Nutrition for women: Should it be different?
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When it comes to the basics of healthy eating, there’s no doubt that what’s good for the goose is also good for the gander.
No matter your gender, you can’t go wrong with eating a variety of healthy foods including lots of fresh vegetables and fruit; legumes and pulses, nuts and seeds; lean proteins and dairy; healthy fats and wholegrains.
Combine those healthy eating guidelines with regular physical activity plus the awareness that we require less calories than men, and women can do a lot to safeguard their health.
Inevitably though, finely etched into the fabric of women’s lives are the details of our difference, and we do have some unique needs when it comes to certain micronutrients, which shift in focus during our changing life stages.
Maryke Bronkhorst, a Registered Dietitian and spokesperson for Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA) points out that our reproductive years represent the major portion of our lives.
“Women and girls of reproductive age, who are not pregnant or breastfeeding, should strive for optimal nutritional status for their own health and for the health of any future children,” Maryke says.
“Good nutrition during the reproductive years helps set the foundation for health in years to come. It helps ensure proper growth during adolescence, adequate nutrient stores for a healthy pregnancy, and a good nutritional status to help maintain bone health during the menopausal and postmenopausal time of life.
"Many women’s health issues are related to the hormonal shifts in oestrogen and progesterone associated with the menstrual cycle. These include higher risk of anaemia, weakened bones, and osteoporosis. Malnutrition, as either under- or over-nutrition, can also have adverse effects on women’s health and fertility.”
Top tips for your reproductive years are:
- Achieve and maintain a healthy body weight. Underweight is related to poor nutritional status; heart irregularities; osteoporosis; amenorrhea (absent menstruation); and infertility in women. Obesity is associated with increased risk of chronic disease and obesity-related anovulation (ovulation does not occur during the menstrual cycle) which affects fertility
- Consume a healthy, balanced diet. Women should enjoy a variety of foods across all food groups. Include wholegrains, plenty of vegetables and fruit, healthy fats, dairy and lean protein sources. Limit processed foods, salt, saturated and trans-fats, refined carbohydrates and sugar. Remember that supplementation cannot compensate for an unhealthy or unbalanced diet
- Exercise regularly. Research shows that women are less physically active than men. Find sports and activities that get you moving that you enjoy and try to ensure a minimum of three hours of physical activity every week
- Avoid harmful substances including tobacco and vaping products, alcohol, recreational drugs and environmental toxins