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13.4: Young Adulthood and Nutrition

  • Page ID
    21186
  • Learning Objectives

    • Summarize nutritional requirements and dietary recommendations for young adults.
    • Discuss the most important nutrition-related concerns during young adulthood.
    • Explain how nutritional and lifestyle choices can affect current and future health.

    With the onset of adulthood, good nutrition can help young adults enjoy an active lifestyle. For most people, young adulthood (ages 19-30) is the time when their bodies are in the best condition. The body of an adult does not need to devote its energy and resources to support the rapid growth and development that characterizes youth. However, the choices made during those formative years can have a lasting impact. Eating habits and preferences developed during childhood and adolescence influence health and fitness into adulthood. Adults must monitor their dietary decisions and make sure their caloric intake provides the energy that they require, without going into excess.

    During this stage, growth is completed and people reach their physical peak. Major organs and body systems have fully matured by this stage of the life cycle. In order to maintain health and fitness at this age, it is important to continue to practice good nutrition. Healthy eating habits promote metabolic functioning, assist repair and regeneration, and prevent the development of chronic conditions.

    Energy

    Young men typically have higher nutrient needs than young women. For ages 19-30, typical energy requirements for women are 1,800-2,400 calories, and 2,400-3,000 calories for men, depending on activity level. These estimates do not include women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, who require a higher energy intake.

    Macronutrients

    The Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Ranges (AMDRs) for 19-30 year olds are listed in Table \(\PageIndex{1}\).1 For carbohydrates, the AMDR is 45-65% of daily calories. All adults, young and old, should eat fewer energy-dense carbohydrates, especially refined, sugar-dense sources, particularly for those who lead a more sedentary lifestyle. The AMDR for fiber is 25 grams per day for women and 38 grams per day for men. Soluble fiber may help improve cholesterol and blood sugar levels, while insoluble fiber can help prevent constipation. The AMDR for protein is 10-35% of total daily calories, and should include a variety of lean meat and poultry, eggs, beans, peas, nuts, and seeds. It is also important to replace proteins that are high in saturated fat with ones that are lower in solid fats and calories. All adults should limit total fat to 20-35% of their daily calories and keep saturated fatty acids to less than 10% of total calories by replacing them with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids.

    Table \(\PageIndex{1}\): Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Ranges (AMDRs) for Younger Adults
    Macronutrient AMDR
    Carbohydrate 45-65% of total calories
    Protein 10-35% of total calories
    Fat 20-35% of total calories

    Micronutrients

    Micronutrient needs in adults differ slightly according to sex. Males require more of vitamins C and K, along with thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin. Females require extra iron due to menstruation. Table \(\PageIndex{2}\)1 shows the micronutrient recommendations for young adult men and women.

    Table \(\PageIndex{2}\): Micronutrient Levels during Young Adulthood
    Nutrient Young Adult Males Young Adult Females
    Vitamin A (mcg) 900 700
    Vitamin B6 (mg) 1.3 1.3
    Vitamin B12 (mcg) 2.4 2.4
    Vitamin C (mg) 90 75
    Vitamin D (mcg) 15 15
    Vitamin E (mg) 15 15
    Vitamin K (mcg) 120 90
    Calcium (mg) 1,000 1,000
    Folate (mcg) 400 400
    Iron (mg) 8 18
    Magnesium (mg) 400 310
    Niacin (B3) (mg) 16 14
    Phosphorus (mg) 700 700
    Riboflavin (B2) (mg) 1.3 1.1
    Selenium (mcg) 55 55
    Thiamin (B1) (mg) 1.2 1.1
    Zinc (mg) 11 8

    Nutritional Concerns in Young Adulthood

    There are a number of intake recommendations for young adults. According to the IOM, an adequate intake (AI) of fluids for men is 3.7 liters per day, from both food and liquids. The AI for women is 2.7 liters per day, from food and liquids.1 It is best when fluid intake is from water, instead of sugary beverages, such as soda. Fresh fruits and vegetables, including watermelon and cucumbers, are excellent food sources of fluid. In addition, young adults should avoid consuming excessive amounts of sodium. The health consequences of high sodium intake include high blood pressure and its complications. Therefore, it is best to limit sodium to less than 1,500 milligrams per day.1

    Gastrointestinal Integrity

    Good nutrition during the young adult years can help to support gastrointestinal integrity and prevent digestive disorders, such as constipation and diarrhea. Dietary fiber helps bind indigestible food together and normalize bowel movements. It also holds more water in the stool to make it softer for those who suffer from constipation. Excellent sources of fiber include oats, barley, rye, wheat, brown rice, celery, carrots, nuts, seeds, dried beans, oranges, and apples. In addition, healthy intestinal microflora can be supported by prebiotics, which stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria already in the colon and are found in fruits and vegetables, and probiotics, which change or improve the bacterial balance in the gut and are found in fermented foods such as yogurt, kimchi, kombucha, miso, and sauerkraut. Learn even more about probiotics by reading the Probiotics Fact Sheet from the National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements.

    Obesity during Adulthood

    Obesity remains a major concern into young adulthood. For adults, a BMI above 25 is considered overweight, and a BMI of 30 or higher is obese. By that measurement, more than 70% of all adults in the United States are overweight or obese, with nearly 40% considered to be obese.2 As during childhood and adolescence, physical inactivity and poor dietary choices are major contributors to obesity in adulthood. Young adults should participate in regular physical activity and limit intake of high-fat, high-sugar foods and beverages to maintain a healthy weight.

    Key Takeaways

    • Young adults typically have reached their physical peak and can support health and wellness with adequate nutrition and exercise.
    • Nutritional concerns for young adults include adequate energy and fluid intake, sodium intake, and the consumption of fiber.
    • Young adults should participate in regular physical activity and limit intake of high-fat, high-sugar foods and beverages to maintain a healthy weight.

    References

    1. Summary Report of the Dietary Reference Intakes. nationalacademies.org. www.nationalacademies.org/our-work/summary-report-of-the-dietary-reference-intakes. Accessed July 14, 2020.
    2. FastStats - Overweight Prevalence. cdc.gov. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/obesity-overweight.htm. Accessed July 14, 2020.
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