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Your daily food choices largely influence your general health. Following a healthy, well-balanced diet can help prevent and manage various health problems.
This article talks about the nutritive needs of women on a day-to-day basis. As a woman, you may require extra nutrients when you are pregnant or entering menopause. Therefore, it is vital to be aware of your body’s nutritive requirements to help lead a healthy life.
Nutritional Requirements of Women
Women’s nutritional needs vary among individuals according to their genes, activity level, height, and age. Most women need about 25–30 calories and 0.8–1 g protein per kg of their body weight each day. (1)
However, it is advisable that women do not count calories (and use hunger cues instead) because it is difficult to know what they actually need. If you are curious about how much you may need, you can try this calculator tool. (2)
Factors Affecting Women’s Nutritional Needs
The following factors can influence the amount of nutrition women require:
The hormonal changes in menopause can lead to a gradual decrease in muscle mass, which in turn can decrease caloric needs. Conversely, women now need more calcium (1200 mg/daily instead of 1000 mg) to help maintain strong bones. (3)
3. Pregnancy and breastfeeding
Since a fetus or baby is dependent upon the mother for its nutrition, there needs to be an increase in women’s nutritional intake at these times.
4. Physical activity
The more physically active a woman is, the more energy she spends, thus increasing her caloric requirement.
5. General health
Sometimes illnesses or health conditions can also impact nutritional needs – for example, extra protein can be helpful for someone recovering from surgery.
Dietary Suggestions for Women
There is no one food that “should” be included in women’s diets, as the sum of what one eats on a regular basis is greater than any one single food. But here are some great choices for nutrient-dense foods for women:
- Greek yogurt – contains calcium and vitamin D for strong bones and has probiotics
- Beans – offer plant-based protein and fiber for promoting a healthy microbiome
- Berries – are a helpful source of fiber that promotes normal bowel movements and also rich in antioxidants
- Salmon – is rich in the omega-3 fatty acid DHA, which is important throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding for fetal brain growth and for preventing inflammation later in life
- Dark chocolates – contain polyphenols that have antioxidant activity
- Almonds – are great as a filling snack since they contain protein, fat, and fiber, all of which balance blood sugar
- Avocados – are high in folate, which is helpful before conception and during pregnancy to prevent the early development of the fetus
- Olive oil
- Dark leafy greens – may be specifically helpful for heart health after menopause, thanks to their nitrate component
Additionally, women should try reducing their meat intake and eating more fish and seafood, instead. Seafood has omega-3 fatty acids, which are anti-inflammatory and may prevent a variety of health conditions.
Moreover, fluids, namely, water, are a major component people often forget. Water is actually a nutrient and it is recommended that women aim to get at least 2 liters per day. They’ll likely need even more if they’re sweating (from activity or a hot climate), pregnant, breastfeeding, or just thirsty.
Vitamins for Women’s Health
While a balance of all vitamins and minerals is necessary, women must take note of the following:
- Women must include vitamin D sources in their diet. Vitamin D is a key part of bone health as well as the immune system, yet it is not offered in many foods (aside from salmon and fortified dairy and non-dairy substitutes).
- If you’re vegan or a very strict vegetarian, be mindful of vitamin B12, which is only found in animal foods. Vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to anemia or issues with your nervous system. (5) Vegans can get vitamin B12 through supplements or fortified products (such as non-dairy milk).
Whether or not you need supplements to fill in any gaps in your diet depends on your diet, lifestyle, genetics, and any health conditions you may have. In general, when it comes to supplements, it is recommended to have a targeted approach rather than a blanket one.
In other words, take supplements that address specific deficiencies rather than just taking a multivitamin (the exception to this is pregnancy, during which a prenatal multivitamin is nearly universally recommended).
It’s helpful that women work one on one with a nutrition expert such as a registered dietitian if they want to identify from which supplements they could benefit.
Iron Deficiency in Women
Women are at risk for iron-deficiency anemia because of the demands that menstruation and reproduction put on their bodies.
According to the US Office of Women’s Health, about 5% of women may develop iron-deficiency anemia due to blood loss from heavy periods. Pregnant women are also at higher risk since a developing fetus and the organs to support it require extra iron. (6)
Foods that are rich in iron include meats, dark leafy greens, and beans. Pairing these foods with a source of vitamin C (such as tomatoes, peppers, or citrus) can enhance absorption while pairing them with calcium (such as dairy) impairs absorption.
Women may need iron supplementation in the form of pills if their blood test results show that the condition is severe.
Foods That Are Good for Female Fertility
If you’re a female who is looking to become pregnant, focus on nutrition as early as possible! That means focusing on eating a wide variety of whole foods and addressing any issues you might have.
When you’re trying to conceive, eat a wide variety of nutrient-dense foods to make sure you’re covering all your bases. Here are a few examples of foods with their specific benefits:
- Eggs contain choline, which is an important nutrient for conception and pregnancy (7) that women are not getting enough of.
- Seeds (such as hemp, pumpkin, and sesame) contain zinc, which has been found to support egg health. (8)
- Leafy greens (such as romaine, spinach, kale, and arugula) contain folate, which is a key nutrient for fetal development during the earliest phases of pregnancy. (9)
So much of fetal development occurs early on in pregnancy that it’s important to enter pregnancy in a well-nourished state, rather than start focusing on healthy eating once you’re already pregnant.
A balanced diet plays a key role in managing your health. It is suggested to include a variety of foods in your diet, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat foods, lean protein, and fat-free dairy.
As a woman, you must make sure to meet your nutritional requirement throughout the different phases of life.