Women’s Month in August is the perfect opportunity for women of all ages to take charge of their most valuable assets – a healthy body and mind.
As women move through the different life stages, staying fit and healthy is not just about going for regular checkups and treating disease. It’s also about taking stock of how nutritional requirements may change over the years and how best to address this.
Fedhealth believe adolescence, pregnancy, lactation, menopause and ageing all place strain on the body – and these demands need to be met by our daily diet to maintain the best health possible.
It is useful to trace the different life stages. The teenage years are mostly characterised by menstruation, acne and the first use of contraception that may require additional vitamin intake. Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency in young women. While men need around 8 mg of iron in their daily diet, women need up to 18 mg to make up for the amount of iron they lose during their menstrual period. Birth control pills can further deplete important nutrients, including vitamin B2, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, folic acid, vitamin C, magnesium and zinc.
In the following life stage young women enter the phase of motherhood and breastfeeding. Eating healthily during pregnancy is important to meet the nutritional needs of the developing baby and for the mother’s own wellbeing. However, this doesn’t mean ‘eating for two’ – it is the quality of the diet that is important, not the quantity of food eaten.
Eating a variety of foods from each of the key food groups is generally enough to meet both mother and baby’s requirements. However special attention should be given to calcium, folic acid, iron, zinc, iodine and vitamin C.
A healthy diet is equally important during breastfeeding because the mother must provide for her own nutritional requirements, as well as for the production of breast milk. In this case particular attention needs to be paid to protein, calcium, iron, vitamins and fluids.
As women approach middle age menopause and the increased risks of developing osteoporosis becomes a reality. To alleviate the symptoms of menopause, Jordan recommends maintaining a healthy lifestyle including exercise and eating right.
Thinning of the bones is common in postmenopausal women because of hormone-related changes. Therefore we recommend eating foods rich in calcium or taking a calcium supplement as prescribed by a doctor. Weight-bearing exercises such as walking or weight training are excellent for strengthening bones, as is a high-fibre, low-fat and low-salt diet as well as eating a regular variety of wholegrain, nutrient-dense food.
During the geriatric years, many women face the onset of conditions such as Alzheimers, Parkinson’s disease, Arthritis and the likes. Thinning skin leading to wounds not healing well or a weakened immune system, are also issues women face in their later years.
Women generally eat less as they get older, which may make it harder to get enough variety to include all the nutrition they need.
To this end, Fedhealth suggests women try and be as active as possible to encourage an appetite and maintain muscle mass. Eating foods that are nutrient dense rather than energy dense is recommended. One should include eggs, lean meats, fish, liver, low-fat dairy foods, nuts and seeds, legumes, fruit and vegetables, wholegrain breads and cereals and limit foods such as cakes, sweet biscuits and soft drinks. Furthermore choose foods that are naturally high in fibre to encourage bowel health.
If possible, women should spend some time outside each day to boost their vitamin D synthesis for healthy bones. And always remember to drink enough fluids.