National Nutrition Week: Daily Nutritional Needs Of Women In India
Why is it important for women to understand their daily nutritional needs? What is the role of nutrition in a woman’s life?
Let’s understand the importance of nutrition for women.
Healthy women are the cornerstone of healthy families and societies. As women manage multiple responsibilities and tasks, they need to take special care of their mind and body.
Daily calorie requirement of each woman depends on her body size, blood parameters, and activity level. As the body size of men and women varies, calorie requirement also varies.
Beyond calories, certain vital nutrients are required by women, since they undergo physiological changes during different phases of life— during puberty, while planning for baby, when pregnant, during lactation, till the time they reach menopause. These are special phases of womanhood, which a man does not undergo. Hence, there is a special nutritional need for women, to help them stay active and healthy.
Apart from these special phases, there are few disorders and diseases like breast cancer, ovarian cyst, thyroid, colon and cervical cancers, which often affect women. These are very commonly diagnosed in Indian women due to a poor lifestyle and unhealthy eating habits.
Let’s take a detailed look at the special phases in a woman’s life:
Iron, calcium, protein and calories are required during puberty, due to increased growth spurt, as there are physiological, psychological and hormonal changes.
But, how many of us know that the nutritional status of a girl has a vital role in the onset of puberty. Obesity in adolescence may lead to an early onset of puberty in females. On the other hand, undernutrition delays the onset of the same and affects overall growth.
Nutrition and hormone interaction during critical periods of growth plays an essential role in metabolic adaptation and growth and development, later in life.
2. Pregnancy and Lactation
Folic Acid is considered to be a key nutrient during pregnancy. The need for iron, calcium, and protein also remains on the higher side during all vital phases of womanhood.
As the blood volume increases during pregnancy and lactation, the special nutrient requirements like iron, protein and calcium also increase. Folic acid, iron and protein combine to make the red blood cells, hence, during the deficiency of these nutrients women suffer from anaemia. That’s why most of the woman suffer from fatigue and nausea during early pregnancy.
Birth defects usually occur during first trimester of pregnancy. Enough intake of folic acid should be encouraged for the development of brain and spinal cord of the baby. It also helps in enlargement of uterus and prevents birth defects such as spina bifida, in babies.
According to researchers, the Intake of enough folic acid on regular basis, all through the year, prevents colon and cervical cancer in women.
Studies also show that intake of enough folic acid for at least a year, before getting pregnant, reduces the chances of birth defects.
During middle age or during menopause, bone density gets fragile and weak, leading to osteoporosis. This is a phase, when calcium absorption level in a woman’s body becomes low due to metabolic and hormonal changes. Hence, additional calcium intake is required to cope up with low calcium absorption level. Anaemia usually accompanies menopause due to excessive bleeding.
Vital Nutrients To Be Included In Women’s Diet
- Iron— It’s required for stamina and energy. Iron can be found in lean meats like chicken, fish and whole egg. Vegetarians need 3 servings of legumes, green leafy vegetables, nuts, or seeds. For the absorption of iron from these food items, eat fresh vegetables and fruits such as oranges, kiwi, tomatoes, broccoli et cetera, which are rich in vitamin C.
- Folic acid— It decreases the risk of birth defects in a newborn. At least 400 micrograms of folic acid should be consumed per day. Women should include more green leafy vegetables, avocado, broccoli, collard or turnip greens, okra, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, citrus fruits, beans, peas, lentils, carrots, beetroots, sunflower seeds, peanuts, flax seeds, and almonds in their diet.
- Calcium and vitamin D— These nutrients are needed for strong bones and to prevent osteoporosis. Low fat milk, egg, fish, limited amount of meat and cheese, yoghurt, green leafy vegetables, chia seeds, sesame seeds, flax seeds, almonds, soy beans should be a part of regular diet. Women should soak up some sun; it helps their body synthesise vitamin D on its own.
- Good fats— Women should consume omega-3 and omega-6 EFA to boost hormone production. Healthy fats are essential for brain function, healthy pregnancies, and to absorb certain vitamins. Healthy fats are found in olives, nuts, seafood, peanut butter and avocados.
In addition to these nutrients, drink at least 6 to 8 glasses of water every day.
Here are some additional tips that will help women stay healthy:
1. What to Avoid
To keep weight under control, at any age, women should avoid excess calorie gain from added sugars, fat and alcohol.
Here are a few tips to avoid consumption of excessive calorie:
- Limit the consumption of soft drinks, alcohol, candies, baked and fried foods.
- Opt for low-fat dairy and lean meat products, instead of their high-fat counterparts.
- Avoid eating foods that are high in saturated fat— fatty meats, burger, sausages, full-fat daily products, baked food items, and pizza.
2. Balancing Calorie With Activity
Women of all ages benefit from regular and moderate amount of physical activity. Regular exercise helps women keep their weight in check, improve muscle strength and de-stress. It’s a great idea to get involved in activities that they enjoy.
3. Get Support During Critical Phase
Women should keep an eye on their diet— they should make wise choices! They can understand the benefits of a balanced and healthy diet by consulting a nutritionist. Nutritionists can help them with simple and personalised dietary advice.
Hemavathi Venkateshwaran is a nutritionist at Motherhood Hospital, Chennai.