Nourishing Women on International Women’s Day
In reflection of International Women’s Day (IWD) we'd love to celebrate female achievement this month, challenging inequality and invoking change across the world.
Being a nutritionist, I think IWD is the perfect day to shine a spotlight on female health and highlight the nutritional needs of women. When it comes to women’s health, in particular, there are specific nutrients that you want to make sure you’re getting enough of, to help you continue crushing it!
In the body, calcium is vital for building and protecting strong bones. Our calcium supply is stored in bones, so if you aren’t consuming enough in your diet, your body will take calcium from them.
Women who go through menopause are at high risk for loss of bone density as a result of hormonal changes. In fact, women are four times more susceptible to osteoporosis than men, so getting enough in your diet is really important for lifelong bone health!
That’s why I’d recommend that women, postmenopausal in particular, supplement with calcium and make sure they are eating plenty of calcium-rich foods, including dried figs, leafy green veggies, nuts, oranges, seeds, whole grains, kidney beans, chickpeas, almonds, cashews, tofu, kale, romaine lettuce and broccoli.
Vitamin D is really important for calcium absorption and helps maximize bone health. In the body, vitamin D helps to maintain calcium and phosphorous levels, which are important in keeping bones and teeth healthy.
Without sufficient levels of vitamin D, women are at a higher risk of osteoporosis and other degenerative disorders. Paired with the fact that as we get older, our bodies get less efficient at using vitamin D, it’s really important for women, especially during and beyond menopause, to keep on top of their vitamin D intake.
Vitamin D is a vital nutrient across pregnancy, as the growing baby needs this vitamin to allow them to grow strong and healthy bones.
Iron is an essential mineral, which is an important component in haemoglobin, part of our red blood cells. If you don’t get enough iron in your diet, your body wouldn't be able to produce enough red blood cells to transport oxygen to your organs and cells. This can leave you feeling rather lethargic, pale and even breathless.
Women are more likely to have lower stores of iron because they lose blood through menstruation, as well as pregnancy. That’s why women have higher iron requirements than men - women aged between 19-50 years should aim to get at least 14.8mg a day.
Luckily, most iron deficiencies can easily be addressed through dietary modification and supplementation.
Folic acid is a member of the B vitamin family and plays a role in helping your body make red blood cells, which carry oxygen around your body. It’s also a key nutrient during pregnancy, as it helps the baby’s brain, skull and spinal cord develop normally.
That’s why women considering getting pregnant should consume an adequate amount of folic acid, or folate, either through their diet or with the help of supplements.
As women absorb folic acid more slowly during pregnancy, and because the developing baby needs plenty of folic acid to grow properly, it’s recommended that women take a daily 400mcg supplement of folic acid before pregnancy and throughout the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
Riya Lakhani ANutr is a registered nutritionist and health writer with a special interest in plant-based nutrition. She has completed a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Human Nutrition, and has developed a passion for writing about all things plant-based.