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Diet and Nutrition: What Do Women Need?
Good nutrition is necessary to maintain health and it can be achieved through a healthy diet, ie, a diet that comprises of a variety of foods that will provide you with the proper combination of energy and nutrients to fit your nutritional requirements.

As a woman, your nutritional requirements change as you move through the different stages of life, and certain vitamins and minerals become extra important. Let’s take a look at some of the nutrients that you should pay extra attention to at the different points of life.

Vibrant teenage years

Make sure you get plenty of calcium for your bone health. Building strong bones now helps to reduce your risk of osteoporosis when you get older. You need 1,000 mg of calcium per day,1 which you can obtain from foods such as: milk, dairy products (eg, yoghurt, cheese), canned sardines, tofu, and vegetables (eg, kai lan, spinach, broccoli).

Your body loses a small amount of iron every month when you have your period. Low iron causes you to feel tired and perform poorly at school. Replenish your iron stores by consuming iron-rich foods, such as meat, eggs, cereals, dark leafy vegetables (eg, spinach, kangkung), and legumes (eg, chickpea).

To relieve or alleviate menstrual symptoms, try taking fish oil (which contains omega-3 fatty acids) and vitamin B supplements; they help to relieve menstrual symptoms such as period cramps, headaches and fatigue.2 Omega-3 fatty acids may also help to ease bloating and breast tenderness.3 To limit bloating and fluid retention, avoid eating salty foods (even though you might be craving for it!).4

Woman on the go

As a modern woman, you need good nutrition to keep your energy level up and help you stay focused and look good at all times. Make no mistake, a healthy diet includes a small amount of fats. A female adult needs to consume 46–70 g of fat per day.5

Go for healthy fats such as the unsaturated fats (ie, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats). Consuming healthy fats puts you in a good mood and keeps you mentally sharp. Healthy fats also help to keep your skin, hair and nails glowing, and keep dull flaky skin, brittle nails or dry hair at bay. Most importantly, healthy fats are beneficial for your heart health.

Good sources of unsaturated fats are fresh fish (especially deep-sea fish), fish oil (eg, cod liver oil), vegetable oils (eg, canola oil), nuts (eg, groundnuts, almonds, cashew nuts), seeds (eg, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds), and legumes (chickpeas, soya bean).

Ready for motherhood

When you have plans to conceive, you need to prepare your body for it. Besides eating healthily, consider taking a prenatal supplement. Some of the important supplements to support fertility are folic acid, zinc, selenium, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, and vitamin C.6

During pregnancy, you will be 'eating for two'. However, it’s the quality, and not the quantity, of the food that matters. Keep healthy fats in your diet, as fats are important for your baby’s developing brain and nervous system. Continue to make sure your requirements for calcium, folic acid and iron are met. Folic acid can to prevent neural tube defects in the developing foetus.7

During pregnancy, you need...

  • Calcium: 1,000 mg/day1
  • Folic acid: 600 mcg/day7
  • Iron: Daily supplements of 100 mg are adequate (given during second-half of the pregnancy)8

If you are breastfeeding, you need nutrients for yourself as well as for the production of breast milk. Pay particular attention to protein, calcium, iron, vitamins and fluids.

Into the ‘Golden Years’

While menopausal symptoms can be uncomfortable and troublesome, you can ease those symptoms and maintain good health by eating well.

To improve symptom of hot flashes, cut down or stop your intake of wine, sugar, and coffee. Evening primrose oil may help balance your hormones and alleviate hot flashes. Soy products are high in phytoestrogens (plant-based oestrogens similar to oestrogen in the body), and may help manage menopausal symptoms.6

Bone loss is an inevitable process of ageing, but you can slow down the process and reduce your risk of osteoporosis by getting adequate calcium and vitamin D. Make sure you're getting 1,000 mg of calcium1 and 10 mcg (or 15 mcg if above 65 years) of vitamin D9 every day, either through diet or supplements.