Balanced nutrition and a healthy diet are crucial for everyone as they provide requisite nutrients, boost immunity, and help to stay fit and healthy. Though the essentials of a healthy diet are similar for men and women, since women and men differ in various physiological, structural, and hormonal aspects, their nutritional requirements may experience slight deviation. Men require more calories than women, whereas women have low-calorie but higher vitamin and mineral needs.
Women undergo several hormonal changes in their life span, making certain vitamins and minerals vital at particular stages for their healthy development and overall well-being. Moreover, women face unique health issues, like pregnancy, breastfeeding, menstruation, and menopause, necessitating the need to opt for a diet that provides essential benefits to the body that can induce a positive impact on women's health.
Nutritional Deficiencies in Women
Comparing the genders, women have a higher prevalence of insufficient nutrient intakes and are more prone to nutritional deficiencies than men in almost all age groups. Around 30% of women are deficient in one or more essential vitamins and minerals, and the risk increases with age. Deficiencies in essential nutrients can cause fatigue, weakness, cognitive impairment, weak bones, changes in heart rhythms and blood pressure, slow wound healing, and many others.
The hormonal changes associated with menstruation, childbearing, and menopause expose women to a higher risk of anemia, osteoporosis, and Vitamin D, B 12, and folate deficiencies. However, these deficiency conditions can be alleviated by eating a nutrient-dense diet, taking high-quality supplements, and taking suitable measures to cope with the changing needs.
Nutritional Requirements of Young Girls
Till adolescence, a girl goes through many physical and hormonal changes; hence nutritious food is essential for the proper growth and development of young girls. Though the diet must include all essential macro and micronutrients, two nutrients are indispensable for adolescents.
Calcium and Vitamin D - Calcium is a vital nutrient for all irrelevant of age and sex, but it is specifically essential for girls during adolescence and early adulthood when bones absorb calcium. Vitamin D is necessary for calcium absorption. Fortified foods are well-formulated with requisite amounts of calcium and Vitamin D and thus serve as the best source for fulfilling calcium and Vitamin D requirements. Most experts recommend 1,300 mg of calcium daily for girls aged 9 through 19.
Iron - Iron becomes especially important during puberty and menstruating years as women and girls experience loss of small amounts of iron during menstruation. Until girls begin to menstruate, they need about 8 mg of iron daily. The recommended value escalates to 15 mg for girls aged 14-18 years. At puberty, girls need extra iron in addition to vitamins and minerals to cope with menstrual conditions.
Nutrition Requirement of Women during Childbearing Years
Several nutrients are essential for women during adulthood, especially in fertile years and during pregnancy.
Folic Acid - This form of B vitamin helps prevent neural tube defects, particularly spina bifida and anencephaly. These defects can be devastating and fatal. During pregnancy, a folic acid supplement is essential for meeting the daily requirement (400 to 800 micrograms).
B12 - Like folic acid, B12 is essential for healthy nervous system development and effective functioning. Teenage and adult women need 2.4 mcg. Recommended levels of B12 rise to 2.6 mcg for pregnant women and 2.8 mcg for lactating mothers.
Omega-3s - These essential fatty acids, EPA and DHA, can help prevent preterm births. These healthy oils help maintain body weight, avert chronic health conditions and reduce the risk of heart diseases.
Choline - Some studies evidenced that low choline levels increase the risk of neural tube defects. A well-balanced diet is the best source to fulfill the need.
Vitamin D - Vitamin D helps in calcium absorption and thus assists in maintaining bone health in women. The general recommendation for daily intake of Vitamin D is 600 IU.
Calcium - Calcium is essential for women in all stages of life. Doctors and nutritionists recommend that women in their childbearing years should emphasize taking 1,000 mg to 1,300 mg of calcium daily.
Iron - Iron, too, remains a critical nutrient. Adult women between 19 to 50 years need 18 mg/day. Pregnant women require an increased iron intake of 27 mg/day. After delivery, lactating women need much lesser amounts of iron, (about 9 mg/day), as they are no longer menstruating. But as soon as women stop breastfeeding, the requirement returns to 18 mg a day.
Nutritional Needs of Women during the Older Years
After menopause, women experience hormonal changes and emotional fluxes. The requirement for iron decreases as women do not experience menstrual blood loss. Requirements for some nutrients increase because the body loses some of its ability to absorb or metabolize them. The nutritional needs include:
Calcium: Women can retard the aging bone loss process by getting enough calcium and vitamin D. Older women between 50-70 years need 1200 mg of calcium and 600 IU of Vitamin D daily. Women aged 70 years and above require 1200 mg of calcium and 800 IU of Vitamin D a day.
Vitamin D: Because the skin becomes less efficient at converting sunlight to vitamin D, elderly women may need vitamin D supplements. Consult the doctor for suitable Vitamin D supplements.
B12: The B12 absorption ability of the body declines with age. A diet abundant in foods fortified with B12 can supply adequate amounts; however, some women may need additional supplements.
Women should follow a regular diet plan and maintain healthy dietary habits for optimal health benefits. The diet for women should especially include foods rich in calcium, vitamin D, B vitamins, and iron to maintain bone health and prevent anemia and other deficiency syndromes. Women are more susceptible to losing lean muscle mass over time due to age and childbearing. Therefore, a regular exercise regimen, inclusive of weight training and age-appropriate exercises, should be a part of the daily routine.
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