Healthy nutrition is a must for everybody. Women especially go through so many hormonal and physical changes in their life that maintaining a balanced diet with rich vitamins and nutrients becomes key to building good health. Nutrition is a crucial element for women, and this must be followed right from birth to old age as the nutrient requirements can be different at every phase of a women’s life. As girls grow into women and undergo phases like puberty, pregnancy, menopause and everything in between.
Nutrition for women of all ages
Babies and toddlers
The most important and crucial way to supply a new-born with the right nutrients is through breastfeeding. There is no other supplement as nutritious as a mother’s own milk. Kids tend to be extremely active, and they burn a lot of energy with their daily activities during their toddler years. It is important that they are given a healthy portion of protein, carbohydrate, fats, calcium, folate, fibre and especially Vitamins A & C. These nutrients will ensure that the child has everything that she needs as she grows.
As a girl grows into her adolescent-phase, her nutrition intake has to be monitored carefully. During her adolescence, there will be a shift in the hormones in her body as it prepares her for puberty. Insufficient nutrients will result in her inability to learn and work at maximum productivity, puts a restrain on having healthy children in the future, affects her sexual maturity and growth and insufficient calcium will result in weak teeth and bones. During this phase of their lives, adolescent girls tend to burn almost 2,200 calories every day which is a significant increase from their previous requirements as a toddler. Lean protein sources, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, fruits and vegetables are the best sources to retain the needed energy for her body.
Every Indian household has followed the practice of providing a girl child with healthy, nutritious food the moment she attains puberty. Although it has become more of customary practice, this provides major health benefits if maintained. During menstruation, there is significant blood loss and energy loss and girls tend to feel tired and exhausted. Without the right nutrition, they can become very weak, which can result in giddiness and fatigue. So, it is crucial that a girl is given food rich in protein, calcium, Vitamin D, iron, carbohydrates, dairy products, whole-grains, fruits and vegetables. Anaemia is a very common concern for girls at this age and therefore special focus on iron-rich food is mandatory.
The next major phase in a woman’s life is pregnancy. You no longer only eat to provide nutrition for yourself but also the little child growing in you. It is a common belief that a pregnant woman must eat for two however, that is not true. Overeating can result in several complications for the mother and the baby and can result in a drastic gain in weight. It is important to eat healthy, nutritious food that will nourish both the mother and the baby. The baby is not going to feed on the food but on the nutrients that you provide him/her with. So, remember to eat healthy by not increasing the quantity of food but rather by increasing the number of nutrients that you will intake. Both micronutrients like vitamins and minerals and macronutrients like protein, carbohydrate, and dietary fibres. Women need to get an ample amount of calcium, vitamin D3, folic acid and magnesium.
Post-pregnancy nutrition is as important as nutrition during pregnancy. Just because you have had a baby is no excuse to start neglecting yourself. In fact, your body has gone through so many changes like carrying and giving birth. So, make sure you are healthy and regain all the nutrients that you could have possibly lost during childbirth. Since post-delivery, there is a depletion of calcium and iron therefore women must make up for the loss through eating healthy.
Menopause, the phase where a woman’s menstrual cycles finally come to an end. During this phase, there is a considerable drop in estrogen levels, which affects metabolism resulting in weight gain, fluctuating cholesterol level, difficulty digesting carbs, a decline in bone density and a lot of mood swings. The most important thing to consume during this period is plenty of dairy products, helping you keep your bones stronger and avoiding fractures. Foods that contain phytoestrogens are recommended during this period as they help act as a weak estrogen in the body. This can be found in grapes, soybeans, chickpeas, black tea, flax seeds and many more. They also help control your mood swings by aiding in providing estrogen. Excessive amounts of sugar, carbs, processed food, spicy food, or food with extra salt must be avoided.
As a woman keeps growing, her nutrition needs keep changing. Each phase of her life requires attention and care to help her provide her body with the necessary nutrition. More emphasis is given to a woman’s health simply because her body goes through so many changes through various phases of her life and each phase needs to be catered to individually. It is always good to visit an expert nutritionist to keep track and make sure your body is getting everything it needs, avoiding any possible complications in the future that might come due to negligence. A woman’s bone strength and development are only up to 23 years of age. Along with physical activity, there is a good deposition of calcium in bones and absorption and metabolism are high in this age.
Above 25 to 30 years of age, calcium absorption and deposition will go down, which instead after taking a calcium-rich diet, there will be more absorption and deposition of fat from food than calcium.
Authored by Dt. Meenaz Ahmed, Consultant Nutritionist and Dietitian, Motherhood Hospitals, Banashankari, Bangalore.
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