Nutrition Meets Food Science

Women’s Nutritional Products

Over the years, awareness about nutrients in foods has increased substantially among people especially their impact on health. This became even more intense during recent years when the pandemic affected daily life of hundreds of millions of people all over the world. There has been a spurt in the foods and products with beneficial effects on health along with a lot of information being sought by people. There is a large segment of nutritional food products and dietary supplements, which has now started increasing segment-wise.

Market for Nutritional Products

There has been a healthy growth in nutritional products for women’s health. Of the total global dietary supplements market estimated at US $ 123 billion in 2019, the size of women’s health market was valued at US $ 32 billion (Nutrition Insight 9 Nov 2020). Although it looks very large proportion, it still has not risen to the true potential.

World over the women’s nutritional needs have not been properly focused although lately the needs were realised and industry also saw a potential for that and started offering many women-centric products. Although western markets have realised this, Indian supplement market is still in infancy. The total supplement market is around US $ 4 billion, which is quite small compared to global market. However, this is also rising rapidly and the supplements market is expected to reach by one estimate to around US $ 10 billion by 2026 with robust growth in women’s product as well (PR Newswire May 17, 2021). Women’s products market currently is very tiny and mostly comprising of maternal products.

Changing Nutritional Requirements of Women (Office on Women’s Health 2019)

Although women’s nutritional requirements in India have been well established they are deficient for many reasons including the cultural ones. Mothers and homemakers usually have meals after all others eat. Thus, they consume what is left after others are satisfied. This is slowly changing but still most women still follow this tradition.

Actually women’s needs undergo tremendous changes from the childhood into the adulthood and thereafter when there is pregnancy and lactation and finally when entering menopause. Such changes need great amounts of adjustments, which to some extent are done during pregnancy but a large prevalence of anemia and other deficiency diseases show that a lot needs to be done.

The nutritional requirements of girls are similar to boys up to pre-adolescent age. If the boys are very much more active physically then they may need more. From this point onwards, girls have special needs that need to be addressed properly.

Adolescence period is where height and weight increases, hormonal changes take place, sexual maturation takes place and emotions dominate. Girls start earlier wherein body water, muscle mass, bone and fat increase, all these changes need more nutrients. Girls also start menstrual cycle. These changes need not just more calories but more proteins, vitamins and minerals especially iron and calcium. Deficiency of calcium at this stage will make women prone to osteoporosis in old age.

Pregnancy and motherhood brings in many additional requirements not just for the new life that is growing but also for the mother who is going through many physical and physiological changes. Iron, calcium and folate become extremely important at this stage. Iodine and vitamin A are other micronutrients that are also critical at this stage.

Menopause is another change in women that is different from men and needs special nutritional care. Hormonal changes taking place create a difficult phase for women, which may bring in risks of hypertension, heart disease, osteoporosis and many other problems.

One more aspect that affects women because of various physical and physiological changes in different stages is the weight control. Because of other important aspects such as child’s health and needs, it is very easy to forget to maintain mother’s health and weight-wise. Dietary fibre becomes quite useful here along with all the other nutrients. It can also tackle the problem of constipation that is also very common in different changes.

Markets have shown a lot of changes in general during this pandemic time with more food products and ingredients that are convenient and also conducive for health. This has also been useful for women although they are not specifically directed to women, who are mostly benefited because of this change. During this period women not only had to work from home, they also had to take care of men and children who were also confined to homes. Thus, women had to put in extra work efforts and time and convenience certainly helped them. Not just ready-to-eat or cook meals but also cut vegetables and frozen or chilled as well as semi-prepared foods and ingredients were very useful that saved a lot of time preparing, cleaning and cooking. Since these were also prepared more hygienically, there was extra benefit.

Women-centric products (Express Pharma, 2022; TOI, 2022)

Many health products have appeared in market, which are targeted towards women. Some of them for pregnant and lactating while some for menopausal women and still some for active women. Most common format is health drink mixes. They contain nutrients including micronutrients; some may be for vegetarian, some having ayurvedic herbs, and still some with sweeteners like stevia. More recently, probiotics, vitamin K2 and omega 3 have been incorporated in many products.

Some examples of the powdered health drink mixes aimed at women are described in a recent article (Aarohy Kapoor, 2022).

  • A popular health drink mix has vitamin D, calcium, folic acid and iron, which claim to make stronger bones and reduce fatigue. It also has vitamin B12 keeping in mind nutritional needs of Indian women. Another one also helps bone health but has besides vitamin D and calcium, vitamin K2.
  • Protein powder meant for active women with much physical activity includes calcium, iron and proteins along with DHA which is supposed to help with cholesterol levels and prevent vision-impairment with ageing.
  • Protein drinks developed for pregnant and lactating women and is rich in DHA along with vitamins and minerals.
  • Protein and herbs drink developed for women contains whey protein with ayurvedic herbs which are claimed to make body stronger and also help burn body fat. It contains extracts of shatavari, giloy, curcumin, green tea, cinnamon and flax seeds besides biotin, iron, zinc, and vitamins A, D, C and B-vitamins.
  • Products rich in iron, vit C, B9, B12, protein, calcium, dietary fibre and is sweetened by stevia and is claimed to help in dieting.
  • Products containing proteins from milk and soy with soy fibre, and apple skin extract with vitamins & minerals, all of which supposed to be rich in calcium and iron for stronger bones and improved haemoglobin.
  • Products with probiotic which helps in proper urinary tract health and improves digestive health.

Besides health drinks, there are bars, both sweet and savoury, that put many nutrients including macro & micronutrients including dietary fibre and also some herbal nutraceuticals. Some of them claim to provide all the essential nutrients so they can replace meals. A large number of protein and nutrition bars have appeared which are more convenient to eat unlike drink mixes which need water and container for mixing. Some bars are now aimed at women. One is claimed to help breastfeeding mothers that supports lactation and contains dry fruits and seeds besides moringa, shatavari and spices.

One company has developed a range of products for pregnant and lactating mothers with trail mix, pregnancy cookies and morning sickness relief tea.

Occasionally it may be fine to miss a meal when one has an important meeting or is on an outing or in a place where safe and nutritious food is difficult to get. However, to miss regularly and consuming replacement products may not be desirable even though they may contain all the nutrients. It is better to remember that food is more than just a bunch of nutrients.

A large number of girls and women are not participating in vigorous sports and may require additional nutrients. Their needs are now being studied and some products are being developed specially for female sportspersons. Also most women struggling with weight problem take up exercise for reduction of excess weight. Diet is very important keeping in mind the changing requirements with age and condition. (Myers 2021)

Nutritional & Dietary Supplements (MedicineNet 2021)

Supplements do have a big role to play but we must remember that they are not foods but are supplements, so when normal food does not provide all the essential nutrient requirements we need supplements. Our foods have also changed over times so traditional food providing various ingredients through different parts of meal such as roti, rice, dal, vegetables, meat or fish or egg, milk products etc. Such meal provides not only nutrients but various health providing components. We may need supplements that provide nutraceuticals like omega 3, antioxidants, carotenoids, etc. if we do not get some through our regular diet. Some of the ayurvedic ingredients are extremely useful for women under certain conditions.

It is important to have a diet that includes good proportion of protein. This can be obtained from meat, fish, milk products and pulses. However, for vegetarians, milk or soya amounts may need to be increased to elevate the quality of proteins. Milk also provides calcium. Iron may have to be obtained from vegetables. Plenty of fruits and vegetables ensure vitamins and minerals especially B complex, C & D vitamins along with some minerals and dietary fibre. Fat consumption must be monitored for amount as well as for saturation. Consumption of fish also ensures omega 3 fatty acids.

When there is a need to correct the diet, it is better to seek professional help before resorting to consumption of various nutritional products.


Dr Jagadish Pai

Editor, PFNDAI

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