As teenagers’ brains develop, they need nutritious food and sound sleep to grow into healthy adults.

A child’s brain volume is 90 percent developed by age 6, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet, brain development continues into the teenage years. The prefrontal cortex, which helps with impulse and decision-making, continues to mature until roughly age 24.

Good nutrition is important for healthy brains, according to Marilyn Tanner-Blasiar, MHS, RDN, LD, CDE, FAND, a registered clinical dietitian at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. Carbohydrates, protein and fats are all equally important. Tanner-Blasiar recommends teenagers fill up on whole grain breads or brown rice for healthy carbohydrates, and avocados, salmon and whole milk for healthy fats. Protein can come from fish, meat, eggs or legumes, which all also contain other healthy vitamins and minerals.

“Zinc and iron are especially important nutrients for teenagers,” she adds. “They can be found in leafy greens, whole grains, red meat and dairy products.”

Sleep On It
Like good nutrition, a good night’s rest is crucial for a teenager’s brain development. “A lot of brain growth occurs during sleep,” says Robert Rudock, MD, a Washington University pediatric neurologist at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “When we sleep, our body releases different hormones that help the brain develop.”

For this reason, Dr. Rudock recommends teenagers aim for eight to 10 hours of sleep per night.

“A lot of teenagers have trouble falling asleep,” Dr. Rudock says. “Keeping a consistent sleep schedule—even on weekends—helps your body sleep better.”