Hale & Hearty

From childhood until old age, a woman goes through many changes, both physically and emotionally. Do her nutritional needs change too with every passing stage of her life?

Dt. Geetika Uppal

Gold-medalist in Nutritional Science and the founder of ‘Foodmatters by Dt.Geetika Uppal’

A woman has unique nutritional needs. She not only needs to take care of her own dietary needs; she also has to, at one stage, get her body ready to bear another life. Her body goes through various transitions at different ages that cause a lot of changes both physically and at an emotional level too. Moreover, given the pressure of balancing things between work, home, children, and her own desire to look presentable and well-groomed at all times, it can make it difficult for her to focus on her nutriment régime.

As women, many of us tend to neglect our diet and health, as we might be too busy to eat well or are often used to put the needs of our family before our own. At times, we go to extremes and follow a strict diet routine that leads to a deficiency of many vital nutrients, making us feel lethargic, cranky, and even low on energy many times.

No matter what the age, good nutrition is essential to give one the energy one needs, besides managing the cravings, helping control weight gain, prevent ailments such as osteoporosis, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and of course to look and feel at one’s best.

Changes in taste, smell, and appetite and how the body processes nutrients generally decline as one ages. Older women generally need fewer calories. However, their nutrient needs are just as high or higher than when they were younger. That’s why eating nutrient-rich whole foods can help fight deficiencies and stay in good vigor as one gets older.

A balanced eating routine is the basis of good health. Women should include a variety of healthy foods from all food groups, including fruits, vegetables, pulses, grains, dairy products, and protein. They also need special nutrients, and these needs change through the different stages of her life. Having a healthy meal keeps one in a good mood, controls stress, improves energy levels, and boosts fertility.

NUTRITIONAL NEEDS AT DIFFERENT STAGES

As children, boys and girls have the same nutritional needs. A dietary change is needed when a girl reaches the stage of puberty. With the onset of puberty, the body undergoes many physical and hormonal changes, and micronutrients, i.e., vitamins and minerals, become essential to deal with these hormonal changes.

At the beginning of mensuration, pregnancy, and the later stage of menopause, the hormonal changes are at their peak. At such times, women are at higher risk of getting anemia, osteoporosis, weak bones, arthritis, dip in energy levels. Hence, there is a need for higher amounts of iron, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B, folate, and magnesium.

VITAL NUTRIENTS AT THE DIFFERENT STAGES

Iron-Rich foods
Iron is an important aspect needed throughout a women’s life, but the amount varies in different stages. A higher amount is required during pregnancy and around menopause. Iron-rich foods are chicken, red meat, kale, spinach, lentils, beans, dates, raisins, apricots, beans, broccoli, and fortified cereals. It is important to include Vitamin C when consuming Iron as food or supplements, for its proper absorption. Oranges, strawberries, Indian gooseberries (amla), tomatoes are good sources of Vitamic C.

Folic Acid or Folate
When women reach the pregnancy stage, folate is an essential nutrient needed in the early stages. This helps reduce the risk of neurological diseases in the child and prevents women from the risk of heart diseases and certain types of cancer. Women with symptoms of mood swings, irritation, and lethargy have folate deficiency. Milk, eggs, asparagus, fish, chicken, spinach, Brussels sprouts, lettuce, oranges, green leafy vegetables, peas, and beans are a good source of folate.

Calcium, Magnesium and Vitamin D
Calcium and vitamin D are nutrients needed for the body at all stages of a woman’s life. Calcium is necessary for healthy bones, maintaining an excellent nervous system functioning, and regulating the heart rate. Calcium deficiency can lead to weaker bones, depression, and anxiety. If there is insufficient calcium in the diet, then the body takes calcium from the bones for cell function. This can lead to osteoporosis, causing brittle bones that break easily on a fall and in severe cases, even from sneezing or minor bumps.

Along with calcium, a minimum required amount of magnesium and vitamin D are required for better calcium absorption. For calcium include dairy products, green leafy vegetables, fish, grains, tofu, cabbage, sesame seeds.

Sources of vitamin D include shrimps, salmon and sunlight.

Magnesium can be found in green leafy vegetables, summer squash, broccoli, cucumber, celery, and different varieties of seeds.

DIET TO MANAGE HORMONAL FLUCTUATIONS

  • Increasing Calcium intake helps in relieving PMS symptoms.
  • Include iron and zinc in the diet, like meat, eggs, liver, dried foods.
  • Avoid trans fats like fatty food, like deep-fries, high sugary foods, and instead include omega-3 fatty acids from nuts, fish, and seeds.
  • To reduce bloating, cut down on salt consumption, avoid late-night snacking, frozen foods, and canned foods.
  • Reduce intake of tea and coffee.
  • Include vitamin supplements for a healthy body to cover any deficiency from an incomplete diet.

EATING RIGHT

  • Eating a well-balanced meal will keep you well-nourished and ensure optimized body functions with overall wellness.
  • 3-4 servings of whole grains in the form of wheat flour, rice, wheat flakes, oats, or ragi should be included daily.
  • Minimum 3 servings of dairy products (can be low fat), including milk, yogurt, cheese, labneh, should be included.
  • Include around 4 -5 servings of protein in the form of pulses, eggs, lean meat like chicken or fish, and beans.
  • 2 servings of fruits should be eaten (without added sugars).
  • 3-4 servings of vegetables are a must.
  • 10-12 glasses of water for hydration.
The onus of the family’s welfare usually lies with the woman of the house. When a woman is healthy, her family and everything in the surrounding is healthy too.

RECIPE

Chicken Fajita Lettuce wraps

Ingredients

Chicken breast 1
Ginger garlic paste 1 tbsp.
Black peppercorns 1 tbsp.
Medium bell pepper (thin strips any color) 1
Small onion, cut into 8-10 wedges 1
Olive oil 1 tbsp.
Chili powder as per taste
Cumin 1 tbsp.
Salt to taste
Fajita seasoning to taste
lime 1
Black pepper to taste

METHOD

  • Cut chicken breast into strips.
  • Take all sliced vegetables and chicken in a bowl.
  • Add all the seasonings and mix well.
  • Grill till cooked
  • Place a lettuce leaf, put the grilled chicken veggie mixture, and add lemon as needed.
  • Wrap it well and serve with a condiment of choice.

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