Key Nutrients for Women
With International Women’s Day in March, in celebration of women, I wanted to take some time to highlight the importance of key nutrients for women’s health. Although a healthy and balanced diet is essential for both men and women, women have unique nutritional needs that change throughout their lives. It’s essential to have a balanced and diverse diet that includes all the essential nutrients to maintain good health. In this blog post, we will discuss six key nutrients that are especially important for women.
Remember, nutrient recommendations are a guideline, not a target. This is because everyone is different and individual needs vary in size and activity levels.
Iron is an essential component of red blood cells that transfers oxygen from the lungs to all the body’s tissues. Iron also is necessary for physical growth, neurological development, cellular functioning, and the synthesis of certain hormones.
Low iron means we can’t produce enough red blood cells to supply oxygen around the body. This can lead to anaemia – a low number of red blood cells – which can include symptoms like fatigue, weakness, paleness, dizziness, lack of focus and hair loss. Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency globally; over a quarter of women may have an inadequate iron intake.
While you do need iron, don’t overdo it. Excess iron can cause: constipation, nausea, belly pain and vomiting.
Premenopausal women – from the onset of menstruation to menopause – need 16mg of iron per day, including during pregnancy and lactation. This is higher than for men and women past menopause – 11mg of iron per day – as during menstruation – a monthly period – iron is lost with the blood and can use up iron reserves, especially if monthly periods are heavy or our diet is low in iron.
Iron Food Sources: fortified foods, oysters, legumes, beef liver, tofu, dark chocolate, spinach
Calcium is necessary for building and maintaining strong, healthy bones and teeth. 99% of the calcium in our body is stored in our bones and teeth, so if we aren’t getting enough calcium from food, our body will take it from our bones. Calcium is also used for muscle contraction – including the heart – and ensuring our blood clots normally, the nervous system and hormonal balance.
A woman’s body goes through many different phases like menstruation, pregnancy, breastfeeding and menopause. As the body goes through these phases, the nutritional demand of the body increases. Additionally, women have a lower bone density than men, so they need a regular source of calcium and vitamin D to keep their bones sturdy.
A lack of calcium in adults can lead to softening of the bones (osteomalacia) or weakening of the bones (osteoporosis ) which increases the risk of bone fractures.
Good sources include dairy products, leafy greens, almonds, tofu, broccoli, salmon and calcium-fortified foods
Vitamin D goes hand-in-hand with calcium; it plays a key role in building and maintaining our skeletal health since it helps the body absorb calcium. In addition, vitamin D also supports the body’s immune system, mood, memory, and muscle recovery
Long-term vitamin D deficiency can lead to bone softening, also known as rickets in children or osteomalacia in adults.
Older women are at increased risk of developing vitamin D insufficiency, partly because the skin’s ability to synthesize vitamin D declines with age.
Unfortunately, very few foods naturally contain vitamin D. Sources include tuna, salmon, egg yolks, and fortified milk. A little sunshine also helps the body make and absorb vitamin D better. Exposure of the skin to sunlight in the spring and summer months is the main source of vitamin D for most people in the UK.
In the UK the Government recommends Children from the age of 1 year and adults need 10 micrograms of vitamin D a day from about late March/early April to the end of September.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3s are essential fats that provide numerous health benefits for women from our hearts to our minds and every cell in between, omega-3s contribute to every inch of our bodies, in terms of health including reducing inflammation, supporting healthy skin, and easing menstrual pain.
Good sources include fatty fish, flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts.
Protein is essential for building and repairing tissues, producing hormones and enzymes, and supporting a healthy immune system.
In my clinic, I find a lot of my female clients aren’t eating enough protein. We tend to crave more sugary snacks, pasta and other refined carbs. Protein isn’t just for bodybuilders! In order to preserve muscle mass when we age, but also eating protein can make you feel full longer, it’s important to make sure we add it into our meals.
Good sources include lean meat, chicken, fish, eggs, beans, dairy, and soy foods.
B vitamins are a group of essential nutrients that are crucial for women’s health. They are composed of eight B vitamins:
- B1 (thiamine)
- B2 (riboflavin)
- B3 (niacin)
- B5 (pantothenic acid)
- B6 (pyridoxine)
- B7 (biotin)
- B9 (folic acid)
- B12 (cobalamin)
B vitamins play a vital role in maintaining good health and well-being. As the building blocks of a healthy body, B vitamins have a direct impact on your energy levels, brain function, metabolism and DNA synthesis.
Lots of foods contain B vitamins, making it easy to get enough from your diet. It’s best to get your B vitamins from a wide variety of food sources.
Good sources include whole grains, dairy, meat, fish, leafy greens, nuts, soy and fortified cereals.
Vitamin C is an essential nutrient that plays a crucial role in various bodily functions. It is important for immune health, hormone balance, and chemical messengers within our body. Furthermore, it is a powerful antioxidant, and also helps with collagen, a process that is important to maintaining our bones, skin elasticity, and muscle health. Unfortunately, as we age, collagen production declines, making the intake of Vitamin C even more critical for overall health and well-being.
Good sources include citrus fruits, berries, tomatoes, and leafy greens.
By ensuring you consume adequate amounts of these essential nutrients, you can optimise your health and wellbeing as a woman. Women’s needs change over their lifespan and vary depending on reproductive years through menopause and beyond. Incorporating a variety of nutrient-dense foods into your diet is a great way to ensure you’re meeting your daily needs. If you have any concerns about your nutrient intake, consult with a healthcare professional or a registered Nutritionist.