The need for proper nutrition in women cannot be exaggerated. Every year, more research confirms that specific nutrients are highly beneficial to the health and well-being of women, including mental and reproductive health.
Although all nutrients are important, these are some that are essential for a woman and should be consciously included to provide a well-balanced diet for her.
Commonly known as the nutrient for strong bones, calcium is the most abundant element in the body. It is a major part of the structure for bones and teeth and helps prevent osteoporosis, a medical condition where bones become fragile and brittle due to a loss of tissue which is often because there is insufficient calcium in the body.
In pregnant women, it helps in the formation of strong bones, helps the baby grow a healthy heart and develop proper blood clotting abilities. It also reduces the risk of pre-eclampsia in the mother.
Sources: Milk and other dairy products such as Yoghurt, Cheese (preferably low fat) almonds, broccoli and kale
When taken as supplements, calcium citrate is more absorbed than calcium gluconate and should be taken on an empty stomach in divided doses.
Also known as cholecalciferol, Vitamin D helps the intestines absorb more calcium from the food we eat. This is why milk is often fortified with these two nutrients.
Unlike other vitamins, Vitamin D can be produced by the body through exposure to the sun.
It supports the immune, nervous system and brain health as well as promoting type 1 diabetes management. When children lack Vitamin D, they may have rickets which presents with the signature ‘bow-shaped’ legs. It also helps prevent osteoporosis and reduces the risk of preeclampsia in pregnant women.
Recent research infers that taking in enough Vitamin D may reduce the occurrence of breast, colon and ovarian cancers.
Sources: Cheese, Egg yolks, Salmon, shrimp, oysters, tuna, wild mushrooms, UVB rays from the early morning sun.
Using sunscreen reduces the amount of Vitamin D gotten from being in the sun and the presence of darker skin requires longer time in the sun (30-45 minutes) to get good levels of Vitamin D.
This element is important in maintaining energy levels as it converts food to energy. It is important for blood formation and when in lack, can lead to anaemia.
Women lose blood during menstruation and childbirth and this causes a reduction in iron stores in the body which can affect their immune system and normal brain function. Hence, women must take in enough iron, either through diet or supplementation.
Sources: There are two forms of iron: heme iron from animal sources like fish, red meat, chicken, turkey, and non-heme iron from plants like beans and spinach (Ugu leaves)
Iron is poorly absorbed from food and one way to increase absorption is by eating foods rich in Vitamin C, such as bell peppers, oranges, strawberries, together with iron-rich foods.
This important nutrient exists in two forms: folate, which is the natural form (gotten from food) and folic acid, the synthetic form, frequently used to fortify foods and supplements.
Folate is the preferred moiety but when taken in the right quantity, folic acid can provide great benefits.
When present in the right quantity in the body, it may reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. It is vital for pregnant women as it reduces the risk of birth defects in the child. Vitamin B9 is essential for cell formation and may even reduce cancer risk.
Sources: Folate is present in eggs, leafy vegetables, pawpaw, citrus fruit, beef liver, bananas, while folic acid is found in fortified foods like bread, forms of pasta and cereals.
Taking some drugs like antacids, contraceptives and some antidiabetic drugs can reduce the absorption of Vitamin B9. Always check with your pharmacist if you are taking multiple drugs.
OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS
These acids are part of the essential fatty acids which the body cannot produce by itself and needs to be supplied through a daily diet.
They boost the ‘good’ (high density) cholesterol, lower blood pressure and are great for maintaining good heart health in women. Omega-3 fatty acids also help in relieving menstrual pain.
Sources: Fish such as tuna, herring, salmon, sardines, anchovies are the best source, but taking supplements is encouraged when the dietary source isn’t enough.
In women, eating 0.085kg of omega 3-rich fish two to three times a week can reduce the risk of stroke by up to 60 per cent.
All these nutrients are important for everyone, but women should be more intentional about taking a sufficient quantity of these nutrients. These will make a good difference in health and overall quality of life.
A healthy woman is a happy woman.
Happy International Women’s Day!
We celebrate all women- strong, bold, powerful, peaceful- today and always.