The food we eat provides nutrition that is a basic need for our body. To stay healthy and for us to function optimally and achieve our life goals, we need good nourishment throughout our lives. Good health is a continuous process and not a one-time activity. Women are special, our needs are special and while men and women need the same basic nutrients to achieve and maintain health, women have special health needs. From childhood to puberty to motherhood and menopause, our bodies change constantly and so do our nutritional requirements.
There are some standout nutrients that play a critical role in women’s health, I am highlighting four that are a constant need throughout our lives and hence needed to be focused on. Women need lesser calories than men of the same height, activity, and age. This is because women have a higher fat percentage in their body as compared to men who have a higher muscle mass. As a result, the Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) for women is lower than men. A balanced diet with proper representation from all the food groups: Carbs, Proteins, Fat, Vegetables & Fruits and Dairy is a good way to take in the required calories for health. Women find it more difficult to lose weight because of these metabolic differences. Pregnancy also adds additional fat to the body weight, and with a small baby, a mother’s exercise and sleep patterns are often disturbed so weight loss post pregnancy may be a challenge. Breast feeding helps loose weight post pregnancy and should be followed. Menopause also adds inches and fat to the belly, increasing the risk of non-communicable diseases later in life. The way to overcome these challenges is to make exercise, both cardio and strength training, a part of daily life throughout your lifetime.
IRON: This is an important mineral for women throughout their life span. Childhood is a phase of rapid growth. Iron is essential for the increasing blood volumes and for a healthy growth. During puberty, iron is needed in adequate amounts to replenish the monthly blood loss. Iron is a critical nutrient for pregnant women. The blood volume doubles during pregnancy to aid fetal growth and blood loss during childbirth, thereby, increasing the Iron requirement. Women who consume a nutritionally poor diet may land up with anaemia at menopause.
Sources: Green leafy vegetables Amaranth, Bengal gram leaves, cauliflower greens and radish leaves provide about 18-40 mg of Iron/100gms. Other good sources are fortified salt, organ meats, fish etc. Taking a Vitamin C-rich food in combination with iron-rich food improves the absorption of iron.
FOLIC ACID (FOLATE): Vitamin B9 is an essential factor for the synthesis of DNA and RNA which support the body during rapid growth periods like puberty. It is needed for the production and activity of Red Blood cells and its deficiency leads to anemia. Folic acid is a crucial vitamin for protecting the fetus against congenital defects and low birth weight. Deficiency of Folic acid promotes the production of homocysteine, an amino acid that is linked to the risk of heart diseases.
Sources: Green leafy vegetables Amaranth, ambat chukka, mint and spinach (120 mg/100gm), Pulses Bengal gram, black gram, green gram and red gram (120 mg/100gm), Oil seeds like Gingelly and soybean.
CALCIUM: During childhood, when growth is at its peak, adequate calcium ensures healthy bone and teeth development. Pregnant women need calcium for protecting their own body as well as for a healthy development of the baby’s bone structure. Calcium also helps prevent preeclampsia during child birth. Calcium continues to be important throughout a woman’s life because women tend to loose bone mass post 30 and at menopause. Calcium is also involved in ensuring proper nerve functioning and muscle health including the heart muscle.