Using Supplements For Girls In Childhood and Early Teens: How To Choose Well

Good nutrition and exercise are the cornerstones of your health, no matter what your age.

But, nutrition becomes critical to the proper development of your body, especially during teenage when growth is faster than any other time of your life.

But consider this- most girls in the subcontinent are anaemic and malnourished. And when they become pregnant there is an increase in their chances of dying during pregnancy and childbirth. They also give birth to low-weight babies who are malnourished.

You need certain vitamins and minerals, apart from adequate protein and calories to prevent malnourishment during puberty.  

Good nutrition at this stage is also critical to cover the deficiencies carried forward from early childhood.

Knowing which nutrients matter most in the years 12-19 can help you choose the best foods and supplements for your teens.

Read on to discover the key nutrients that are absolutely critical during your childhood and early teenage years and how to supplement right for getting optimum amounts of these crucial nutrients.

1. Calcium

Getting enough calcium is important for women of all ages, but it's particularly important during adolescence as you undergo peak growth during this period. You also add about 45% of skeletal mass  during adolescence.

At this time your bones absorb calcium, setting the backbone for healthy bones for your whole life. These years thus offer a window of opportunity to influence lifelong bone health.

Because of the accelerated muscular, skeletal and endocrine development, calcium needs are greater during puberty and adolescence as compared to any other age group except pregnant women.

And a low calcium intake at this time means that you increase your chances of hip fractures in the postmenopausal years by as much as 50 %.  

How much calcium?

The recommended daily allowance of calcium for 12-19 year olds is almost twice the RDA during any other time.

Most experts recommend 1,300 mg of calcium a day for girls aged 9 to 19.


Natural sources of calcium, such as low-fat dairy products, are the smartest choice, because they also contain vitamin D and protein, both required for calcium absorption.

Milk, yogurt, and cheese should contribute most of the calcium in your diets. Some vegetables are also good sources like broccoli, kale, and cabbage. You can also pick up foods supplemented with calcium, including some brands of orange juice and tofu.

While choosing a calcium supplement, go for one with vitamin D, magnesium and phosphorous so that your body can utilize the calcium that you ingest.

2. Iron

Essential for healthy blood cells, iron becomes especially important when you begin to menstruate as with each period, you lose significant amounts of the mineral.

A large number of teenage girls in India are iron deficient and have what’s called iron deficiency anaemia.

Symptoms of this type of anaemia include fatigue, impaired immunity, and poor performance at school.

How much Iron?

Until you begin to menstruate, you need about 8 mg of iron a day. Between ages 14 and 18 when you start menstruating, the recommended intake climbs to 15 mg to make up for the blood loss.

However, if you are anaemic you will need higher doses of iron.

But, never take more than 45 mg iron each day as this can have serious side effects and always take iron supplements exactly as your doctor recommends.


Good sources of iron include beef, chicken, tuna, beans, lentils, and breakfast cereals supplemented with iron. Green leafy veggies are also good sources.


Many multivitamins contain the recommended daily allowance of iron, so take them.

3. Vitamin A or retinol

Vitamin A promotes proper bone growth, making it a vital nutrient for all adolescents. 


Dietary sources are dairy products, eggs, fish, liver, leafy vegetables, fortified cereals, and darkly coloured fruits

How much retinol?

Female teens need 700 micrograms of retinol daily.

Supplementation is not required if you are healthy and well-nourished.

4. Zinc

This mineral is known for growth and sexual maturation during puberty. It helps in bone formation and inhibits bone loss.

Low levels of zinc mean less physical growth and development of secondary sex characteristics like breasts.

A deficiency is characterized by growth retardation, loss of appetite, and impaired immune function. In more severe cases, a deficiency can cause delayed sexual maturation, impotence, eye and skin lesions, delayed healing of wounds, and mental lethargy.


The recommended daily dose of zinc for girls between 9- 18 years is about 8- 9 mg.


A wide variety of foods contain zinc. The best among these are oysters, as these contain more zinc than any other food.

Red meat and poultry provide the majority of zinc in most diets, though.

Other good food sources are beans, nuts, seafood like crab and lobster, whole grains, fortified breakfast cereals, and dairy products.


You can supplement with zinc by having zinc gluconate, zinc sulphate, and zinc acetate.

These contain varying percentages of elemental zinc. For example, approximately 23% of zinc sulphate is elemental zinc.

So, check the label carefully so that you don’t overdose on zinc.

Apart from these nutrients, you also need about 1 gram of protein  per kg of your body weight daily between age 12- 14, and 0.9 gram of protein per kg of body weight daily between age 15- 18, for making muscle.

Plus, you need more calories for your increased energy needs too.

The requirement of both calories and protein rises if you are active in sports or are into fitness.

You may not need to take extra vitamins or minerals, however, if you eat a balanced diet. So, always stop and ask your doctor before starting any vitamin or mineral supplements.

About the Author

Shikha Gandhi

Shikha Gandhi is a health journalist and a short film maker. She is also a certified Pranic healer and a lover of long walks.