2010.php.
15. Amit, M. Vegetarian diets in children and adolescents. Paediatr Child Health 2010;15:303-8.
16. Masterjohn, Chris. Vegetarianism and nutrient deficiencies. Weston A. Price Foundation, May 7, 2009.http://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/abcs-of-nutrition/vegetarianism-and-nutrient-deficiencies//.
17. Low-Carb Friends. Paleo versus LCHF for teenage boy. July 2011. http://www.lowcarbfriends.com/bbs/showthread.php?t=871023.
18. Vandyken, Paul. What to eat on the paleo diet. Loren Cordain, PhD, October 12, 2016. http://thepaleodiet.com/what-to-eat-on-the-paleo-diet-paul-vandyken/.
19. PaleoLeap. Paleo, weight loss, and health for teens. http://paleoleap.com/paleo-weight-loss-health-teens/.
20. Pope, Sarah. 170 scientific studies confirm the dangers of soy. The Healthy Home Economist.http://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/170-scientific-reasons-to-lose-the-soy-in-your-diet/.
21. Jones, Rachel. Teenagers and real food. Nourishing Minimalism, May 28, 2013. http://nourishingminimalism.com/2013/05/teenagers-and-real-food.html.
22. Harley, Meggy. Meat slicers home use—are you still undecided? Gadgets for the Kitchen, July 22, 2013.http://gadgetsforthekitchen.com/meat-slicers-home-use.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Winter 2016.