Nutrition Tips for Women

Most women lead very busy lives and take on a number of roles that require them to be performing at their best day in, day out. Women have different nutrient needs to men. Maximising your dietary intake may improve your mood, energy levels and reduce the risk of developing chronic disease. Knowing which nutrients you need, why you need them, and how to include them in your day, will fast-track you on your way becoming your optimal self. Here are 4 healthy eating tips to keep on the radar:

 

Iron

Women require more iron in their diets than men due to menstrual losses, and are therefore more susceptible to iron deficiency. Iron plays an important role in the protein that carries oxygen around the body, and in keeping our immune system strong. Low iron levels can lead to low energy, feelings of vagueness, frequent colds and infections, and decreased physical performance. To stay on top of things, and minimise your sick days, you need on average 8mg of iron per day (5mg per day if post-menopausal).

The richest dietary source of iron is red meat (beef, lamb, kangaroo) because it contains the most easily absorbed form of iron (haem). However, fortified wholegrain cereals, legumes, spinach and kale are also good sources. Be aware though, that compounds called oxalates in green leafy vegetables, phytates in legumes and grains, and tannins in tea and coffee, can inhibit iron absorption. Eating plant sources of iron (non-haem) with a vitamin C-rich food, or an animal source of iron, will improve absorption.

Practical tips to maximize your iron intake:

  • Switch to tannin-free Rooibos tea, or eat iron-rich foods away from cups of tea.
  • Consume red meat 2-3 x week, or suitable iron-rich substitutes if you are  vegetarian.
  • Steam your spinach and kale to reduce their oxalate content (rather than eating them raw).
  • If you’re taking an iron supplement, take it at time when you’re eating vitamin c-rich fruit.
  • Have your iron levels checked via a referral from your GP if you are concerned.

 

Calcium

Another nutrient important for women is calcium. Adequate calcium intake is important for maintenance of strong, healthy bones (and teeth). Not consuming enough calcium each day can lead to osteoporosis; postmenopausal women in particular are at greatest risk of this. To make sure your bones stay strong for as long as possible it is recommended that you consume 1000mg of calcium each day, or 1300 mg per day if over the age of 50.

Foods that will help you to reach your daily quota of calcium include milk, cheese, yoghurt, and calcium- fortified soy or rice beverages. The calcium in these foods is easily absorbed. Almonds, spinach, beans and fortified breakfast cereals also contain some calcium, though the presence of oxalic acid or phytic acid, reduce the efficiency of absorption.

What do women need to eat each day to meet their daily calcium requirement?

  • 1 cup of milk + 1 cup of calcium-fortified breakfast cereal + 40g of cheese  + 200g of yoghurt.

 

Vitamin D

Vitamin D increases calcium absorption and is therefore important for maintaining bone health. The main source of Vitamin D for most people is sunshine exposure. Women who have low levels of exposure, or have naturally dark skin, are at risk of vitamin D deficiency. Interestingly some of those most affected by Vitamin D deficiency, are women who cover most of their body when outside, those who work indoors for the majority of the day, or mums who don’t regularly get out of their house, in addition to older women in residential care. Vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to low mood and increased risk of some chronic diseases.

It is important to balance the need to maintain adequate vitamin D levels with the risk of skin cancer from too much sun exposure.

Practical tips to prevent Vitamin D deficiency:

  • A sensible balance of sun protection and exposure can ensure that women are not at risk of vitamin D deficiency – just as little as 10-15 minutes per day can be helpful. Good dietary sources of vitamin D are margarine, eggs and oily fish (such as mackerel and sardines).
  • Have your iron levels checked via a referral from your GP if you are concerned.

 

Mindful Eating

Some women find balancing their health and their life commitments difficult. This isn’t surprising given the roles we often take on. Mindful eating can be a helpful strategy to prevent eating for reasons other than hunger – that impulsive or habitual eating that can lead to weight gain and poor health. Here are some tips for eating mindfully.

Practical tips for eating mindfully:

  • Choose to eat food that is both pleasing and nourishing to the body.
  • Prioritise and enjoy the process of cooking and preparing healthy meals and snacks.
  • Use your senses to explore food. Smell, taste and savour it. Eat it slowly, chew it thoroughly.
  • Avoid auto-pilot: Ask yourself, are you really hungry? Or are you simply eating because it is there? Because you are bored? Because you are tired? Because somebody else is?
  • You may have learnt to eat with your head rather than your stomach. Practice ‘tuning-in’ to your hunger and fullness signals. Stop to consider whether you are actually physically hungry prior to eating. If not, keep busy instead, drink water or go for a walk to distract yourself.

Be good to yourself and your body. You only have one.

 

If you would like individualised healthy eating advice, look no further than the experts at Lifestar Nutrition & Exercise Physiology. www.lifestarnutrition.com.au Book now by phoning 0438 551 289.