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The Role of Nutrition in Women’s Health: Key Insights

By Dr. Suman Lal in Obstetrics And Gynaecology , Nutrition And Dietetics

Jan 22 , 2024 | 6 min read

Many women neglect their dietary needs while juggling family and work, often finding themselves too preoccupied with daily responsibilities. As a result, their health and nutrition inadvertently takes a back seat. It is crucial to recognize the significant impact of diet on health. While women's overall calorie and food quantity requirements might be lower than men's, their needs for specific vitamins and minerals are usually higher. Understanding and meeting these unique nutritional demands, such as balanced diet for a woman, is essential for supporting women through various life stages, from the reproductive years to menopause. In this blog, we discuss the importance of nutrition in women's health, outline essential nutrients for women, and provide some guidelines to help ensure a complete diet.

The Significance of Nutrition in Women Health

The importance of nutrition in women’s health cannot be overstated, particularly considering the unique physiological challenges and changes women experience. Here are some of the ways it influences women’s physical and mental well-being:

Hormonal Balance

Women's bodies undergo various hormonal changes during menstruation, pregnancy, menopause, and even day-to-day life. A balanced diet for a woman helps regulate these hormones, reducing symptoms like premenstrual problems, mood swings, and menopausal discomforts.

Reproductive Health

For women of childbearing age, nutrition plays a vital role. Nutrients like folic acid are crucial for fetal development, while iron helps prevent anaemia, which is common during pregnancy. Proper nutrition is also needed in women undergoing the stress of perimenopausal and menopausal physical and mental problems.

Bone Health

Women are at a higher risk of osteoporosis than men, particularly post-menopause. Calcium and vitamin D, crucial for maintaining bone density and strength, are often included in healthy diets for women. A diet rich in these nutrients and regular physical activity can significantly reduce the risk of fractures and bone-related diseases.

Chronic Disease Prevention

Proper nutrition can help prevent and manage chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. Diets rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, while low in processed foods and sugars are vital in maintaining a healthy weight and reducing the risk of these conditions. Best hospitals for diet therapy in Delhi or other locations often provide customized diet plans for fitness females.

Mental Health 

There's a strong link between diet and mental health. Nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish, nuts, and seeds, are known to support brain health and can play a role in managing depression and anxiety. The best nutrition for women includes B vitamins, magnesium, and iron, which also significantly impact mood and cognitive function.

Energy Levels

Women often report feeling fatigued; nutrition can play a role in this. Balanced meals with a mix of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats provide sustained energy throughout the day. Iron is essential, as its deficiency can lead to fatigue and reduced cognitive function.

Skin, Hair, and Nail Health

Healthy food for women affects appearance as well. Vitamins A, C, E, and biotin, and minerals like zinc and selenium support healthy skin, hair, and nails, enhancing how women look and feel about themselves.

Why do Women’s Nutritional Needs Differ from Those of Men? 

Women’s nutritional needs vary from men, primarily due to menstruation, the potential for pregnancy, lactation, and menopause. These stages increase the demand for specific nutrients. For instance, menstruating women require more iron to compensate for its loss during menstruation. During pregnancy and breastfeeding, nutrients like folic acid, calcium, and iron are crucial for the health of both mother and baby. Post-menopause, women need more calcium and vitamin D to maintain bone density.

What Nutrients are Essential for Women's Health?

Key nutrients essential for women include:

Iron

Feeling lethargic, having no energy to work, or being exhausted at the end of the day could be due to iron deficiency. 50-60% of women are deficient in iron. The best sources of iron are meat (especially liver), poultry, and seafood.

While leafy green vegetables, dals, nuts, raisins, figs, and beans are also good sources of iron, the iron from plant foods is different from the iron from animal sources and is not absorbed by the body. However, one can increase iron absorption by taking more citrus foods like lemons, oranges, etc. It is necessary to reduce the intake of tea/ coffee as they inhibit iron absorption.

Calcium

If one feels their bones are weakening, they should focus on calcium. Calcium deficiency can lead to mood problems like irritability, anxiety, depression, and sleep difficulties. Intake of dairy products of at least 500 mL per day is essential. Other good sources include nuts like almonds, lentils, and vegetables like broccoli, and kale.

The other two critical nutrients for better calcium absorption are vitamin D and magnesium. Sunlight is the best source of vitamin D, and dietary sources include egg yolk and fortified milk. Nuts and green leafy vegetables are the best sources of magnesium.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids 

These are essential fats the body can't make alone. Omega-3s are important for cardiovascular health, reducing the risk of heart disease – a leading cause of death in women. They also play a role in brain health and may help with depression. Sources of omega-3s include fatty fish like salmon, flaxseeds, walnuts, and chia seeds.in addition, its deficiency in pregnancy can affect the mental health of new born. 

Vitamin D

Beyond its role in bone health and calcium absorption, vitamin D is essential for immune function, muscle health, and mood regulation. While sunlight is a primary source, foods like fatty fish, egg yolks, and fortified foods (like milk and some cereals) are vital in regions with less sun exposure.

Zinc

Zinc is essential for immune function, wound healing, blood clotting, thyroid function, and much more. This is also essential during pregnancy for fetal development. Sources of zinc include meat, shellfish, legumes, seeds, nuts, and dairy products.

How can Women Improve their Nutrition? 

Evaluating your current diet and considering adding more nutrient-dense foods is critical to improving your nutritional intake.

Here are some strategies for improving nutrition:

  • Prioritize consuming a wide array of fruits and vegetables.
  • Opt for whole grains while reducing or eliminating refined grains from your diet.
  • Focus on lean protein sources, like fish and poultry.
  • Minimize the consumption of processed and sugar-laden foods.
  • Ensure you stay well-hydrated.

Nutritional Tips for Women Trying to Conceive 

For women aiming to conceive, emphasizing a diet rich in essential nutrients is crucial. Some tips include:

  • Aim for two servings of cold water fish like salmon, tuna, sardines, herring, or anchovies each week.
  • Cut down on caffeine as it is linked to a higher risk of miscarriage and can interfere with iron absorption.
  • It's essential to avoid certain foods during pregnancy, such as soft cheeses, sushi, deli meats, raw sprouts, and fish with high levels of mercury, like albacore tuna, swordfish, tilefish, and king mackerel.
  • Choose high-quality protein from fish, poultry, dairy, and plant-based sources over red meat.

Diet Tips to Ease the Symptoms of Menopause 

In the decade preceding menopause, the reproductive system undergoes preparatory changes, accompanied by a hormonal shift in the body. Adopting a nutritious diet during this transitional period can effectively alleviate common symptoms.

  • Enhance your calcium intake.
  • Limit consumption of wine, sugar, white flour products, and coffee.
  • Incorporate a higher amount of healthy fats into your diet.
  • Explore the use of flaxseed to manage hot flashes.
  • Include more soy in your dietary choices.

Final words

In order to maintain optimal health, women must understand and cater to their unique nutritional needs at different stages of their life. A balanced diet, rich in essential nutrients, supports physical health and enhances mental well-being. It is also advisable for women to regularly consult with Nutrition and Dietetics for personalized dietary advice, which can be pivotal in addressing specific health concerns and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. At Max Hospital, our healthcare professionals are ready to provide you with tailored advice and support and are committed to helping you navigate your nutritional needs at every stage of life, ensuring that your health and well-being are always at the forefront.