As we celebrate this International Women’s Day, we’d also like to take some time to help make sure that the women in our lives are as healthy and happy as they can be.
This is especially relevant because today’s lifestyle, which includes high stress jobs, family-related responsibilities and social commitments, leaves little time for most of us to pay a sufficient amount of attention to the food we eat. Moreover, women have a unique set of nutritional requirements for every stage in life, because of the complexities associated with periods, childbirth, and menopause.
While the earlier the better, it’s never too late to start making simple changes to get the nutrients we need on a daily basis. Here are some tips to help the women in our lives to do just that while being the go-getters that they are!
Types of Nutrients
The human body requires a bunch of nutrients to survive and thrive.
‘Macronutrients’ are the ones we need in large quantities – fats, protein and carbs. These contribute towards our daily calorie allowance. Vitamins and minerals, on the other hand, are needed in very small quantities and are therefore called ‘micronutrients’.
Other than these, we also need antioxidants that neutralise harmful compounds called free radicals, which form in our body and contribute to all sorts of problems. Although antioxidants are also micronutrients, you will soon see why they deserve a category of their own – especially for women’s health.
Let’s look at how each of these, in their recommended amounts, can help address the specific nutritional needs of women!
1] Get a Good Balance of Macronutrients
Perhaps the most controversial of the macronutrients in our diet, fat is essential for survival and should not be avoided. The Institute of Medicine encourages women to consume 20 to 35 percent of their daily calories from healthy fats (There are 9 calories per gram of fat, to help calculate this).
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats (our body cannot make them) that particularly help women in many ways. They relieve menstrual cramps, alleviate symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), and soothe joint pain. In fact, these fats are helpful for every part of the body due to their anti-inflammatory action.
With about 4 calories in every gram, the recommended amount of protein per day is 0.8 to 1.2 g per kg body weight. For example, a 50 kg woman would need no less than 40 g of protein, making up 160 calories of her daily allowance (40g x 4 calories/g = 160 calories).
When we don’t get at least this amount, the body redirects its limited resources of amino acids (protein building blocks) towards organs that are more essential for survival. In this case, non-essential functions, like the skin and hair, may take a hit, which would lead to skin and hair issues. Beyond that, protein even helps with weight management, by regulating our appetite and boosting our metabolism.
This macronutrient should be thought of as the one that takes up the remainder of the daily calories to be consumed, after giving proteins and fats more prominence.
Grains make up a huge percentage of the carbs one usually eats in a day.
You’ve probably already heard that whole grains are far better than refined ones – it’s perfectly true. Refined carbs lead to a blood sugar rollercoaster, can result in weight gain, and are associated with skin issues like acne.1
And let’s not forget the added amount of fibre in whole grains. Women require 25g of fibre a day, but the average adult is believed to consume only 15g.
Fibre helps the good bacteria in our gut flourish, which is particularly important for women, because they tend to experience more gastrointestinal issues than men.2 This is believed to occur because the two sexes have differences in the gut bacteria.3
So, sticking to healthy sources of carbs (fruits, vegetables, seeds and whole grains) should help you reach required amount of fibre, while eliminating excess carbs.
Sugar also falls under the carbs category, so it’s important to make a small mention of it here. While it’s best to avoid added sugar completely, stick to not more than 6 teaspoonfuls of table sugar (25 g; 100 calories), even if you exercise.4
2] Get Enough Micronutrients
While the list of micronutrients extends far beyond what’s mentioned here, we’ve made it a point to select the ones that are commonly deficient in Indian women. They are:
Women are specifically and very often deficient in iron due to the loss of blood during menstruation. Iron is required by our blood to carry oxygen to parts of the body, so when iron is low, oxygen is not delivered efficiently and, in more serious cases, may lead to anaemia. Iron is also required for several other processes of the body, such as hair growth. That’s why the daily recommended intake of iron is 17 mg per day. Good sources of iron include red meat, dark green leafy vegetables and legumes.5
Zinc and Magnesium
Both these minerals are required for countless reactions to occur in the human body. For women, zinc and magnesium have been shown to improve moods during PMS, and may also reduce water retention and other symptoms.6-10
Vitamin D3 and Calcium
Bone problems are more prevalent in women than men because the female hormone ‘oestrogen’, essential for healthy bones, begins to decline during menopause. It’s a good idea to get enough nutrients for strong bones before its gradual decline over time, especially since this may occur earlier as a result of nutritional deficiencies of calcium, vitamin D3 and vitamin K.5
3] Keep up Your Defences with Antioxidants
We have previously explored the amazing benefits of antioxidants, which are fascinatingly far-reaching. Here are a few reasons why antioxidants are especially beneficial for women:
– Reduce Problems Associated with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS):
This is the most common hormonal disorder among young women, which leads to many metabolic, reproductive and psychological issues. Some characteristics of PCOS, such as obesity (especially around the abdomen), excess of the male hormone (testosterone), and insulin resistance (when your body cannot use glucose efficiently), are all related to the formation of free radicals that harm tissue. Other than antioxidants, nutrients like folic acid, vitamin D, zinc and omega-3 fatty acids can also reduce problems associated with PCOS.11
– Reduces Risk of Heart disease
Heart disease is more common in men than in women, but the increased risk that comes with age is higher in women. PCOS is also a contributing factor, because it has such a major bearing on our metabolism, for example, affecting our cholesterol levels and increasing blood pressure – both of which directly influence heart health.12, 13 Antioxidants can go a long way here since free radicals play a significant role in the events leading up to heart disease.14-17 Incidentally, zinc supplementation is also believed to reduce the risk of heart disease associated with PCOS (and otherwise).18, 19
Seeing how nutrients can clearly deter severe issues like these to even simple ones like skin and hair problems, there’s every reason to start making sure you get plenty of them! After all, you deserve the very best of health and happiness ?
1. Mahmood SN, Bowe WP. J Drugs Dermatol 2014, 13(4): 428-435.
2. Health OoWs. Digestive Health. In: Services UDoHaH, editor.; 2016.
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6. Facchinetti F, et al. Obstet Gynecol 1991, 78(2): 177-181.
7. Walker AF, et al. J Womens Health 1998, 7(9): 1157-1165.
8. Ebrahimi E, et al. J Caring Sci 2012, 1(4): 183-189.
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12. Jousilahti P, et al. Circulation 1999, 99(9): 1165-1172.
13. Talbott EO, et al. Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinics of North America 2001, 28(1): 111-133.
14. Kim OY, et al. Atherosclerosis 2010, 208(2): 581-586.
15. Sesso HD, et al. The American journal of clinical nutrition 2004, 79(1): 47-53.
16. Kim JY, et al. Atherosclerosis 2011, 215(1): 189-195.
17. Klipstein-Grobusch K, et al. Atherosclerosis 2000, 148(1): 49-56.
18. Kim J, Lee S. Nutr Res Pract 2012, 6(3): 221-225.
19. Amini L, et al. Iranian Journal of Reproductive Medicine 2015, 13(1): 1-8.