Dear Women, Here’s What You Should Be Eating as You Age
International women’s day theme in 2019 is #Balanceforbetter, a call for gender balance across the world. An important aspect of this balance is also health. In my practice, I have seen the disparity in access to healthcare for women because they don’t seek it themselves. We are very particular when it comes to our families but put ourselves last.
There is a slogan, educate a girl and you educate a family. Similarly, a healthy girl translates into a healthy family. So to do my bit, I am sharing some essential nutrients and their impact on our health as we age.
Childhood and Teens: Stock Up on Protein, Calcium, Iron
The years when we are laying the foundation for our health are the most important years to eat healthy. For adequate energy to grow, whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables are all essential for good health. Good food practices at this age also reduce the risk of chronic diseases later in life. Three critical nutrients at this stage are:
- Protein: The building blocks of our body, they are present in every living cell. Rapid growth needs good quality proteins in adequate amounts to meet this need. Animal sources like eggs, meat, fish, chicken, milk and its products are all good sources of proteins. Pulses and legumes when consumed with cereals also provide quality proteins for the vegetarians.
- Calcium: Critical bone mass development at this age will define bone health later in life. Best source of calcium is Milk. The bioavailability of calcium from milk is good and products made from milk like yogurt, paneer, cheese are tasty to consume and are versatile to use.
- Iron: is essential for development of healthy blood cells. This nutrient assumes special significance as girls begin to menstruate and that means blood loss every month. Anaemia in India has been seen even in affluent families because of wrong eating practices. Green leafy vegetables, organ meats, fortified foods and lentils are good sources.
Adult women need to take adequate macro nutrients to maintain their health and some essential ones, especially if they are planning a family, are:
Folic Acid: This is a critical nutrient for prevention of birth defects which can be fatal for the baby. The recommended amounts are 500 µg/day.
Vitamin B12: It is essential for a healthy nervous system and preventing megaloblastic anaemia. It is also involved in DNA synthesis. 1µg/ day for an adult woman and 1.2 μg/day for pregnant women is the recommended amount. B12 is available only in animal food so liver, meat eggs are good sources, milk is an average source of this vitamin. Vegetarians may need supplements especially during pregnancy and adults can choose fortified foods.
Omega-3’s: These aren’t produced in our bodies but are considered essential for cell membranes, hormones , early visual development of babies. Cold water fishes are the best sources of Omega 3s. Vegetarians can consume vegetable oils, walnuts, flaxseeds and leafy vegetables. Some whole grains like bajra also contain Omega3.
Calcium: Calcium is essential for women of all ages. Adult women need 600mg/day while pregnant women need 1200mg/day. Milk and milk products, Ragi, Bengal gram (whole), Rajmah amaranth, broccoli almonds and sunflower seeds are some good sources of calcium.
Iron: Iron remains a critical nutrient for women in reproductive ages. An adult woman needs 21mg/day whereas a pregnant woman needs about 35mg/day. During pregnancy the rapid growth of blood volumes means a lot of raw material is needed. Anaemia in this stage can have serious outcomes like maternal mortality and low birth weight babies. Good sources are amaranth, cauliflower greens, and radish leaves are particularly high in Iron. Vitamin C helps in absorption of Iron.
The Golden Years
- There are the best years I would say, but then menopause kicks in, so while you need lesser iron as you age, other nutrients become very essential.
- Calcium is probably the most important at this time to maintain the integrity of our bones so take about 600mg/ day but also ensure that you take adequate Vitamin D.
- Fluids are important daily but you need to be more hydrated at this time as thirst signals may also be impaired. 35ml/kg body weight is a good thumb rule to follow.
- Calorie requirement drops with age and weight gain is a reality with hormonal changes. In addition to avoiding extra intake from sugary foods exercising daily is a must.
- Fibre is also essential for maintaining good bowel movements and for protecting against metabolic syndrome. Whole grains, legumes, whole fruits and lots of vegetables are recommended.
So ladies take care of your health, get that health check up done, exercise regularly, and don’t wait for tomorrow.
Happy Women’s Day.
(Rupali Datta is a clinical nutritionist who has led teams in corporate hospitals. She has an in-depth knowledge of health care, food and nutrition – both in wellness and diseases. She has appeared as a food and health expert on various TV shows on BBC, NDTV, CNN IBN , AAJ TAK, DD, etc. She has also been associated with e-commerce food websites for which she has created health and nutrition content.)