Balancing work, family and looking best at the same time is a really hard task that every woman does on daily basis. But the pressure of these responsibilities often pushes women towards neglecting their own nutritional requirements. Women often think that they are too busy to eat well or invest in self health. However, it is high time that women should pay attention to their own nutritional needs as healthy eating can support a woman through different stages of her life.
Women’s nutritional needs change at different stages. Factors like age, level of physical activity, lifestyle, and health condition greatly affect the nutritional requirement of women. During early age, calcium and vitamin D are very important for building strong bones. At early age, boys the nutritional requirements for both girls and boys are quite similar. But the difference starts to occur as soon as the puberty hits. After the puberty begins, many physical and hormonal changes take place in a women’s body that eventually affect her nutritional needs. Young women need more energy for supporting their developing bodies. Menstruation calls for extra energy, protein, vitamins and minerals. During the period of pregnancy certain nutrients like protein, calcium, iron, and folic acid are required more than usual for good health of mother as well as baby. These requirements continue during breastfeeding as well. Once a woman enters the menopausal stage, the lower levels of estrogen make her prone to chronic diseases like heart diseases, diabetes etc.
Nutrition for woman-
All the micronutrients and macronutrients are essential for both men and women. But there are certain nutrients which are essential for women for leading a healthy life. Hormonal changes related to menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause create a greater need for micronutrients like calcium, iron, folic acid, vitamins, magnesium etc. Lack of these micronutrients can lead to various health issues. Here are some important micronutrients that must be included in a women’s diet-
Women require calcium throughout the life. It is important for healthy bones and teeth. Calcium is needed for heart, muscles, nerves to function properly and blood to clot. When calcium is lacking in diet body takes calcium from the bones for proper cell functioning which leads to low bone mass causing osteoporosis. Calcium can be acquired from dairy products, leafy vegetables, tofu, certain fish etc.
Magnesium is an important mineral that is required for steady heart rhythm and strong bones. Magnesium is essential for calcium absorption from blood into bone. Leafy green vegetables, broccoli, cucumber, green beans, celery, soybean and whole grain cereals can be good sources of magnesium.
- Vitamin D-
Vitamin D is required for proper metabolism of calcium. It helps to move calcium and phosphorous into blood stream. A lack of vitamin D can eventually lead to weaker bones. It also helps in reducing inflammation in cells and strengthening immune system. Exposure to sunlight can maintain the vitamin D level. In addition, including eggs and fish especially salmon and mackerel can provide vitamin D. For elderly women including foods fortified with vitamin D can make up for the need.
Iron is a mineral that is really important for women. It is required for making red blood cells, which carry oxygen. Iron is needed for mental function and to provide immunity against diseases. Its deficiency can lead to anemia. Young and pregnant women are more prone to anemia. During menstruation a lot of blood is lost so iron can get depleted. So, the girls of reproductive age must include iron in their diet. During pregnancy, the volume of blood almost doubles so the need for iron also increases. Also, during lactation baby receives iron through breastfeeding so it is very important for the mother to consume good amount of iron (23 mg/day). Plant foods like green leafy vegetables, legumes and dry fruits contain iron. Iron is also obtained through meat, fish and poultry products. Iron bio-availability is poor from plant foods but is good from animal foods. Vitamin C – rich fruits like gooseberries (Amla), guava and citrus improve iron absorption from plant foods.
- Vitamin B-
There are several types of this vitamin and all of them are good for body. But two vitamins are very important for women namely vitamin B9 (Folic Acid) and vitamin B12.
- Folic acid-
Folic acid is essential for the synthesis of haemoglobin. Folate can greatly reduce the neurological birth defects if consumed before conception and during first trimester. It also helps to protect against heart diseases and certain type of cancers. During the menopausal stage, it helps the body in manufacturing estrogen. Folic acid deficiency leads to macrocytic anemia. Pregnant women need more of folic acid. Folic acid supplements increase birth weight and reduce congenital anomalies. Green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts and liver are good sources of folic acid.
- Vitamin B12-
It helps in making red blood cells and neurons to work properly. During pregnancy, vitamin B12 is very important for baby’s development and healthy weight. As women age the vitamin B12 absorption capacity decreases. So, including health supplements is best option. Vegans or vegetarian women are at a greater risk of vitamin B12 deficiency as most of the sources of vitamin B12 are animal based. Low-fat or fat-free milk, eggs, liver, poultry, clams, sardines, flounder, herring, blue cheese, nutritional yeast, and foods with vitamin B-12 added, including some cereals, fortified soy, beverages, and veggie burgers are good sources of vitamin B12.
Antioxidants are essential as they can protect the body against free radicals giving ageless beauty. Certain vitamins can act as antioxidants.
- Vitamin A-
Beta- carotene is the precursor of vitamin A. Our body changes beta-carotene into vitamin A. it helps in improving eyesight and gives beautiful skin. Liver, sweet potatoes, carrots, milk, and egg yolks are good sources of vitamin A.
- Vitamin C-
It is also known as ascorbic acid. It helps our body in healing wounds and making red blood cells. It increases the level of nor-epinephrine, which is a chemical that makes you feel more alert and concentrated. The levels of ascorbic acid can go down as we age. Oranges, blackcurrants, kiwifruit, mangoes, broccoli, spinach, capsicum and strawberries can provide vitamin C.
- Vitamin E-
It is also called tocopherol. It can help to slow ageing. But if taken in excess amount can result in bleeding. Corn oil, cod-liver oil, hazelnuts, peanut butter, safflower oil, sunflower seeds, and wheat germ are good sources of vitamin E.
The following table shows the RDA for all the above-mentioned nutrients-
|RDA||Calcium (mg/d)||Magnesium (mg/d)||Iron (mg/d)||Folate (mg/d)||Vitamin B12(µg/d)||Vitamin A (µg/d)||Vitamin C (µg/d)||Vit D(IU/d)|
(Source- Recommended dietary allowances and estimated average requirements: nutrient requirements for Indian 2020)
Nutritious food and healthy lifestyle are the two important pillars of good health throughout the life. Poor nutrition and unawareness regarding the importance of health at early age can lead to poor health especially in case of woman.