Diets for 18-Year-Olds

By Erin Coleman, R.D., L.D.
Three girls making sandwiches together.

Eighteen-year-olds, like all teens, benefit from well-balanced diets and consuming the right number of calories daily. This helps them stay focused at school, maximize sports performance and avoid becoming overweight or obese. Those who exceed healthy weight ranges can slowly move toward better health using careful meal plans and exercising regularly.

Calorie Estimates

Calorie estimates for 18-year-olds vary by gender and activity level. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 suggest 18-year-old boys need 2,400 to 3,200 calories daily and 18-year-old girls require 1,800 to 2,400 calories daily to maintain healthy body weights. Active teens need more calories than those who maintain sedentary lifestyles. Overweight and obese 18-year-olds should aim to stick within the lower end of the Dietary Guidelines’ calorie recommendations but boost physical activity.

Dairy and Protein Recommendations

Teens need plenty of protein-rich foods daily -- including calcium-rich dairy products -- to help maximize lean muscle mass, maintain appropriate body weights and have healthy hair and nails. Protein also keeps teens’ immune systems strong. ChooseMyPlate.gov suggests 18-year-olds eating 2,400 calories per day consume 3 cups of dairy foods -- such as low-fat milk, reduced-fat cheese, yogurt and soy milk -- daily and eat 6.5 ounces of protein foods each day. A 1-ounce portion from the protein group equals 1 ounce of meat, seafood or poultry; one egg; one-half of a veggie burger; 1/4 cup of legumes; or 1/2 ounce of nuts.

Fruits, Vegetables and Grains

Eighteen-year-olds who eat 2,400 calories daily should aim for 2 cups of fruits, 3 cups of vegetables and 8 ounces from the grains food group, suggests ChooseMyPlate.gov. A 1-ounce equivalent of grains is 1 cup of whole-grain breakfast cereal, 1/2 cup of oatmeal, one slice of whole-grain bread or 1/2 cup of rice, pasta, quinoa or couscous. A cup of 100 percent fruit juice or 1/2 cup of dried fruit counts as 1 cup from the fruits group.

Choosing Healthy Fats

Teens who pick healthy fats over saturated and trans fats increase their chance of maintaining good eating habits later into adulthood, which helps reduce their risk for high cholesterol and heart disease. ChooseMyPlate.gov recommends 18-year-olds eating 2,400 calories daily get about 7 teaspoons from the oils, or healthy fats, food group daily. A 1-teaspoon equivalent from the oils group is 1/3 ounce of nuts, 1.5 teaspoons of nut butter, 1 tablespoon of Italian salad dressing, one-sixth of an avocado or 1 teaspoon of plant-based oils.

About the Author

Erin Coleman is a registered and licensed dietitian. She also holds a Bachelor of Science in dietetics and has extensive experience working as a health writer and health educator. Her articles are published on various health, nutrition and fitness websites.