Nutrition for Women
Nutrition Needs of Women Differ at Every Stage of Life
In general, moderately active women need 1,800 to 2,200 calories a day. Women, engaged in strenuous phyA woman’s health is indicative of the overall population health of a nation. One third of the women population in their reproductive age are undernourished in India (BMI < 18.5). An undernourished mother obviously gives birth to an undernourished baby, sustaining an intergenerational cycle of undernourishment. In this context, health does not imply the absence of disease or infirmity but a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, as defined by WHO.
Nutrition is the anchor for good health. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for Indian women in rural as well as urban India. What does this indicate? Women, who are gifted with the ability to bear and produce offspring, are not serious about their health and wellbeing but always prioritize on the overall health of their family members. Men and women consume foods from the five food groups but women also have other special nutrient needs and these needs change during each stage of a woman’s life.
Let’s understand the vital nutrient needs of a woman during her most important stages of life: adolescence, childbearing years and old age.
Nutrition Needs During Childhood and Adolescent Stage
Growing children, especially teenage girls who undergo various bodily changes, need a well-balanced diet packed with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean proteins. Calcium and iron are the two key nutrients required during this stage.
Calcium: Though every individual requires calcium at all stages of life, this nutrient is critical during adolescence and early adulthood, when bones are absorbing calcium. Girls (9 to 19 years) need 1,300 milligrams of calcium every day to meet their daily requirements. Milk, the best source of calcium, is often ignored by most children and substituted with soft drinks or other beverages resulting in calcium deficiency. Nutritionists/dietitians insist on milk intake as it is fortified with both calcium and vitamin D and the human body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium. Other good sources of calcium include dark-green leafy veggies, yogurt, cheese and calcium-fortified fruit juices.
Iron: Iron is indispensable for girls to compensate for the lost iron and blood during menstruation. Until menstruation, girls require around 8 mg of iron/day while the quantity almost doubles to 15 mg/day between the ages of 14 and 18. Most of the girls do not fulfill these needs and end up with anemia, tiredness, weakness and other symptoms. Healthy iron sources include turkey, chicken, beef, dark-leafy vegetables, beans, soy products and dried fruits.
Nutrition Needs During Childbearing Years
Women need to be extremely cautious of their health and fulfill their nutritional needs during adulthood, specifically when they are capable of conceiving. Nutrients pivotal at this stage include:
Folic Acid: Shed away the misconception that folic acid is essential only for pregnant women. Everyone needs folic acid, a form of folate (B vitamin), but pregnant women and women trying to conceive must ensure sufficient quantities of this B vitamin without any excuse. Folic acid protects the unborn baby against neural tube defects. Though folate is present in everyday foods such as leafy greens, oranges and beans, doctors recommend a folate supplement to fulfill the recommended quantities (400 to 800 micrograms).
Omega 3s: It is advisable for women in their childbearing age to equip themselves with omega-3s before conception as these fatty acids, especially DHA, aid in the development of the baby’s retina, brain, immune and nervous system and assist to prevent preterm births. These fats also reduce the risk of heart disease, the leading cause of death in Indian women. Omega-3 fatty acids are present in fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and herring.
Calcium, iron, B12, choline and Vitamin D are the other essential nutrients for women during this period. You can visit the website www.firsteatright.com to get an in-depth knowledge about each of these nutrients and to get in touch with registered dietitian nutritionists to incorporate these nutrients and plan a customized diet plan according to your needs and conditions.
Nutrition Needs During Older Years
Older Women Require Nutrition in Every Calorie Consumed
The period after which menses stops is of immense nutrition concern and consists of various health changes in women. This period illustrates the end of reproductive years and ensuing changes in hormone balance. Estrogen production starts to gradually decrease after 50 years indicating that menopause may happen any time. Side effects of estrogen decrease are many. Bone mass decreases, cholesterol levels change and brain function, notably memory, is affected. In some women, menses starts to decline gradually in frequency and duration and in others, it simply stops abruptly. Symptoms start to show early in the form of decreased energy levels and hot flashes. Hot flashes are a sudden feeling of heat throughout or on the upper part of your body.
A whole-hearted approach to stay healthy after menopause would surely make one’s life easier. Eat a healthy diet high in fiber, low in fat, with lots of fruits, veggies, whole grains and legumes. Supplement your food with calcium (1200 mg for women above 50 years), vitamin D (600 IU for women aged between 50 and 70, 800 IU for women above 70 years), vitamin K and magnesium for bone health and consume soy foods to control hot flashes. Most importantly, practice any form of physical activity for an ideal body weight and emotional stability after menopause.
Eat Right, Eat Smart
Healthful foods are essential for a woman’s busy lifestyle and aid in preventing diseases. A well-balanced general nutritional diet should include:
- A minimal of three 28-grams servings of whole grains such as whole-grain bread, cereal, pasta, brown rice or oats.
- Three servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy products including low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt or cheese.
- 140-170 grams of protein such as lean meat, chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, beans, peas and nuts.
- Two cups of fresh, frozen or canned fruits without added sugar.
- Two-and-a-half cups of colorful vegetables — fresh, frozen or canned without added salt.