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Nutrients Especially Important for Women
Women need to pay particular attention to the following nutrients:
This mineral is important for many body functions, such as:
- carrying oxygen to every cell in the body
- helping to build red blood cells
- improving brain function.
- Iron deficiency can lead to fatigue, trouble concentrating and irritability.
Women are particularly susceptible to iron deficiency due to monthly blood losses.
How much do women need?
Women 19 –50 years of age need 18 mg of iron daily.
Pregnant women need 27 mg of iron daily.
Women aged 51 + need 8 mg everyday
Food Sources of Iron
Iron comes from animal sources (heme iron) and plant sources (non-heme iron).
Heme iron (from animal sources) is better absorbed than iron from plant sources. However, the absorption of iron from plant sources can be improved when these foods are eaten with foods rich in vitamin C (such as orange juice, strawberries or green, yellow or red peppers).
Animal sources of iron:
- Turkey and chicken (dark meat has more)
- Fish and seafood
Plant sources of iron:*
- Fortified breakfast cereals
- Whole grain breads and pasta
- Dried peas, beans, lentils
- Nuts and seeds
- Dried fruit (apricots, raisins)
- Dark green leafy vegetables
* The iron from these foods is better absorbed when a vitamin C-rich food is eaten at the same time. Foods rich in vitamin C include: oranges, strawberries, green, yellow and red peppers, tomatoes, broccoli.
Calcium and Vitamin D
Many women do not meet their daily requirements for calcium and vitamin D.
Both of these nutrients are important for bone health, but have other important roles:
Calcium may help regulate blood pressure and help reduce symptoms of premenstrual syndrome.
Vitamin D may help fight infections and prevent some cancers, like colorectal cancer.
How much do women need?
Women 19 – 50 years of age: 1000 mg
Women over 50: 1200 mg
Vitamin D requirements:
Women 19 – 50 years of age: 5 ug (200 IU)
Women 51 – 70 years of age: 10 ug (400 IU)*
Women 70 +: 15 ug (600 IU)*
* Health Canada recommends women over the age of 50 should take a supplement of 10 ug (400 IU) in addition to their food sources.
Food sources of calcium:
Best sources: milk products (fluid milk, yogurt, cheese); fortified soy beverages,
Other sources: plant sources such as kale, bok choy, broccoli, almonds*
* The calcium from some plant sources is not as well absorbed as from milk products.
Many plant sources contain smaller amounts of calcium per serving compared to milk.
Food Sources of Vitamin D:
- Fluid milk and fortified soy beverage
- Yogurt – made from fortified milk
- Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, tuna
- Fortified margarine
Women of childbearing age need more of the B vitamin, folic acid. This nutrient is important to help prevent neural tube disorders, so it’s important to get enough of this vitamin before you become pregnant. See Nutrition for Pregnancy below.
Nutrition for Pregnancy
Pregnancy is a special time in a woman’s life, but many people think it’s also a time to ‘eat for two.” This really isn’t the case. Women who are pregnant need extra calories in the second and third trimesters, and higher amounts of the following nutrients throughout their pregnancy:
Folic acid helps in the prevention of neural tube disorders. Women of child bearing age or planning a pregnancy should take a daily multi-vitamin and mineral supplement that contains 0.4 mg (400 micrograms) of folic acid. In addition, they should try to eat foods rich in folic acid, such as
- dark green vegetables
- beans and lentils
- orange juice
- fortified grain products
*The requirement for iron increases during pregnancy. Pregnant women need 27 mg of iron daily. In addition to eating foods rich in iron, pregnant women need a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement that contains iron 16 – 20 mg of iron.
During the second and third trimester, women need about 300 – 400 extra calories to support their baby’s growth. This amount can be easily met with 2 to 3 extra servings from any of the four food groups. For example, this could be an extra snack such as a yogurt and fresh fruit; or a bowl of whole grain cereal with milk and berries in the evening.
During this time it’s important to choose healthy options – lower fat, lower salt foods– - from Canada’s Food Guide, and to limit foods high in calories and low in nutrients.
Nutrition and Menopause
Menopause is a time of change – both physical and possibly emotional. A woman is considered to be menopausal 12 months after her last menstrual period. The time leading up to menopause is called perimenopause. It is during this time of hormonal change, when some women may experience symptoms such as:
- disrupted sleep
- irregular periods
- hot flashes
- symptoms of anxiety including irritability and mood swings
A healthy lifestyle helps to overcome some of these symptoms, and the increased risk of osteoporosis, heart disease and breast cancer that accompanies menopause. Attention to diet, physical activity, weight and stress can help manage these issues.
Following Canada’s Food Guide is the best way to ensure you are getting the right types and amounts of food daily. At this stage of life, it is also important to pay special attention to the following:
If you are experiencing heavy menstrual blood flow during perimenopause, be sure you are eating foods rich in iron. Iron deficiency is a common problem at this time, so speak with your doctor if you are concerned. See requirements and food sources of iron above.
Menopause is associated with increased bone loss, due to the hormonal changes that occur. Therefore, consuming adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D is especially important during this time. See calcium and vitamin D discussion above.
Unsaturated Fatty Acids and sodium
Due to the increased risk of heart disease after menopause, reducing sodium (salt) and limiting saturated and trans fats is especially important. Replace saturated fats (mainly from animal foods) with unsaturated fats (from plant sources and fish). Include fish in your diet at least two times per week, and when choosing prepared foods, look for lower fat and lower sodium options.
Energy and Weight Management
Since weight gain often occurs during this stage of life, women need strategies to help manage their weight:
- make every meal and snack count – choose food group foods that are lower in fat and energy but high in nutrients
- keep portion sizes reasonable
- increase your level of physical activity