International Women’s Day is a day to celebrate and reflect on progress made to promote and protect women’s equality and human rights. The theme for this year is press for progress. Despite progress, societies are still failing women in relation to health, most acutely in poor countries where women are among the poorest in all countries. Nutrition plays a major role in women’s health. As children, boys’ and girls’ dietary needs are largely similar. But when puberty hits, women start to develop unique nutritional requirements. The body goes through more physical and hormonal changes, so nutritional needs continue to evolve, making it important to meet these changing needs. While women tend to need fewer calories than men, requirements for certain vitamins and minerals are much higher. Hormonal changes associated with menstruation, child-bearing, and menopause means 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).
Reasons for Nutritional DeficiencyMany people are prone to neglect own dietary needs. You may ignore the right food due to the busy schedule or putting the family needs first. Trying to adhere to an extreme diet can also leave you short on vital nutrients and feeling hungry and low on energy. Women’s specific needs are often neglected by dietary research too. Studies tend to rely on male subjects whose hormone levels are more stable and predictable, thus sometimes making the results irrelevant or even misleading to women’s needs. All this can add up to serious shortfalls in daily nutrition. While what works best for one woman may not always be the best choice for another, the important thing is to build dietary choices around vital nutritional needs. Whether you are looking to improve energy and mood, combat stress or PMS, boost fertility, enjoy a healthy pregnancy, or ease the symptoms of menopause, these nutrients can help you stay healthy and vibrant throughout your ever-changing life.
- Calcium: You need calcium to build healthy bones and teeth, keep them strong as you age, regulate the heart’s rhythm, and ensure your nervous system functions properly. Calcium deficiency can lead to, or exacerbate, mood problems such as irritability, anxiety, depression, and sleep difficulties.
- Magnesium: It increases calcium absorption from the blood into the bone.
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D is also crucial to the proper metabolism of calcium. You can get vitamin D from about half an hour of direct sunlight, and from foods such as salmon, vitamin-D fortified milk, and eggs.
- Iron: It helps to create the hemoglobin that carries oxygen in your blood. It’s also important to maintaining healthy skin, hair, and nails. Due to the amount of blood lost during menstruation, women of childbearing age need more than twice the amount of iron that men do, even more during pregnancy and breastfeeding. However, many aren’t getting nearly enough iron in our diets, making iron deficiency anemia the most common deficiency in women.
- Folate or vitamin B9: This (also known as folic acid when used in fortified foods or taken as a supplement) is another nutrient that many women don’t get enough of in their diets. In the later stage of your life folate can help your body manufacture estrogen during menopause. Not getting enough folate in your diet can also impact your mood, leaving you feeling irritable and fatigued, affecting your concentration, and making you more susceptible to depression and headaches.
Nutrional Need of Children and TeensThe best guarantee that growing girls get the nutrition they need is a diet abundant in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and lean sources of protein. Two nutrients are particularly important:
- Calcium: Getting enough calcium is important for all ages, but it’s particularly important during adolescence and early adulthood when bones are absorbing calcium. Calcium and vitamin D are often paired with fortified foods such as milk. Natural sources of calcium, such as low-fat dairy products, are the smartest choice because they also contain vitamin D and protein, both required for calcium absorption. Milk, yogurt, and cheese contribute most of the calcium in our diets. Some vegetables are also good sources, including broccoli, kale, and cabbage. Many foods are supplemented with calcium, including some brands of orange juice and tofu. The daily intake of Vitamin D is 600 IU per day for most children and healthy adults.
- Iron: Essential for healthy blood cells, iron becomes especially important when girls begin to menstruate. With each period, a woman loses small amounts of iron. Iron deficiency leads to anemia. Symptoms of low iron include fatigue, impaired immunity, and poor performance at school or work.
Nutritional Need of Pregnant WomenSeveral nutrients are particularly important for women during adulthood, especially if they are capable of becoming pregnant.
- Folic acid: This form of vitamin B helps prevent neural tube defects, especially spina bifida and anencephaly. These defects can be devastating and fatal. Many foods are now fortified with folic acid. Most women get enough as part of their diet through foods such as leafy greens, a rich source of folic acid. Folate can greatly reduce the chance of neurological birth defects when taken before conception and during the first few weeks of pregnancy. Folate can also lower a woman’s risk for heart disease and certain types of cancer, so even if you’re not planning on getting pregnant (and many pregnancies are unplanned), it’s an essential nutrient for every woman of childbearing age.
- B12: Like folic acid, B12 is also essential for healthy nervous system development and function. Pregnant women who are vegans or vegetarians may fall short on B12, since it is present in animal protein and to a lesser extent in dairy.
- Choline: Some studies link low choline levels to increased risk of neural tube defects. Recommended levels have been established for this nutrient, but it’s easy to get enough in your diet. Eggs are an excellent source of choline, for example. Other choline-rich food sources include milk, liver, and peanuts.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: These essential fatty acids, EPA and DHA, play many roles in the body, including building a healthy brain and nerve cells. Some studies show that omega-3s especially DHA, can help prevent preterm births. Even women who don’t plan to have children should be sure to get plenty of omega-3s. These healthy oils have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease which is the leading cause of women death.
- Vitamin D: Over the past decade, dozens of studies have revealed many important roles for vitamin D the nutrient that skin cells produce when they are exposed to sunlight.
- Calcium: Getting enough calcium continues to be important for women through their adult years.
- Iron: Iron too remains a critical nutrient.
Nutritional Need of Older WomenAfter menopause, women’s bodies change again. The requirement for iron drops because women are no longer menstruating. Requirements for some other nutrients increase because the body loses some of its ability to absorb or metabolize them. Here are the most important nutrients to consider:
- Calcium: Although some bone loss is inevitable with age, women can slow the process by getting enough calcium and vitamin D. Women between the ages of 50 and 70 need 1200 mg of calcium and 600 IU of Vitamin D a day. Women older than 70 require 1200 mg of calcium and 800 IU of Vitamin D a day. Because the skin becomes less efficient at converting sunlight to vitamin D as we age, older women may need more vitamin D in the form of supplements. Talk to your doctor.
- B12: The body’s ability to absorb this crucial vitamin also declines as women age. A diet abundant in fish, meats, and foods fortified with B12 can supply adequate amounts for most older women. But some people may need to take supplements. Again, it’s wise to ask your doctor.
- Fluids: Fluid needs increase as women age. Kidneys become less efficient at removing toxins. Drinking more fluids helps kidneys do their job. Unfortunately, thirst signals often become impaired with age, so people are less likely to drink enough water and other fluids. Rather than fret about how many glasses to drink, check the color of your urine. “It should be clear or very pale colored. If it becomes darker, you need more fluid.”
|Type||Body Weight (Kg)||Net Energy (kcal/d)||Proteins (g/d)||Visible fat(g/d)||Calcium (mg/d)||Iron (mg/d)||Dietary Folate (µg/d)||Vit B12 (µg/d)||B-Carotene (µg/d)||Retinol (µg/d)|