Good nutrition for women’s wellbeing |10 March 2023
Every year women are celebrated on March 8 on International Women’s Day. This year’s theme is ‘embrace equity’.
Although many people confuse equity with equality they are not inherently the same terms. Both terms are important but it is worth understanding the differences between them. Equality means each individual or group of people is given the same resources or opportunities. Equity recognises that each person has different circumstances and allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome.
Our focus today is on how women can improve their health by improving their nutritional intake.
Nutritional needs throughout life
What a woman chooses to eat and drink every day has an impact on her life now as well as for years to come. The more often that healthy foods are chosen the less likely that women will develop health problems related to poor dietary choices.
Interestingly it’s been observed that a woman has a great influence on how other people in her household eats. So if she chooses healthy foods most of the time then the rest of her family are more likely to be healthy as well.
Depending on the time in her life, a woman’s nutritional needs changes throughout her lifetime. There are certain nutrients that are needed in higher amounts at certain life stages and the changes going on in her body.
Adolescence (teen years)
From the age of 9 to 18 years there are certain key nutrients that have an impact on growth and development. Calcium and vitamin D are crucial for bone mineralisation and protein is important for growth. Young girls also need to have adequate iron due to blood loss during menses.
The highest energy needs of a woman is during her teenage and young adult life as her body is going through many changes. By the age of 25 years however the resting metabolic rate of a woman starts to decline. As such it is important that she starts to reduce her calorie intake and increase her physical activity level to maintain a healthy body weight after the age of 25.
Preconception (before pregnancy)
It is important to maintain a healthy body weight when planning your pregnancy therefore having a nutritious diet is recommended. Folic acid supplementation begins at the point when a woman is planning to conceive and continues thereafter. Iron supplementation is only recommended for those with anaemia. Most other key nutrients like protein, calcium and iodine can easily be acquired through a varied diet.
Folic acid supplementation should continue for the first three months of pregnancy (first trimester). Women are encouraged to continue eating a healthy and balanced diet throughout their pregnancy. The focus should be on getting adequate nutrients to support the changes happening to your body as well as your growing baby. Your water intake should be a minimum of two and a half litres per day to cater for increased blood volume.
After giving birth
During the post-natal period the focus is on feeding your baby and you are encouraged to breastfeed. Breastfeeding is an energy-demanding process so it is important to continue to eat well. Having nutrient-dense foods means that you are giving your baby the nutrients he or she needs via your breastmilk. You will need to increase your water intake to at least three litres per day as you lose a lot of water via breastmilk.
Due to the decrease in oestrogen levels (a hormone) a woman has increased risk of certain diseases like diabetes, heart diseases and osteoporosis (brittle and weak bones). As we age the amount of calories (energy) that our body needs decreases so it is important to revisit our eating habits. This is because women lose muscle mass, gain more fat mass and tend to be less physically active.
Meeting your nutritional requirements
Most of the nutrients that a woman needs throughout her life can be found in the food that she consumes. It is important therefore to have a diversified diet comprising of different foods from different food groups as illustrated in the Seychelles Food guide.
There are however certain stages in a woman’s life whereby some nutrients might not be adequately met through diet alone and would require supplementation. That means that aside from getting the nutrients from rich food sources the woman should also consider including a supplement.
Great food sources of iron include fish, shellfish (crabs, prawns), meat, offals (liver, kidney, brain) as well as plant-based sources like beans, lentils, nuts, seeds and green leafy vegetables. It is important to combine plant-based sources a with a vitamin c rich source such as tomatoes or capsicum to increase the iron absorption.
You can increase your calcium intake by including milk, yoghurt and cheese in your daily diet. If you cannot consume any dairy products then you can consider some other options like fortified plant-based milk like soya, almond or oats or green leafy vegetables like moringa leaves, or beans like chickpeas or canned fish like sardines with edible bones.
Vitamin D is also knowns as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ because your body can produce it when exposed to sunlight. Even then many of us aren’t able to produce enough to meet our body needs. Some great food sources of vitamin D include oily fish like trevally (karang), bonito, mackerel and tuna, egg yolks, some varieties of mushroom and fortified food sources like milk.
Folic acid is abundant in most foods but really good sources include beans, lentils, eggs, green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, nuts, seeds, offals, fruits like banana, papaya and avocado.
We hope that you’re able to meet your nutritional needs no matter which stage of life you’re in right now and regardless of your age. #Embrace Equity.
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Please get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know how you’re doing with these ideas, or better still, let us know how we can help you.
Yours in health
The E4OH team