As women many of us are frequently prone to neglecting our own dietary needs. You may feel that you are too busy to eat well or used to putting the needs of your family before your own. Trying to balance the demands of family, work or school and also cope with the media pressure to look and eat a certain way – can make it difficult for any woman to maintain a healthy diet. The right food can not only improve your mood, boost your energy, and help you maintain a healthy weight, it can also support you through the different stages in a woman’s life.
While what works best for one woman may not always be the best choice for another, the important thing is to build your diet around your vital nutritional needs. Whether you are looking to improve your energy and mood, combat stress or PMS, boost fertility, enjoy a healthy pregnancy or ease the menopause, these nutrition tips can help you to stay healthy, active and vibrant throughout ever changing life.
How women’s nutritional needs differ from men?
As children, boys’ and girls’ dietary needs are largely similar. But when puberty begins, women start to develop unique nutritional requirements. And as we age and our bodies go through more physical and hormonal changes, our nutritional needs continue to evolve, making it important that our diets evolve to meet these changing needs.
While women tend to need fewer calories than men, our requirements for certain vitamins and minerals are much higher. Hormonal changes associated with menstruation, child bearing and menopause mean that women have a higher risk of anemia, weakened bones, and osteoporosis requiring a higher intake of nutrients such as iron, calcium, magnesium, Vitamin D and Vitamin B9 (folate).
Women have some unique nutritional needs, including needing more of certain vitamins and minerals during pregnancy or after menopause. Women’s nutritional needs change as our bodies change during different stages of our life.
1. During the teen years – Girls aged 9 to 18 years need more calcium and Vitamin D to build strong bones and help prevent osteoporosis later in life.
2. Young adults – Teen girls and young women usually need more calories than when they were younger to support their growing and developing bodies.
3. Before and during pregnancy – You need more of certain nutrients than usual to support your health and your baby’s development. These nutrients include calcium, iron and folic acid.
4. During breastfeeding – Continue eating healthy foods while breastfeeding. You may also need to drink more water. Nursing mothers may need about 13 cups of water a day.
5. After menopause – Lower levels of estrogen after menopause raise your risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes and osteoporosis, a condition that causes your bones to become weak and break easily. What you eat also affects chronic diseases.
Important nutrients for women
Iron rich foods
The amount of blood present in your body depends on iron levels. Iron helps to form haemoglobin that carries oxygen in your blood. Iron is essential for everyone, but the amount needed is different for women in every phase of life.
Because of loss of blood during menstruation, pregnancy, and delivery, women require the double amount of blood as men. Low levels of iron may cause iron- deficiency anaemia. Some food sources of iron rich foods includes bajra, beans/dals/lentils/pulses, jaggery, tofu, fortified breakfast cereals etc.
Folate or Vitamin B9
Folate or Vitamin B9 is essential during childbearing age. It decreases the risk of birth defects when taken before conception and during the first few weeks of pregnancy. Folate can also reduce the risk of getting certain type of cancers and helps produce estrogen after menopause. Foods to get folate or vitamin B9 includes legumes, lentils, peas, dark green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, grapefruit, nuts and seeds and fortified grains.
Calcium for strong bones
For healthy bones and teeth, we need to eat calcium-rich foods every day. Calcium also helps to regulate the heart’s normal rhythm and normal functioning of the nervous system. If you don’t get enough calcium, your bone will weaken, and this may lead to osteoporosis. Osteoporosis condition is more common in women than in men. Also, calcium deficiency can lead to irritability, weakness, fragile bones, etc.
Some tips for more calcium consumption: consume more dairy products including milk, yoghurt and cheese. Consume a lot of green leafy vegetables, eat nuts and seeds. Take more sea food including fish, oysters and try to replace some meat items with tofu or tempeh. And reduce the intake of caffeine and alcohol.
Vitamin D and magnesium rich foods
For healthy absorption of calcium, you need to take vitamin D and magnesium along with calcium. Without magnesium and vitamin D, the body is unable to metabolise and use calcium. You can get the required amount of vitamin D from direct sunlight and foods such as fish, cod, milk, yoghurt, and fortified foods.
Tips for Healthy Eating
1. Don’t skip meals – plan meals and snacks ahead of time
1. Believe it or not, eating 3 meals with 2-3 healthy snacks in between is the best way to maintain your energy and stay healthy. You are more likely to choose foods that are not as nutrient-rich when you skip meals and become overly hungry.
2. Eat breakfast: Skipping breakfast can lead to over-eating later in the day. Beginning your day with a balanced breakfast gives you the energy you need to start the day and focus at work.
3. Eating away from home: Don’t leave yourself stranded—pack foods with you or know where you can go to buy something healthy and satisfying.
2. Learn about simple, healthy ways to prepare food
1. Try different ways to cook foods such as grilling, stir-frying, microwaving, baking, and boiling instead of deep frying.
2. Try fresh or dried herbs (basil, oregano, parsley) and spices (lemon pepper, chili powder, garlic powder) to flavor your food. Other ways to add flavor include using lemon juice, lime juice, hot sauce, or olive oil to foods.
3. Drink water
1. Getting enough water throughout the day is essential to your health.
2. Drinking water can help with regulating your body temperature, providing protection for your joints and tissues, and help with constipation.
3. Drinking water will also help regulate your energy levels. Other sweetened beverages such as soda can often give you quick energy but cause you to “crash” later on so avoid them.
4. Try different fat sources in your diet
Traditionally, a lot of foods are made with solid fats such as butter, coconut oil, cream, hydrogenated oils, or partially hydrogenated oils (such as margarine). However, there are lots of different fat sources that you can try in your diet. For example, olive oil or canola oil are sources that remain liquid at room temperature and offer a different nutrient make up and flavor.
5. Be mindful when eating
1. Slow down when you eat. Try to relax and pace yourself so that your meals last at least 20 minutes, since it takes around 20 minutes for you to feel full.
2. Listen to your body. Eating when you are hungry and stopping when you are full will help your body balance its energy needs and stay comfortable. Ask yourself: Am I eating because I’m hungry? Or am I stressed, angry, sad, or bored?
3. Eating naturally fiber rich foods, such as whole grains, vegetables, and fruits will help you feel comfortably full.
6. A moderate level of exercise is recommended
A good moderate amount of physical activity may help to flush the bacteria out of the lungs and airways. Exercise causes change in antibodies and white blood cells. Exercise also slows down the release of stress hormones. There are plenty of ways you can exercise at home from house walks to at- home yoga.
7. Try daily a dose of mindfulness meditation
Meditation boosts antibodies. Meditation also helps to stimulate the brain function regions; these are also the areas of the brain that act as a command center for your immune system. When stimulated through meditation, they make the immune system function more effectively.
It is important to understand that women’s nutrient requirements differs from that of men. Include food items in your diet that not only boost your energy levels but also keeps you healthy to perform better at each stage of your life.