About a healthy diet for women
Women’s Health Week runs from the 1st of September to the 5th. A healthy diet for either gender is basically the same. It’s about achieving as much variety as you can with healthy foods and correct portion sizes. However, there are a few key nutrients that bare a greater importance for women than men, particularly at certain life stages such as pregnancy. This article will cover the nutrients that are particularly important for women’s health.
It is important for women to ensure they are consuming enough iron rich foods. This is due to monthly blood losses through menstruation – this increases a woman’s risk of becoming iron deficient. Iron is therefore less of a concern for men and post-menopausal women.
Women most at risk include:
- Vegetarian/ vegan women who aren’t focusing on iron-rich plant sources
- Teenage girls who have commenced menstruating
- Menstruating women and women with heavy cycles
- Pregnant/ breast feeding women who have increased requirements
The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Nutrient Reference Values (NRVs) recommend intakes of :
Children and adolescents
Note the difference between the requirements for men and women and the increase around the time of menstruation.
Note the significant drop off around the age of menopause.
Iron rich foods include
√ Animal protein e.g. lamb, beef, chicken, fish, pork (red meat has the highest content)
√ Beans, lentils
√ Nuts and seeds
√ Iron fortified products
√ Dried fruit
√ Iron fortified products
Folic acid is most important for women who are planning pregnancy and that are pregnant. An adequate intake of folic acid will reduce the risk of neural tube defects. In this case, supplements are recommended in addition to folate rich foods.
The below recommendations have been sourced from the NHMRC folate nutrient reference values :
Folate rich foods include
√ Green vegetables e.g. asparagus, spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts
√ Beef liver
√ Fortified products e.g. bread
√ Lentils and dried beans
Calcium for women
Calcium is important for the prevention of osteoporosis and for the maintenance of healthy bones and teeth. It is important throughout all stages of life.
Due to menopause, women are at a greater risk of osteoporosis which is why calcium is very important. Around the age of menopause, calcium requirements are heightened to slow down the rate of bone loss. Calcium is also very important during pregnancy, for the developing baby. It is not necessary to increase requirements but it is crucial that requirements are met.
Vitamin D is also very important as it aids in the absorption of calcium.
The below recommendations have been sourced from the NHMRC calcium nutrient reference values :
Children and adolescent
Calcium rich foods include
√ Dairy products e.g. milk, yoghurt, cheese
√ Dairy substitutes e.g. soy, oat, almond milk (ensure you choose a product that has been fortified with calcium)
√ Soft fish bones e.g. the bones in tinned salmon
√ Nuts and seeds
√ Calcium fortified products
√ Green leafy vegetables
Health conditions specific to women
There are certain conditions that only effect women or are more common amongst women than men. These conditions can have specific dietary tips and guidelines that will be helpful in their prevention / management or even a reduction in the severity of the symptoms experienced. Such examples include:
The consumption of a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables may decrease the risk of developing breast cancer. The maintenance of a healthy weight is also very important and may reduce cancer risk. The avoidance of alcohol is recommended or at least keeping intake to a moderate consumption. Highly processed and smoked meats should be avoided also. Adequate nutrition is also very important during treatment for breast cancer.
Poly Cystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
This condition only affects women. The symptoms of PCOS can be far better managed and in many cases significantly reduced if a healthy weight is achieved and if a low GI, healthy diet is followed. For more information on the dietary managements of PCOS, see my blog: PCOS
References – Australian National Health and Medical Research Council Nutrient Reference Values
Contact us for results focused nutritional advice
This article was written by our dietitian Belinda Elwin who is a Dietitians Association of Australia member and Accredited Practising Dietitian and Nutritionist. If you have questions about women’s nutrition or other nutrition related issues, make an appointment. We‘ll provide you with a simple and effective routine targeted to your concerns. Contact us today.