Women’s Health and Nutrition: Macronutrients & More
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Women’s health and nutrition is about more than just what foods to avoid during pregnancy or what nutrients promote fertility. Of course, this is extremely important, but a woman’s diet matters every day for her to be healthy and successful.
Nutrition is a fascinating and complex topic. Not only because women have special nutritional needs across their lifespan, but also because women think about food and nutrition-related issues much more than men do.
On average, women need fewer calories than men (due to muscle mass and body size), but certain vitamins and minerals are especially important at certain stages of life.
So let us take a look at the nutrients that support women so they can be the best version of themselves at every stage of life.
Let us start with some basics for a healthy diet.
Healthy nutrition tips
While the majority of women know (at least vaguely) what a healthy diet looks like, combining this knowledge with a focus on blood sugar can be overwhelming, or even confusing.
To keep it simple, a balanced meal can be built around the following:
- Half the plate full of colorful, non starchy veggies #eattherainbow
- A quarter of the plate of lean protein such as meat, fish, dairy, or plant based proteins
- A quarter of the plate of whole grains, or starchy vegetables such as potatoes, pasta, or bread
- A teaspoon full of healthy fats, such as plant based oils, nuts, nutbutters or seeds, …
Women are often advised to avoid carbohydrates, especially sugar, to relieve PMS symptoms. While more research is needed to make specific recommendations, we always advise favouring whole grain products and reducing foods high in sugar. Especially because it helps avoid the blood sugar roller coaster, prevent cravings, and improve your mood and energy levels.
Opting for more plant-based and fewer animal-based protein sources has been shown to improve women’s health. It’s not necessary to give up meat completely, but eating beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, and reducing red and processed meat has positive health effects.
We also encourage you to experiment with beans and legumes, as they contain a significant amount of starch content. Some women notice surprising effects on their blood sugar.
Many women fear fats because they have so many calories. However, high-quality fats are important for body functions. To promote women’s health, we recommend focusing on monounsaturated fats because omega-3 fatty acids support ovulation and egg quality. These fatty acids are found in S.M.A.S.H. fish. S.M.A.S.H. stands for sardines, mackerel, anchovies, salmon and herring.
Besides fish, you can also find omega-3 fatty acids in chia seeds, flax seeds and walnuts.
Other components of a woman’s nutrition
Many women enjoy their cup of coffee regularly. That is totally acceptable. However, what many don’t know is that it not only has effects on sleep, mood, and bowel function, but also has a special effect on blood vessels, which can make cramps and periods more painful. So if women suffer from painful cramps in the days leading up to and during their period, we advise limiting caffeine or avoiding it altogether if possible.
Hormonal changes associated with menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause mean that women are at higher risk for anemia, weakened bones, and osteoporosis, requiring higher intakes of nutrients such as iron, calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, and vitamin B9 (folate).
It is no secret that women lose this mineral during menstruation, which puts them at risk for anemia. Also, during pregnancy, the need for iron is particularly high in order to supply the baby with sufficient blood.
When women do eat meat, they should consume lean red meat and seafood such as mussels, sardines and oysters. Unfortunately, poultry is relatively low in iron, so it may be wise to replace one serving of poultry per week with one of these options.
Plant-based iron (also known as “non-heme iron”) is not as readily absorbed by the body as the iron in animal foods (“heme iron”). However, it is found in a variety of beans, dark leafy vegetables and fortified whole grains.
Our tip for plant based iron intake
Combine it with foods rich in vitamin C (for example, sprinkling lemon juice on your spinach salad). This can increase absorption.
Magnesium increases the absorption of calcium from the blood into the bones. Without magnesium, the body cannot utilize calcium.
Magnesium supplementation has been shown to reduce PMS symptoms, mainly fluid retention. Although taking supplements is an easy way to meet the recommendation, foods such as pumpkin seeds, nuts, spinach and whole grains are good sources of magnesium as well.
Calcium and vitamin D
Calcium contributes to bone strength and may reduce the risk of certain diseases such as osteoporosis. In addition to its effects on bone health, research shows that adequate calcium and vitamin D intake reduces the risk of developing PMS.
Folate and folic acid
The body needs folic acid for red blood cells to function normally. Folic acid has also been shown to prevent birth defects caused by neural tube defects. Therefore, folic acid, the supplemental form of folate, is included in the prenatal vitamins recommended for women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant.
It’s not uncommon to get into a rut and eat the same foods and recipes all the time – it’s easy to go on autopilot and follow our habits. However, we encourage you to take a step back and start with a few simple food changes or try a new recipe for your meal prep. Small changes can go a long way toward improving your nutritional balance and maintaining your long-term health.
Controlling your blood sugar can help you find the foods that work for you in each phase of the cycle so you can live your life to the fullest.