A woman’s nutritional requirements are different from a man’s. Sadly, in India their nutritional requirements are often neglected. A woman dies every ten minutes in India and mostly it’s due to the malnutrition. Their requirements keep changing at different stages – onset of menstruation, pregnancy and menopause. With this article, we aim to make you aware about what the special needs during the various phases are and why:
Onset of menstruation
A lot of iron is lost each month during menstruation making teenage girls and women very prone to iron deficiency anaemia. One should ensure that they are getting adequate amounts of iron and vitamin C (which aids iron absorption) during this period.
A well balanced diet during pregnancy will help a mother-to-be to stay healthy and supply sufficient nutrition to growing foetus. A good intake of all vitamins and minerals is essential during pregnancy. Calcium helps baby’s teeth and bone formation. Vitamin D helps the body to absorb calcium and folic acid reduces the risk of congenital neural tube defect in baby. Iron is required for making baby’s blood as well as for maintaining mothers own iron levels.
Women tend to lose more calcium and bone density after menopause making them prone to osteoporosis. At this age, one should eat plenty of dairy products, green leafy vegetables and avoid excessive caffeine and alcohol.
Some of the important nutrients for women at different stages of life are discussed below:
Among all the minerals, calcium occurs in the highest amount in the body. It is a very important mineral for the maintenance of neuromuscular function and for the formation of bone and teeth. Women are more susceptible to osteoporosis especially after menopause. More than 50% of the calcium in the women’s bones are lost in the first five years of menopause. Hence, women should start stocking up on calcium well before its onset, say at the ages between 35 – 40 years. Its recommended dietary allowance in normal adult women is 600 mg/day. During pregnancy, lactation and pre-menopause, the requirement doubles to about 1000-1200 mg/day. Good sources of calcium include milk, curd, cheese, ragi, soybean, amaranth, spinach, drumstick leaves and almonds.
It is important to consume adequate amounts of vitamin D to aid calcium absorption and bone formation. A lack of vitamin D can lead to softening of the bones. Sources of vitamin D are sunshine, egg yolks, herring, sardines, tuna, salmon, fortified milk, fish liver oil.
Iron is essential for the formation of hemoglobin and plays an important role in the transport of oxygen. Iron deficiency anaemia is common among adolescent girls, expectant and nursing mothers in developing countries like India. This is the most common cause of ill health among women. Consumption of vitamin C rich foods enhances iron absorption. The recommended dietary allowance for iron in normal adult women is 21 mg/day and during pregnancy it is 35 mg/day. Good sources of iron include green leafy vegetables, sesame seeds, legumes, jaggery, meat, fish and egg.
Vitamin C is good for immune system and helps in fighting infections. It is involved in collagen synthesis, bone and teeth calcification and also enhances iron absorption. Its recommended dietary allowance in normal adult women is 40 mg/day and during pregnancy it is 60mg/day and for nursing mothers it is up to 80 mg/day. Good sources of Vitamin C include amla, guava, citrus fruits like orange, tomato, broccoli.
Protein plays a vital role in the body structure and functions. Women should consume adequate protein to help prevent muscle tissue from breaking down and help repair tissue that has been damaged. 55 gm protein is required for normal adult women, while in pregnancy requirement increases to around 82 gm/day. Good sources of protein include legumes, nuts, meat, fish, egg.
It is one of the B vitamins and plays a very important role in production of red blood cells. It is important to women of child bearing age as it prevents neurological birth defects during early pregnancy. Its recommended dietary allowance in normal adult women is 200 microgram/day and during pregnancy it is 500 microgram/day and for nursing mothers it is 300 microgram/day. Good sources of folic acid include green leafy vegetables, dry beans and legumes.